Growing a garden, even planting a pot of basil…well, it can seem overwhelming but, once you get the hang of it you may find it to be very rewarding and fun! Growing your own produce not only saves you money, but your herbs and vegetables will likely taste better than anything bought from the grocery store. It’s much easier than you might think and with a little planning you’ll be thanking yourself all season long! Let’s get started…
Step 1 – Decide What to Grow
Before you start breaking ground, decide exactly what you want to grow. We suggest you start simple and begin with vegetables you and your family enjoy and will eat regularly. Keep in mind that some vegetables will produce all season long, such as tomatoes, peppers and squash. However vegetables like carrots and radishes produce just once.
Step 2 – Determine How Much Space You Need
Once you have your list you can decide how much space you need. Vegetable plants don’t require a lot of space so if you don’t have a yard, consider planting in containers and keeping them on your balcony or patio.
A good size beginner garden is 10’ x 10’ or a few large pots. You can start with something as simple as an herb garden or even a few herbs and one easy to grow vegetable like lettuce!
BONUS TIP: Herbs tend to do well in containers and many will grow into the fall and winter months. Here are ideas for using your herbs all year ‘round!
Step 3: Crop Design
Two common garden designs are the traditional block-style/row garden and the raised-bed garden. If you decide to go with a traditional garden style, keeping about 18” between each row to provide easy access to each plant. This makes maintenance and harvesting easy.
The raised-bed garden is literally raised off the ground – anywhere from 6” to the height of a standard table. These gardens are about 3-4 feet wide and at least 16” deep. You simply fill the bed with a good soil, which can include compost for added enrichment.
No matter what style you choose, always create a map for planning and visualization to ensure you’re making the most use of your space.
BONUS TIP: Consider the location of tall crops, as they can shade out shorter ones.
Step 4: Finding Your Garden Location
Most vegetables will need 6-8 hours of direct sunlight. Anything less could affect how much they produce. Keeping your garden away from trees prevents potential shading and competition for water and nutrients. Lastly,a garden located close to the house deters animals from nibbling away your harvest.
You’ll also want to make sure your garden is close to a water source. Especially important during the hot, mid-summer months, you’ll be thanking yourself when you don’t have to drag your hose around the house to water the garden!
BONUS TIP: Plant marigolds around the perimeter of the garden to keep rabbits away!
Step 5: Prep Your Soil
Perhaps the most important aspect of a successful garden is the soil. This literally can make or break the success of your garden! Aim for moist, well-drained soil that does not leave standing water after a heavy rain.
If you’re not familiar with the soil on your property, consider testing it. Inexpensive soil kits are available at most local garden stores. Once you know the type of soil you’re working with, there are a few amendments you can add to improve soil quality:
- Ground Bark: Made from various tree barks and improves soil structure.
- Compost: Excellent soil conditioner.
- Leaf Mold: Decomposed leaves add nutrients and structure to soil.
- Lime: Raises the pH in acidic soil and helps loosen clay soil.
- Manure: Good conditioner and best if composted.
- Peat Moss: Conditioner that also helps soil retail water.
- Sand: Improves drainage in clay soil.
- Topsoil: Usually used with another added substance. Can replace existing soil.
Finally, loosen your soil before planting. This can be down either by hand or with a tiller. Once loosened, you can add in your desired amendment and work it into the soil. Then smooth your garden surface with a rake, water thoroughly and let it rest for several days before beginning to plant.
Step 7: Planting and Maintenance
Most plants need a stead supply of water, but not enough that they’re standing in it. An easy reminder is to water when the top inch of soil is dry.
Regular weeding is also important, as weeds will compete for water and nutrients. Routine soil cultivation with a hoe or hand fork will discourage weed seedlings.
Step 8: Harvesting
There is just one simple rule for harvesting: When your vegetables look good enough to eat, pick them!
BONUS TIP: If your garden includes herbs, learn how to transition them indoors to keep your harvest growing into next season!
What’s in your garden this year? Share your favorite tips for growing a successful crop!
Erin DeMito, RD