Well, it's that time again when we are all sitting cozy and warm, dreaming of the day when we can turn over the soil for the first time and get our vegetable gardens going. The catalogs are a steady stream in the mail and we can hardly wait to plant that new award winning tomato. But what if you don't have a garden?, With all the emphasis on getting more vegetables in our diets, maybe you are thinking that this just might be the year that you decide to put in your first garden. I gotta tell you, there is something great about getting in the soil and planting seeds and watching over your garden until you see the fruits of your labors. Nothing in this world tastes better than a tomato that you grew yourself. Or maybe you're wanting to teach your children about the miracles that occur when seeds are planted and the life cycle of plants.
Whatever your reason, I am going to tell you some of the basics you will need to know to have a successful garden and, believe me, it is not as hard as you might think. With a little planning and some thought, you will have produce that you can eat all summer long. You can also investigate organic gardening on the internet and your local library. Most of the tips I will give you are going to be organic or "green". I don't like to use chemicals in my garden even for the bugs. I feel like it defeats the whole purpose of having a garden.
Making Your Garden Bed
Ok, let's get started! First you need to decide where you are going to put your garden. It needs to have lots of sun and a southern exposure is best. Is the area that you want to plant in covered with lawn? Well, we will deal with that in a minute. First, measure your space and then get some graph paper and plot it out. Make sure you take into account where existing plants are already and where the fences are on your property. Fences can be a help or a hindrance, a help in that you can let some of your vine plants grow up the fence and a hindrance if they shade part of your garden but you can always plant cool loving plants there in the shade, like spinach and lettuce. Now stake out your area. To get rid of the grass, all you need to do is lay down a thick layer of newspaper and weight it down with rocks. Water this every day and, in a couple of weeks, the newspaper will have smothered your grass and you will be ready to turn everything, newspaper included, over into your soil. You are going to need to dig down about 8-10 inches unless you want to grow potatoes, then you will need to go down at least a foot because potatoes grow underneath the plant. Ok, now you have your dirt exposed and you will need to figure out what kind it is. What I mean is you could have sand or clay and, if you are really lucky, you will just have plain old dirt. Most garden centers or your county extension office will test your soil for you and tell you what amendments you will need. By amendments, I mean compost or manure or peat moss or maybe even sand.
What To Plant
Now comes the fun part, picking out what you would like to grow. Since this is your first garden, I would pick 4-5 different easy to grow things. Some suggestions would be lettuce, spinach, carrots, onions, and tomatoes. Now everyone grows squash in their gardens and they are very easy to grow, but unless you love zucchini or have family and friends that will take your overflow, I would stick to one or two plants of these. Herbs are also very easy to grow and they also make pretty landscaping for your yard, if that is what you would like to grow. Herbs don't even require you to have a real garden, they can be planted in your flower beds along with your annuals. I love going to my garden center to pick out my plants, but plants can be started indoors with seeds if that is something you are willing to do. I prefer to go to the gardening center so I can buy varieties that are know to grow here in Colorado. But I love my seed catalogs also and the ones I get are free. Here are a few web sites where you can request catalogs. These are the ones I prefer but there are lots and lots of catalogs out there that you can request, some even carry heirloom seeds that your grandmother and grandfather used to plant in their gardens.
Burgess Seed and Plant Company and Farmer's Seed and Nursery both have websites where you can order a catalog or order direct from them. http://www.DirectGardening.com and my other choice is Gurney's seed and Nursery Co. http://www.Gurneys.com. I found them fair and reliable and they all have a one year guarantee on all plants that you buy from them. Try and pick varieties that you have seen growing at your local garden center if possible but there are many varieties that will grow in your area that you can only get from the seed companies. I still laugh when I remember when I called my local extension office and asked if we could grow pecan trees here. He said sure they would grow here, but I would not get any nuts. I asked why and was told that it did not get cold enough here. He told me I could try though, that some parts of our county did get cold enough and other parts did not. My point here is that your county extension office can be your best friend and most even have master gardener programs, if you would love to do that. Also, whether you are ordering from a catalog or buying from your garden center, check growing times. This is important, you would hate to have your first pumpkins to only get so big before the first frost kills them off.
OK now you have your plants and seeds and you are ready to plant. Read the backs of your seed packages very carefully because these will explain how to plant and how far apart to plant your seeds. Also seed packets always have handy tips to go along with the planting instructions. If you are planning on growing carrots or other tiny seeds, use a old salt shaker. Put the seeds in the shaker and just shake your way down your rows. Follow the directions on the plant stakes that come with your seedlings. They also will tell you how far apart to grow your vegetables. Once your seeds are planted, lightly water your whole garden. The best time for planting seeds is in the morning and it is best to plant seedlings in the cool of the evening. Now give the whole garden a light watering. Plants need a lot of water for the first couple of weeks. Once you see that your plants are growing big and strong, you will want to mulch your garden. This helps to keep down weeds. Now here in Colorado where we grow cattle, getting some old hay or straw to mulch with is not a big deal. In other areas of the country, you might want to use wood chips or sawdust. Again check with your county extension office or your garden center on what would be best for your area. We have also used old newspapers for mulch. Now is the time to drag out that old hose that was leaking to make a drip irrigation system. This is really easy. With a large nail or awl, make holes at intervals in your hose on one side. Then lay the hose between your rows. Cover with mulch and attach the hose to your spigot and turn the water on to very low dribble. Now your plants are being watered continuously and you don't have to worry about watering.
Now there will come a time in your growing season that the bugs are going to make their appearance. They will love your vegetables as much as you will, but here are some easy things that you can do that will kill those pesky creatures and keep your plants safe from nasty chemicals. Tomato bugs and worms can be killed by handpicking them off and dropping them into an old coffee can filled with water or beer. Soapy water sprayed on plants will kill aphids and other little plant sucking bugs. Try to stay away from chemicals if you can, they poison our earth and our soil. You can keep ants out of your garden by surrounding the perimeter with cayenne pepper.
Now it is time to harvest, I hope you enjoy your vegetables as much as I enjoyed writing this very basic guide for you. Remember to keep it "green" and have fun! You may find that this art of gardening becomes your passion.
About The Author: Debra Frick is a mother of 5 and a grandmother to 8 grandsons and one granddaughter. She is a published author and poetress. Recycling and saving money are her passions. She also loves crocheting and cooking. She is also a pet rescue volunteer and has many pets of her own.
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By Beth (Guest Post)05/16/2008
I'm having a tough time with deciding what I planted and what is a weed. Where can I find pictures of small plants?
Thanks so much for writing this article as most dont say how to start from the very beginning like you did. I copied all the info to send to my daughter as she like yourself wants to make a garden this year to teach the children different things. Your little girl is most beautiful, as are my grandchildren. Thanks for your time, we are most grateful. Sally in Tucson, but your info is going to Pa :-)