Tuesday, February 17, 2009

How to start a vegetable garden the easy way

I get a lot of questions on various gardening topics, so every time I write down an answer, I try and save it for posterity! Here is my take on how to start a garden the easy way:

If this is your first time having a garden, I would do things as easily as possible. Here's what I'd do:

1. Find a good site. Look for a spot that gets at least 6 hours of direct sun a day, preferably more. You want good drainage. I'd also test the soil for lead, at least where I live.

2. As soon as the snow melts, go cover the ground where you want your garden with about 4 sheets deep of black and white newspaper. Top that with about 3 inches of compost, either by the bag or in bulk (locally, from Weiss farms).

3. In the middle of May (locally), go buy small plants from a good nursery (locally, I've had luck with Mahoney's, Pemberton Farms, and Wilson's). Pay attention to how much space each plant needs, when deciding how many plants to buy. Easy plants to start with are: tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, chives, basil, marigolds, zucchini, and lettuce, at least around here. You can start beans, zucchini, and marigolds from seed, directly in the garden, around May 15, but for the rest I would buy plants, as they take more effort to get started.

3. Start by hardening off your plants, unless the nursery says they are already hardened off. That means taking them outside for gradually increasing amounts of time, to get them used to where they are going to go. Like first 1 hour in the sun, then the next day 2, then 3, etc., until they are used to the current, full day of sunlight. If you just put them right out into a sunny spot they will get sunburned or die from exposure. :-( Water your seedlings if the top inch of the soil gets dry.

4. After around May 15 (some wait until after Memorial day, depending on zone), plant your plants out so that when MATURE, the edges will be touching. This will leave a lot of empty space in between plants, which is ok. You can plant right through the compost and newspaper you laid down before to smother grass and weeds. Give the plants a good soaking once they're in the ground. If your layer of compost has shrunk down to less than 1", add more compost, hay, or shredded bark mulch (up to 4") to keep the moisture in the soil, and reduce weeds.

5. Water no more than once a week, and not at all if it rains a lot that week. The compost will provide most of the nutrients your plants need, but if you want to give them an extra boost, you can fertilize them with seaweed or kelp meal once or twice a month.

6. Pick stuff as soon as it is ripe!




Pelageya said...

Good post, Pam! I never used newspapers but I think I need to try!

Pam said...

You'd be surprised how much newspaper and cardboard an help keep the weeds down! And it means you don't need a tiller or special equipment to get started!

Randy Emmitt said...

Really good tips here! I'll be sure to try the newspaper trick.