The best gardens come from careful planning and fall is a great time for starting a garden. Dig into your garden adventure with these 5 basic steps.
As fall deepens, gardening is one of the last things on many people’s minds. If you have been thinking about starting your own vegetable garden, fall is a great time to get things started. If you get your new garden spot set up now in the fall, it will be ready for planting early in the spring and everything will get off to a good start. So here are 5 basic steps for starting a garden:
Over the years I have known many people that have decided they are going to grow their own vegetables. They promptly rush to their back yard and dig up a huge section of lawn, till it up and throw in a bunch of seeds. They have some early success with some lettuce and maybe a few peas then then the summer arrives with all its fun distractions and before they know it that huge beautiful garden they were planning becomes a huge weed patch. All they end up getting are a few pathetic tomatoes and way too much zucchini! They are so discouraged that the next year the garden spot pretty much starts out as weeds and stays that way all year. Finally, two years later they are reseeding with grass and the vegetable garden adventure is over!
We have a big garden! Our garden takes up almost half our back yard and is over 900 square feet. It’s a lot of work but we love it and working in the garden is therapy for us. But we started out small. Our first garden, only 3 years after we were married, consisted of a small patch of strawberries. As the years went on, we slowly added a small garden plot that grew in size each year as we decided we wanted more and more of our own veggies. But the key: we started small!
For a new gardener, I would suggest no more than maybe 100 square feet. That’s a 10 by 10 patch. Or maybe two 4 by 8 foot box beds. The key for a new gardener is to keep it small and simple. Vegetable gardening can be quite a bit of work and the new gardener can easily become overwhelmed. But 100 square feet is fairly simple to manage. The small size limits the amount you can grow and keeps your harvest manageable. Only 10 minutes every other day should be enough time to water, weed and harvest. You will be surprised how many veggies you will get and for a year or two this small garden will get you some good experience. Then after you have started to get the hang of things you can slowly add more space!
Think about the Sun
Sun, Water and Soil are the three most important ingredients to a successful garden. And in my opinion sun is the most important part. As you are considering where to put your garden, pay attention to the amount of sun the spot gets. If you live in North America, then your garden should have as much Southern exposure as possible. A garden planted on the north side of any structure will always struggle. You need to look for a spot that gets at least 8 hours of sunlight each day, but the more the merrier! 10 or more hours of sun is ideal!
Stay away from fences, houses, trees and large shrubs. It is fine to locate your garden on the south side of any structure that there will be lots of sun there. The south side of trees can sometimes be problematic as the trees will over hang the garden and shade it any way. Now, I know what I’m asking might be kind of hard, especially if you have a small yard like us. So do your best, but be sure to locate your new garden in the sunniest spot in the yard.
Make Watering Easy
Having a source of water close to your garden makes watering plants easy. Having to drag a hose out to the back forty of your property means it will be a pain in the neck and you will put watering off and end up killing your plants. Trust me, I’ve done it. So locate your garden close to a water supply or make running a waterline to your new site part of your initial plans and do it first. If you just say “one day I’m going to put a hose bid in here” you will never get to it and your garden will always suffer from lack of water.
Good soil is an important feature of a productive garden. When you start your new garden, plan on adding a bunch of high quality organic compost. Your local garden supply stores should stock a good compost in bags or bulk. No matter what your soil is like, quality compost will help it! And plan on adding compost every year! Grass clippings and leaves can also be great additions to your garden soil, but be sure to only add them in the fall so that they have the winter to break down. Adding too much rough organic matter in the spring can rob your soil of nitrogen as the microbes in your soil try to break down the fresh material.
Also consider doing a soil test. The local extension agency of your state’s agricultural college should be able to help you with this (and, yes, every state has an agricultural college). You can get a test kit from them and mail in a sample. A few weeks later you will have results that you can take to a good garden nursery for advice on what you need to do to improve your soil (don’t bother with the big box stores garden departments, find a good local nursery with an expert staff).
Plant what you will eat
I remember one year when we decided to plant beets for the first time. We put in a 15 foot row of beets and ended up with over 20 pounds of beautiful purple beets. BUT it turns out no one in our family likes beets! By the time we were done harvesting our beets, the neighbors were not answering their doors when we knocked!
Be sure you like the foods you plant! If you only kind of like zucchini then you’d better only plant one plant, otherwise you will be buried in zucchini and you will never eat it.
Start out simple by planting a few types of tomatoes, cucumbers, a summer squash (zucchini or crook neck), some green beans, a few strawberry plants and a couple of kale plants. Peas, carrots, spinach, onions, beets, lettuce, and radishes are also very simple to grow. Pumpkins are also a good starter crop that your kids will love, but they do take up a lot of space. Get your feet under you for a few years before you branch out and start growing other crops. Corn and potatoes take up a lot of space. Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, brussels sprouts, melons, garlic and many others are fun but are a bit more difficult to grow. Stick with the basics for a few years until your gardening skills and knowledge grow.
The other thing I would encourage any new gardener to do is read! Find every book about gardening you can get your hands on and spend your long winter evenings learning more about your new hobby.
Well, I hope you’re now feeling inspired to start a little garden. Get out there this fall and get started now. That way it will be all ready in early spring and you can get your crops off to a good start!!
If you would like to learn more about gardening, I would love to have you stop by our blog www.ourstoneyacres.com and check out all the gardening advice from my wife and I.