Is this you? Every year, as spring first hits, you think “this is the year I’ll start a vegetable garden”. However, you get overwhelmed by the details, and never get to it. In this short article, I will walk you through how to start your first vegetable garden. It probably won’t produce a lot, but it also will not overwhelm you. You will be able to start small, and see if it is something you want to expand in later years. The ways one can express the garden bug is infinite. Try different types until you find the way which resonates with you.
The first thing you need to think about is where to locate your new garden. Most vegetables need six to eight hours of sunlight per day. You also want an area which drains well. Decide how big a garden you want. I would suggest a four foot by four foot bed, or at most a four foot by eight foot bed. Four foot is a good bed width because the average person can comfortably reach in the bed to work without stepping into the bed. These dimensions (4x4, 4x8) are big enough to enjoy, but not so big as to overwhelm the beginner.
Unfortunately, due to grading of suburban lots and time, you cannot just plop plants into the ground and expect them to thrive. Vegetable plants need up to 10 inches of good soil. The quickest and easiest way of getting this is to build a frame with two by sixes or cinder blocks, and fill the space with bags of garden soil bought at the local home improvement store. Get creative with building your frames. There is no reason to spend a lot, but be careful of treated lumber. Some types of treated lumber can have chemicals which leach into the soil. I like to use cedar. It costs more, but lasts a long time.
Now you need to decide what to plant. Keep in mind you have a small garden, and these plants will grow rapidly. They will not do well crowded close together. Some plants, like peppers, only need a 1 foot by 1-foot space. Others, like squash and tomato vines need a 2-foot by 2-foot space. If you have a question about spacing, try posting at a garden forum like http://www.backyardportal.com/forums/ . It is probably best to use plants rather than seed on your first vegetable garden. Growing from seed is satisfying, but brings some additional challenges
Before planting dig in some fertilizer formulated for vegetables. Use the recommended amount. More is not better. For example, tomatoes if over-fertilized, will spend all their energy producing beautiful vines, but not flower. No flowers, no tomatoes. You will want to make sure your new garden gets the equivalent of one inch of water per week. A couple of deep waterings is better than a bunch of shallow ones. Check the condition of the soil. The top ¼ inch should be dry before watering again. Every couple of weeks you may wish to use a liquid garden fertilizer when you water.
As the year progresses, questions will arise. One of the fascinating thing about gardening is the opportunity to observe nature. You will wonder if an insect is a good one or bad. Is that leaf discoloring significant? How do you solve a particular problem? Try plugging in with people who can help. A website like http://www.backyardportal.com/ with articles and forums may be the solution, or meet some different people in the neighborhood who share your new interest.
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