Vegetables are easy to grow and are very rewarding at harvest time. The most important requirements are sunshine and watering. Other requirements are loosened soil, some fertilizer, and a little bit of weeding. If you have an area in your yard that gets sunshine most of the day (6-8 hours in summer) then you can have a vegetable garden. The first time you start a new garden requires the most amount of work, but don’t get discouraged, the work you do in the beginning does not have to be done again each year.
The ground that the plants will grow in needs to be loosened up so that the roots of the tender vegetable plants can grow into your soil and make strong, healthy plants. The roots are the only way the plant takes up water and nutrients so you want to make their job easy. Unfortunately, soil found in most yards has become compacted over the years and can be as hard as concrete in summer.
Therefore, the best time to dig your garden is early spring when it is moist enough to dig easily but not so wet that the soil is muddy and heavy. The first step is to mark out your spot making sure there are no trees or large shrubs around it with roots that will spread into your garden. Then, remove the grass and create some type of border around the garden to keep it neat and weed free. I also recommend a short fence if you have pets, as the garden can easily be mistaken for a large litter box.
You must dig your soil to loosen the clumps and allow air in, which will allow the roots to breathe (yes, they need air also). The depth that I recommend is at least 12″. It seems like a lot when you are digging but keep in mind that your tomato plants will extend their roots approximately 2 feet down into the soil. I use a large digging fork and involve my whole family but a rototiller makes short work of it. Rakes also help in smoothing the soil out after the digging is done. You should add about 2″ of compost at this point and mix it into the soil well.
Do not add too much, 10-20% of the soil should be composted, but no more than that or you will over-fertilize your garden. When it looks like a good place to lie down and take a nap then you are ready to plant. You may also need Lime or Gypsum in your garden to correct the Ph. If you live in an area with lots of rainfall, add lime every year, about 1 pound per 100 sq. feet. If you have low rainfall amounts each year, you may need to add some Gypsum to new gardens to remove some of the salt content. Check with your local garden center for the correct amount.
Before you plant, you need to do some planning to allow enough room for the plants you want to grow. Plants generally get very large and you need to allow enough space for each one, or the plant will become stressed and may not produce good fruit. When you purchase them most plants will have information on how much room they will need when fully grown. A good rule of thumb is to allow 18-24″ spacing for most plants. I recommend using paper & pencil to draw the garden plan out. Always keep in mind that the sun will be important to all of the plants so put the tallest ones in the back so they do not shade the shorter ones.
Some plants you may wish to grow in your first garden for Summer harvest:
Tomatoes, Peppers, Squash, Bush Beans, Eggplant, and Cucumbers (If you have lots of room then you should also plant Corn.)
Spring and Fall crops include: Leaf Lettuce, Broccoli, Spinach, and Peas
Plant at least 2-3 of each type of plant, depending on how many vegetables you want, but don’t worry about using all 6 plants in the 6 packs or you will have so much fruit you may never eat another cucumber again. You should water gently after planting until the soil is moist at 1″ below the surface. Water again when the soil appears dry on the top. This can happen daily in warm summers. I recommend putting newspaper strips or pine needles as mulch around the plants to protect the soil from drying out so quickly and to keep the soil cool when the temperatures go up.
Keep an eye out for signs of insect damage to the leaves, mostly holes chewed by caterpillars. If you see this then you can use an organic insecticide such as Bacillus Thuringiensis ( or BT worm killer) according to package instructions. Do not spray strong insecticides every time you see an ant. You will poison your vegetables and stress your plants out which will reduce your crop and may kill your garden. Most insects are actually supposed to be there for pollination and to eat caterpillars, so only spray when you see something that is eating a leaf and causing severe damage, and then check the labels carefully to make sure the insecticides are organic and safe for vegetables.
Weeds are a fact of life with gardening but they should be pulled, not sprayed. Again, the poison to the weeds is poison to us. If you check for weeds every 2-3 days and use a weeding tool, the work goes fast and easy. Using mulch will keep many weeds from starting.
I highly recommend Organic fertilizers such as worm castings or Osmocote pellets which can be purchased in our Catalog. These are mixed in at planting time and last almost the whole growing season. If you wish to use a spray-on fertilizer, (such as Miracle Gro), then approximately every 3-4 weeks, spray the leaves of the plants according to package instructions for vegetables. You may use any type of “complete” fertilizer that is recommended for vegetables, as they are all basically the same ingredients, but remember, more is not better, so follow the instructions carefully to keep from over-fertilizing.
If you follow the above instructions, you will be successful in harvesting lots of vegetables. It really is easy and you will learn more every year. Experiment and do not get discouraged if something does not work the first time. People have been gardening for 30 years and are still learning new things every year. Good luck!