Some of you were fortunate enough to be raised by vegetable gardeners. You absorbed the passion and skills needed for growing veggies simply by working side by side with family. For the rest, you may have the desire to feed yourself from your own ground, but you do not have the knowledge or experience.
Whether you are new to the art of gardening or just looking to refresh your skills for the upcoming gardening season, vegetable gardening basics are worth brushing up on. There are several questions to consider as you begin your project.
What is your garden plan?
Don’t wait until spring to begin your garden. Much of the decision making concerning your vegetable garden can be done when there is a foot of snow on the ground. Develop a plan that meets your goals. Are you looking to develop an outdoor hobby? Or are you intending to grow a bountiful garden over time that might require learning to preserve your vegetables? Identify your goal so you can plan appropriately.
You will first determine the size and location of your garden. Start small. You can increase the size of your garden over time as you succeed. Keep the size manageable enough that you are not tempted to give up gardening altogether because you are overwhelmed.
Select a location that is convenient for you to access. Remember that you will need to water and maintain your veggies regularly.
Vegetables love full sun, so your location should allow for plenty of it. If you only have a shady garden area, you should understand that not all vegetables will thrive, but some will.
Your vegetables will require a location that allows for excellent water drainage. Don’t choose a location where water would tend to puddle. Ideally, your garden will slope slightly to the south for drainage and for light. Remember that there is no such thing as a perfect garden location. Just do your best.
Once you know the size and location, decide what type of garden you will have. You might choose to begin with a single tomato plant in a large pot on your patio. For a garden plot, decide whether you will use a raised bed or a cleared plot of ground.
Raised beds can be built from materials of your choice. You might use patio stones, rocks from a nearby streambed, or wood from an old pallet. Use caution when selecting wood for building a vegetable garden, though. Some wood is treated with chemicals and preservatives that seep into the soil and can be absorbed into your plants, deeming them inedible. For specifics on building raised gardens and avoiding chemically treated wood check out http://eartheasy.com/grow_raised_beds.htm#c.
Decide whether you will plant in rows, in blocks, or on a grid. Rows will require the most space. Whichever method you choose, plan on allowing yourself a pathway to access all portions of your garden. When you go to weed and harvest, you will want to be able to reach all of your plants easily. For ideas and tips on different small garden ideas check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrpzn_L6Fxc.
As you plan your veggie garden, keep in mind the wildlife in your area. You might have to consider a fence to keep rabbits, raccoons, deer or even your own pets out.
An important part of your garden plan will be your selection of vegetables. Seed catalogs are often released in January for your winter perusing. You should decide early what veggies you will want to eat and what veggies grow successfully in your region. Your local nursery can help guide you to vegetable varieties that are specific to your neck of the woods.
For more on vegetable garden planning, visit http://www.seedsofchange.com/learningcenter_a.aspx
Which vegetables should you plant?
Start with crops that grow well in your area. Southerners can choose sweet potatoes and okra. Northerners will find it easier to grow lettuce and cabbage. Wet climates make celery growing a snap.
Tried and true vegetables that don’t require extra babying are good choices for first time gardeners. Lettuce, radishes, Swiss chard, cucumbers, and summer squash are among the easiest. Tomatoes are a popular choice for the expert gardeners as well as for the novice. Pumpkins are easy and fun for children and for the young at heart.
While selecting plants based on region is important, don’t be afraid to try whatever vegetable you like. It may take extra attention, but you just might surprise yourself and your neighbors with an unexpected bumper crop.
Visit http://extension.missouri.edu/p/MG5 for a comprehensive list of veggies to grow.
How will your garden grow?
By the time spring arrives, ideally you will have your garden plot in place. It will be located it in a sunny location where you can access it easily for watering, weeding, and harvesting. Watch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wv1KLDPf8YY to review the essentials for a successful vegetable garden.
You will need to fill your garden with suitable soil before you begin planting. Your soil will be feeding your plants which will ultimately be feeding you, so decide if you will aim for being a conventional gardener or an organic gardener.
The soil should be rich in nutrients. Conventional gardeners would choose a garden soil with man-made fertilizers to amend into the soil to increase the nutrient levels. Later, to stimulate growth, a conventional gardener might again choose a chemical type fertilizer. For insect control, a conventional gardener would lean toward an insecticide.
On the other hand, an organic gardener would choose composts, aged manure and other nature-made fertilizers to improve their soil conditions and to feed their plants. They would handle pests without chemicals. Either choice is fine, but be certain that what you use to treat your soil and plants with is food safe.
You can buy a few bags of either conventional or organic vegetable garden soil at your local nursery or hardware store to mix in with the soil in your yard. Or, you can mix your own nourishing soil. Read www.motherearthnews.com/…gardening/how-to-make-garden-soil.aspx to learn how mix your own soil. As you continue to have success as a gardener, your soil will continually need to be fed to keep it healthy and productive. Visit http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/how-to-make-garden-soil.aspx?PageId=3#ArticleContent for tips on feeding your soil.
You want your soil to feel light and fluffy. If it feels compact when you squeeze it, amend it with more organic material. The soil layer you add to your garden should be many inches deep.
When the time comes to finally plant your garden, you still have options. You can start your veggies from seeds. Seed starting is a rewarding labor of love. Some seeds can be planted directly into the ground. Follow instructions for planting your seeds closely.
If you live in areas where late spring frosts are the norm, start your seeds indoors in cups or trays and transplant your seedlings outdoors after the last frost. For excellent seed starting tips, read http://www.finegardening.com/how-to/articles/ten-seed-starting-tips.aspx?id=80518
If starting your garden from seed sounds a bit intimidating after all the prep work, you can purchase seedlings from a nursery to transplant into your vegetable garden. Water your seedlings often enough to keep the soil just moist. Avoid overwatering, but don’t let your plants become overly dry or wilted either.
Manage the weeds in your garden and inspect your plants regularly for insect pests or diseases.
In no time, your garden will produce those veggies you have been looking forward to for months!
Creative Commons Flickr photo courtesy of sylvia@intrigue