Starting your own vegetable garden can seem like an overwhelming task. There is a lot of preparation and trial-and-error involved. What are you going to plant? Where are you going to plant it? How big does the plot need to be? How do I care for vegetable plants? What do I do after the harvest season ends? The list of questions and concerns can seem endless.
Planning Your Garden
No one has ever looked back and thought “Wow, I wish I had prepared less for that.” Outside of gardening, careful planning and preparation is a skill that has contributed to many successes and victories. In the preliminary stages of your first vegetable garden, decide what you’ll plant. Tomatoes are common, as are herbs. Researching what can grow best in your area can help, too. Also find out how much space they will need to thrive. Corn, for example, will need more space than carrots. How many plants do you want? This depends on the amount of space you have available. Can you sacrifice several yards or a few feet? Even a small herb garden can fit on a windowsill. If you’re having trouble visualizing how much you want or need, start smaller than larger. You don’t want to bite off more than you can chew. Plus, you can always make your garden a little bigger next year.
Prepping the Yard
You’ll want to put your vegetable garden in a spot that has at least 6-8 hours of sun per day, as required by most plants. A shady spot can limit their yield and make them more susceptible to disease. If you are having trouble finding a spot in your yard with full sun, you’ll have to adjust which plants you want accordingly. Veggies like lettuce and kale actually grow nicely in partial shade. Preparing your soil for a vegetable garden is fairly foolproof. Vegetables grow best in soil that has high amounts of organic matter and good drainage. To test the drainage capabilities of your soil, water your target area and wait for a day. After a day has passed, dig up a chunk of soil and squeeze it in your hands. If water flows out, your drainage capabilities are lacking a bit. You can improve drainage of the soil by adding compost or consider installing raised beds. Before you plant anything, till the area to loosen the soil and water is thoroughly. It should be ready for plants after several days.
Planting and Caring for Your Veggies
Plant your veggies according to directions. Some varieties you can plant from seed (like carrots or peas), while others may do better planted when they are already young plants (like tomatoes). After you plant them, give them a nice drink of water, about 1 inch. Don’t water again until the top inch of soil is dry. Typical gardens don’t need to be watered more than once per week, but you may need to supplement that during times of droughts. Remove weeds as soon as they appear, because they are going to be competing with your plants for water and nutrients. You can also keep weeds from rooting by carefully tilling the surface of the soil with a hand tiller. Make sure you have proper lattices in place for vining plants like tomatoes and peas. When your plants start bearing fruit, you are free to pick it whenever you like. The general rule is if it looks good enough to eat, then it probably is.
Emily Kaltman writes for The Grass Outlet in Austin, Texas. She enjoys writing about nature and eating from her family’s vegetable garden.