Gardening 101

by Guest Writer

The temperatures have risen (besides this crazy cold front coming through) and the daylight is lasting longer. This can only mean one thing: spring is finally here! Spring is a great time to start getting your vegetable gardens in order and if you have never gardened before, now is a good a time as any to start. Growing your own produce will save you money but is also a fun activity that you can enjoy by yourself or as a family. Vegetables grown fresh from your garden always taste better and you will have a better appreciation for them, and you’ll love how you can use the produce that you grow to create fresh and healthy meals.

If you haven’t gardened before, there’s no need to stress out because you can start small. Be realistic and think of what your favorite vegetables are and how much you or your family will realistically consume. Once you decide on the vegetables, choose 2-3 varieties of each. Seeds can be purchased in store or through a seed library, which are fantastic for those just starting out because they charge a small fee (if any). How it works is you take the seeds you want, plant and grow them, then return seeds to the library for others to use.

No matter where you live, in a city or countryside, you can find a way to garden that is perfect for you. For those living in an urban environment without a lawn, you can use containers on your deck or balcony, which can be found in gardening centers at stores like Target, Home Depot and Sears. Plants that can be grown in containers include tomatoes, eggplant, lettuce, spinach, bush green beans, chard, arugula and peppers.

If you have a small space in your yard, intensive cropping is your best option. This type of garden is 1-4 feet across and divides plants into small beds. If you have more space to work with in your yard, you can use row cropping, which is rows of crops 18 inches or more apart. The latter is better because it gives you more space to work with for planting in and weeding the garden.

To successfully grow vegetables, you’ll need plenty of sunlight (approximately 6-8 hours), water and good soil. Leafy plants like lettuce and spinach can thrive on partially shaded areas while carrots and beats will make do with a good dose of morning sunlight. Vegetables such as peppers, tomatoes and beans, however, need plenty of sunlight throughout the day in order to grow.  Watering your garden is very important, and it’s recommended that plants get watered half an inch each week. When choosing a location for your garden, choose a spot that is close enough to a water supply, such as a hose or sprinkler, but far enough away from the house or large trees that will block sunlight.

The soil that is used for planting needs to be just right, not too dry and not too damp, for crops to grow. Before planting your seeds, test the soil by making a ball with the dirt. If it falls apart immediately, it’s too dry, if it won’t break easily, its too moist.  If it forms a ball but breaks apart when you poke it lightly, like cake mix, its perfect. Compost is a great addition that can help improve soil and with added nutrients, can more effectively help plants grow.

As a gardener, its important to know on average when the last frost will hit for your area, you can use resources like the National Climate Data Center to find those dates. Seeds that are safe to plant two weeks before the last frost are lettuce, beats, carrots, radish, dill, cilantro, cabbage, broccoli, celery, kale and potatoes. After the last frost, beans, corn, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins, eggplant and basil can be planted.

Maintaining a garden takes work. As mentioned earlier, watering the garden regularly is important, and also checking for pesky weeds. Weeds compete with plants for water and nutrients so its important to get rid of them as soon as possible. Animals will also try to get into your garden and wreak havoc. Create a fence six inches into the ground to prevent rabbits from getting in and eight feet tall to prevent deer from getting in.

As you become a more experienced gardener you will learn more tricks of the trade and will be able to expand your garden by adding different fruits and vegetables into the mix.  Let us know if we missed anything and if you have any tips you’d like to add in the box below! Also, let us know what your favorite vegetables to grow are!



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