This will be the 16th spring we will plant a garden. Our first garden was on the retaining wall behind our first apartment. It was more of a row of 10 plants than a garden. Every day I would come home from work and check my “garden”. That little garden showed me how fun it is to grow my own veggies!
Don’t be worried about starting a garden. It’s easy and only you can measure your success. You will get dirty and find new bugs (and if you’re lucky-worms). You will learn what works for your plants and what doesn’t. And eventually, you will get to reap the benefits of your hard work.
Since this can seem daunting, I want to share 7 manageable steps to gardening success.
1. Decide what to plant and find a spot.
It is very easy to get overwhelmed at the beginning. Especially if you are on Pinterest looking up beautiful garden designs and reading about soil content/moisture. Don’t let this part overwhelm you.
You need a place that’s SUNNY and EASY to water.
Maybe you have a corner or small section of your flower bed that you could use. A container garden might be a good solution for you. You can plant a “salad garden” in a big pot and clip off lettuce leaves for your dinner each night. If you are really confident in your green-thumb and watering abilities, grab a spot in the yard.
2. Prepare the Spot.
Here’s where the work starts. Getting the soil ready for your plants is hard. Every year my “hoe-ing” muscles are sore from working in the garden.
Turn up the dirt. You will have to get your hands dirty. And probably your feet and knees too. Get a good hoe and rake and maybe a hand tiller if you want to really get the soil turned up. You need to turn up at least 6 inches of soil. This loosens the soil for planting. It also will be the time to get rid of the weeds. Turning up so much soil will pull the weeds from their roots too.
If your spot is pretty big, you may want to look at getting a tiller for the garden. We have never taken this step. They are an investment but well worth it if your committed to your garden.
Weed prevention will save your back (and time). You will be amazed at how quickly a weed will grow right next to your struggling tomato plant. It’s maddening. Here at the beginning, a little weed prevention will be well worth the time and investment.
We have used gardening fabric to deter some of the weeds. You can lay this down and cut holes where you want to plant. We also use newspaper between plants and down the rows. There are also products you can buy to help with weed prevention. Remember…this is your garden. You get to be the boss of how the weeds will stay away. I enjoy pulling weeds. Especially after a difficult day at work or at “adulting”. There is satisfaction in going to the garden and ripping out weeds.
For the over-achiever, there is also soil preparation that can help with the production of your garden. Fertilizer and peat moss can be mixed in to encourage your plants to produce. If you’re really serious, you can send soil samples off to have them tested for pH, etc. This is what the real farmers do to know what to do with their soil. I forget to water so I feel like the soil testing is a bit beyond my dedication level.
3. Buying Your Plants.
This is the best part!
Seeds. You can start your garden from seeds in late winter. This is always so much fun and gets me in the gardening mood. However I have never had any of my seed plants produce anything. I have watered them and put a fan on them to help their roots be strong. Every time they die after being transplanted in the garden. My kids love this step so we usually do it together but it’s not contributing to the success of my garden.
Plants. East Texas Moms Blog loves to shop local and support small business. You will find a lot of help at your local feed store or hardware store. Whether it’s the store owner, the plant manager, or the old guy drinking coffee in the corner, these people will help you get off to the right start. (Here’s where Pinterest can’t compete.) My feed store friends know what manure to put in the garden and when. When to put my plants in the ground and what that weird bug is!
If you planned at the beginning, you may know exactly how many plants you need. If you just walked in the feed store for chicken feed and left with a car full of plants, hypothetically, you may have over purchased. The info on the box or with the plant is great for helping you decide how many to plant and where (sunny/part-sun).
4. Putting your plants in the ground.
There’s probably a right and wrong way to planing your garden. But I want you to find freedom in this space. Don’t over analyze or get caught up in you soil testing to miss the joy of planting and eating the veggies you are caring for.
Our garden spot is by the chicken pen. Chickens love to eat new plants and move the little identification stakes while you’re at work. The chicken wire is up to keep the chickens out but it is perfect for planting. This year we will put up cattle panels because the cucumber and snap peas were too heavy for the chicken wire.
You can use a pretty trellis as decoration and for your plants to grow on. Plants that are vine-like will crawl up the trellis. If you tilt the trellis away from the plant, the veggies will fall through the holes and you can easily pick them from the bottom.
I will have a few rows of potatoes and onion, a row around the edge for tomatoes and several mounds for squash, melons, and cantaloupe. I’m also planting blackberry bushes and blueberries in the corners this year.
We will use the flowerbeds to plants a salsa garden this year-tomatoes, tomatilloes, peppers, etc. This is new for us but worth a try since the sprinklers will remember to water.
5. Daily maintenance.
The new will wear off before you ever get to eat something from your garden. (Unless you plant radishes-they grow super fast). You have to stay on top of the weeding. Every other day or couple of days, there will be new growth in between your struggling tomato plants. Get it out. You can pack down the dirt between plants to help some. There are also many different weed products that can help. We had an aerosol foam that looked a lot like silly string. It was really great – and it’s no longer on the market. You’ll find something or spend time on your knees. This effort is worth it!
You will be amazed at how many different bugs you find in your garden. The squash bugs will find your squash plant. The ants always find my tomatoes. It makes me itchy when I think about the different bugs in the garden.
You will want to check your plants regularly for pests. After the spring and early summer rains, make sure you check because these rains bring out the weirdest things!
Of course there are insecticides you can use on your garden. We always try home remedies (but mostly because I’m too lazy to go to the store again). Try dish soap and water. This won’t hurt your plants or veggies and it will get rid of some of the pests. Try vinegar. Check Pinterest.
I have also found some apps that are super useful in planning the garden, identifying weeds and identifying pests.
Just know, the pests will come. And look creepy. It’s all part of the process.
7. Time to Eat!
My love for gardening has more to do with snacking in my yard than anything else. There’s nothing like a fresh tomato right off the vine. My uncle Bert used to keep a small salt shaker in his pocket for “checking” the tomatoes.
Remember that radishes are fast! Watermelon and cantaloupe feel like they take forever. Tomatoes, squash and cucumber will overwhelm you when they start producing. You will be tired of squash and tomatoes before your plants are done producing. I always have too many jalapenos! Give that stuff away. Trade produce with a fellow back-yard gardener. Learn to can tomato sauce, salsa or pickles and enjoy your garden efforts year round.