Living off the land isn’t just for flower power hippies and go green fanatics. Aside from being able to enjoy the fruit of your labor, literally, there is always the added advantage of saving a few bucks at the supermarket. Tending to a garden can be a little labor intensive but with the right equipment and some sound advice you’ll have green thumbs in no time! Be warned this is a very simple guide to getting a garden started we won’t get into the science of soil because it can get overwhelming and discouraging for the beginner. If you think that your soil isn’t able to grow a garden, i.e. your neighbors have tried with no success, take a sample to a local greenhouse or plant shop and have it tested you may need to adjust the pH level.
For everyone else: the first thing to consider when planting your garden is the type of soil you’ve got to work with. There are three general soil types, sand, loamy/silt, and clay. Not sure which one you have? Here’s an easy way to find out. Go to your soon to be garden, pick up a small amount of soil, enough to make a ball the size of a ping pong ball and try to form it into a ball. If your soil is nowhere near making it into a ball you have sandy soil, if your soil seems to be going with the program but breaks apart once you stop trying to form it you have loamy soil, if it holds its form as a ball you have clay soil. No worries, you’ll be able to plant no matter which type of soil you have, with the help of some top soil or compost.
First things first, figure out which types of vegetables you would like to plant, this is a fun process and will get you excited for the work to come. A good beginner garden includes tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers and bell peppers etc., and don’t forget the herbs, basil, cilantro and mint are great herb that you can use in many dishes. My best advice is to keep it simple. It easy to get excited about having all these fresh, organic, juicy veggies at your finger that you bite off more than you can chew. Choose about 4-5 vegetables that you eat most often and plant those but don’t pass on the tomatoes you won’t be sorry they are infinitely better than any supermarket. Follow the link at the end of this article to figure out when to plant the vegetables of your choice. It also tells you when to expect the veggies to come in (harvesting).
Once you’ve gotten your fabulous list of vegetables its time to prep your soon to be bountiful garden space. After the last frost of the season prepare your soil by mixing in topsoil or compost, both contain essential nutrients and are the perfect density to retain and drain water at the optimal rate. Pick a nice spot that gets a lot of sun and start tilling to turn up and expose the soil. Till the area the size and shape you would like your garden to be, remove two inches of soil evenly and put it to the side you will be replacing those two layers with top soil or compost.
Side note: If you don’t want to remove any soil no problem, just go for a raised garden. Add two inches of top soil to your current level of soil once it has been prepared. If you’re going to opt for a raised garden you should line it with short pieces of wood as boarders (2 x 4’s will do) so roots don’t become exposed once they start to grow.
Now back to the tilling. You should till about 6 inches deep into the earth. Once you’ve turned up all the soil add top soil or compost to it and till some more to mix it in. Add enough top soil to the mix to make your soil the consistency and density of loamy soil. If you already have loamy soil you should still add top soil to replenish any nutrients your current soil maybe lacking. I’ve found that a 50/50 mix works well for me. After that has been completed its time for the fertilizer, broadcast (see lingo list) the fertilizer of your choice and use a rake to distribute it evenly across the top of your plot. If you are unsure about which type of fertilizer to buy ask a local merchant and be sure to mention you are using it for a vegetable garden.
Once you’ve done that its time to plant your plants. A good rule of thumb is to start your garden when the plants in your area begin to bud. Who better to tell you about nature than Mother Nature herself? You can also refer to the previous link for a more concrete calendar. If you plan to start with seeds get a modular tray that has squares of soil and start the germination process indoors to protect the fragile seed from the rough outdoors. Follow the link at the end of the article to watch a video on how to prepare your trays. Note: You can buy trays that come prepared with soil already in the cells at your local gardening store.
If you are starting with small plants from a local green house you can put them right into your plot, I recommend this method because it is much easier to care for the plants. To transplant them into your garden dig a hole about 6 inches deep depending on the size of the plant and put the plant with soil you bought it in directly into the ground and pack some extra soil around the roots to make it stable. Make sure to plant each plant a couple inches apart to leave space for them to grow. After you’ve transplanted all of your veggie plants water the garden to settle the roots.
Congratulations! You’ve planted your first garden. Now its time to tend to it!
The first couple of weeks after you have planted your plants your garden is going to need some serious TLC. That means you will have to water more often to keep the soil moist.
Watering should be done before dawn or at/after sunset. If watering is don’t when the sun is in full force the beads of water in the leaves will be magnify the Sun and potentially burn plant leaves.
Be aware that there is a fine line between moist soil and over watered soil after you’ve watered your garden that soil should be moist enough for you to shape a small amount of dirt into a compacted ball. If a lot of water runs out without much force you have over watered (a small amount of water is fine). It is better to water a little, check the soil then water some more if needed. A good way to check if you have watered enough is to stick your finger in the soil. After watering, give the soil a couple of minutes to absorb the water. After about 20 min. has elapsed stick your pinky (or thumb!) as far into the ground as it can reach. Be sure to stay clear of plant roots you don’t want to disturb them. If the soil is moist good job, great way to squirt that hose! If the soil is a little dry underneath add a little more water but be careful not to over water.
Now that we’ve gotten you excited to pick up that hoe keep these Do’s and Don’ts in mind when planting your garden.
Do plant your garden in an area that gets the most sunlight about 5-6 hours a day.
Don’t over water your garden
Do pull out as many weeds as possible when tilling and after your garden has begun to grow.
Don’t dig plants up once you’ve laid them.
Don’t water when the sun is in full force.
Do pick your vegetables once they are ripe or they will rot in your garden.
Do share the wealth. If you have more veggies than you can handle give some away.
Do have fun and enjoy the fruit, or in this case, vegetables of your labor.
Great, you’ve got all the info you need to start your garden but you can’t call yourself a Green Thump Garden Newbie until you’ve learned some of the Lingo:
Broadcast = to distribute evenly across the plot
Aerate = to loosen soil by digging to allow air to pass freely. Used mostly on clay soil
Annual = plants that grow for only one season
Biennial = plants that grow for two seasons
Germination = when seeds have sprouted about the soil
Perennial = plants that grow every year if you take care of them of course
Hardening-off = gradually introducing plants or seedlings to the great outdoors by putting them out each day to get used to the elements and increasing its outdoors time each day.
Whew, nice job, you’ve officially earned your green thumbs now go out and get some dirt under those nails!
Happy Planting Newbie!
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