New to gardening? Want to be successful right out of the gate? Learn these 6 helpful tips before planting your next vegetable garden.
Are you ready to dig in and get your hands dirty? In the beginning, it is a whole lot of work, I won’t kid you.
After my son moved out I wanted to turn a patch of lawn into a vegetable garden. I had an area where an above ground pool had been removed. It was the perfect location for growing vegetables.
What I underestimated was the time it would take me working alone to get it prepared. I can remember hauling wheelbarrows of small stones away that were around the perimeter of the old pool. And weeding the interior not once but twice. This took many back-breaking weekends.
During this process, I would often think I had lost my mind for it would just be so much easier to buy produce at the grocery store. It was my sheer determination thou that got me through. And boy I’m glad I did because my garden experiment as I like to refer to it taught me a lot.
So, roll up your sleeves and let’s get going. What are you waiting for?
BEFORE PLANTING A VEGETABLE GARDEN
Vegetable Garden’s Location
Assess your yard for best placement options taking into consideration number of hours of sunlight this garden plot will receive during the summer months. Vegetables and most flowers typically do best with six hours of sunshine per day.
Keep in mind that buildings and trees will cast shade upon the garden. Can any potential trees blocking the garden from obtaining optimum sunlight be cut back? Where does the sun set and where does it rise? The afternoon sun (west) is much hotter than the morning sun (east). Our garden receives the south-east sun.
Is the land you are considering level or hilly? This will play a crucial role in garden consideration as a hilly plot will require that timbers be placed every couple feet to allow a walking surface and a small level area for planting. This would be called terraced gardening. Keep in mind though that as you descend the air temperature will be colder. This may not seem like a big deal to some but it will definitely cut the growing season for others.
At the Healthy Lifestyle Homestead, we chose to plant in the front yard because it is the only place on the entire property that allows open space and plenty of sunshine. The rest of the property is wooded and steep. Our neighbors are always commenting on how beautiful the garden looks as they walk by so don’t hesitate to consider a front yard garden.
The Size of the Vegetable Garden
After deciding where to locate your garden, next determine what size garden to plant. What space do you have available that can be allocated for planting? I am an advocate for starting small and expanding when a level of confidence has been built.
Our current garden began as an 8’ x 29’ size plot that the following year grew to 8’ x 40’ when we wanted to try growing potatoes. This fall we will be working on another expansion. Gardening is a great way to play, learn and be creative. The perk is having wholesome food that is fresh and nutritious just outside your front door.
Deciding What to Plant
What to plant can be determined by your families likes and dislikes and what will grow in your particular area. A plant hardiness zone map can tell you what zone you reside in. This will become a necessary tool in choosing the correct plants/seeds for your area. You may also consider talking with neighbors on the topic as well. In our location the map shows we are in zone 5 however the wisdom of local’s cling to zone 4 due to the elevation we are at; about 600 ft. By watching nature closely, we find we are about two weeks behind those living nine miles away in a true zone 5.
Type of plants will also need to be taken into consideration as vining plants such as pumpkin; cucumbers, melons and some varieties of squash will not work well in a confined space. If you are new to gardening then I would suggest beginning with plants that are more forgiving and thus easier to grow. Ask at garden centers or look in garden catalogs for plants/seeds that lend themselves to being easy to grow.
Number of Plants to Grow
How many to plant will depend on several factors all working together. The overall size of your garden will depend on how many plants it can hold. I leave only about 10-12 inches between my garden rows to allow for more rows and thus more plants to fit in.
How much your family likes a particular vegetable will also dictate how many you will want to plant. For example, if your family loves green beans, you may want to grow additional plants with the intent to can or freeze the surplus for winter consumption. Type of plant also matters. Let’s look again at the green bean. Blue Lake green bean seeds can be purchased to grow a low bushy plant or as a pole bean. A pole bean might be a consideration if you have limited space because it is intended to grow upward on supports you provide while maximizing your space.
Preparations of the garden can begin in the fall prior to your spring planting. However, if you are beginning your new vegetable garden in the spring, you will have to allow more lead time before you can set plants.
Dig up any sod and clear weeds away from the plot. Those are the seeds that like to grow crazy where you don’t want them. Another way would be to lay a tarp over the soil where you’d like your garden. The tarp will kill the growth making digging up the roots easier.
Soil type is an important component when prepping the garden and I will explain my story in another post. For now, determine if you have a sandy or clay type soil. Sandy is lighter and drains water easier while clay is dense and heavy like what is used in art class to mold or throw on a potter’s wheel. It holds water rather than draining it. Either type will need amendments added.
Adding top soil either bagged or by the truck load will jump start your soil and make your first year of gardening more of a success than a failure.
As time allows, grass clippings can be spread over the dirt providing no chemicals have been added to the lawn. If you have a lawn that is mostly weeds you may want to skip this for fear that weeds will be sprouting in your newly cleared patch. The grass clippings provide nitrogen for your garden.
Other natural forms of nitrogen would be chicken manure if you know someone raising chickens. Fresh manure can be added to the garden in the fall or dried manure can be added in the spring. The reasoning here is, fresh nitrogen will burn and thus kill plants. Fish emulsion also contains high nitrogen if you have a source for it. Both chicken manure and fish emulsion work wonders for plant growth.
In the photo you can see what we extracted from our pond. This pond muck or black gold as we sometimes refer to it as, was so rich in nutrients that our plants were able to receive a huge boost. I would not advise doing this every year since it would deplete the ecosystem in the pond. However, if you have a pond on your property this might be one way to enrich your garden soil using what is already available to you.
When the plants have expired leave them in the garden to rot. In the fall, run the lawnmower over the fallen leaves and spread a thin layer over the garden. The smaller pieces will break down and compost quicker into the soil adding life and nutrients. If a tree has been sick and diseased omit adding those leaves to the garden as problems can arise later.
In the spring, before planting rototill the vegetable garden. This will blend in the nitrogen and carbon while making the soil light and fluffy for your young plants.
Fencing the Vegetable Garden
Protecting your garden from the predators in your area is important for keeping the bounty yourself. In my area, deer are plentiful and love munching on garden plants and produce making a fence around the perimeter of the garden a necessity.
There are many types and styles of garden fencing. I just love the rustic look that this one provides. Determine which type of critters you want to keep out to help narrow down which fencing option will work best in your situation.
For just one or two deer I have experimented successfully with playing a radio in the garden 24/7 with classical music. The variety of the music and the talking in between seemed to work well. I was able to keep the volume low enough where it didn’t annoy my neighbors while still worked to repel the deer. This method however didn’t work very well for the rabbits that once were troublesome.
I hope these tips supply you with enough insight and enthusiasm to forge ahead when planting a vegetable garden.