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How to Start a Garden
Want to learn how to start a garden of your own and not sure where to begin? Learning how to start a garden can be an enjoyable and rewarding activity.
In this article we’ll talk about 10 basic steps of how to start and garden. Before too long, you will be enjoying the best tasting fruits, vegetables and herbs ever.
Step #1 – Start Small & Decide What to Grow
It’s very easy to get carried away and before you know you take a look at your list and you need a couple of acres to get started. Be mindful of the space that you have available and use it efficiently. Only grow what your family will eat. It’s so enticing to grow out-of-the-ordinary things, but unless your family will eat it, don’t waste valuable growing space.
Often times, new gardeners start off way too large, get overwhelmed and give up quickly. Using raised beds is the easiest way to start a garden because you are confined to the size of your bed. It’s amazing how much food you can grow in a 3 x 4 raised bed.
Recommendations for beginning gardeners are: Tomatoes, Peppers, Cabbage, Bush Beans, Carrots, Radishes, Zucchini, and Marigolds.
Step #2 – Site Selection is Key
Gardens need a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight per day to grow. The more sunlight on your garden, the more fruits and vegetables you will grow. The shadier the garden space, the slower the grows and produces.
Beds also need to be in a location that doesn’t flood or have a lot of water run-off. If flooding occurs, roots will rot in the soil. Water is important for plant growth but over watering is extremely harmful to their root system.
Think about how you will be accessing your garden. If it’s located far from your home, chances are it will be out of mind. The old saying “out of sight, out of mind” is very true when gardening. If you walk by your garden often, you are more likely stay on top of the needs of your garden such as watering, weeding and harvesting.
Step #3 – Plan your Bed Size
If you own several acres, then traditional “rows” in ground may work for you. But many of us no longer have large pasture land that we can convert to start a garden so a better choice is raised beds.
With raised beds, you can have complete control. They drain well & warm up earlier in the spring, which allows planting of cool season vegetables to begin earlier. Raised beds can also be accessed immediately after a rain or irrigation since you will not be walking in them and compacting the soil.
If you are building raised beds, you will be able to purchase a “garden mix” if you choose. Purchasing bags of soil from the garden centers can get really expensive. Check in your area to see if there are any landscape supply companies or agriculture centers that sale a potting mix, compost and such in bulk. They normally will deliver, but if you own a truck, even better, save the delivery bill too.
The size of the raised bed is also important. Beds should be around 3 feet to 4 feet wide – so you are able reach the center from either side. They also need not be longer than 10 feet long. This is to prevent you from taking a “short cut” across the bed and compacting the soil.
Raised beds also require less effort. Think of working in a “grid pattern” rather than in the traditional rows as large agriculture growers do. A good read to learn grid pattern or square foot gardening is this book. Just because a raised bed is small, does not mean you cannot feed a family from it.
Step #4 – Grow Up not Out
Trellising is also the most effective way of utilizing space. Vegetables such as cucumbers, squash, pole beans and zucchini can be trellised. When you place your trellis, make sure that it runs north and south. This will help prevent shadowing of other plants in the bed.
Trellising also helps to keep vegetables off the ground which prevents rotting. Since your plant will have more airflow, it will likely produce more yield too. I’m thinking this is a great problem to have.
Step #5 – Purchase the Right Tools
Owning the right tools to start a garden can make it so much easier. It’s actually a pleasure rather than work with the right tools. They can get expensive but you only need a few depending on what you will be growing. In this blog, Garden Tools You Will Need for Gardening, I go into further detail about individual tools and their uses. There in no need to own a rototiller if all you have are raised beds. Don’t give into advertisements, and be sure to purchase only what you need.
Basic tools for gardening are:
Hand Cultivator (my favorite tool)
Step #6 – Soil and a Soil Test
Soil is the medium that supports plant growth. A Healthy soil is necessary for proper plant nutrition. First thing you need to do is get a soil test. You can purchase an in-expensive soil meter online, but I would recommend getting it tested professionally.
The concept of soil testing is to give you a chemical analysis or makeup of your soil. When you have it tested professionally you will receive a detailed report of the pH level as well as other chemical levels that make up your soil. Soil pH will tell you if your soil is acidic or alkaline. The soil acidity or alkalinity is important because it tells you how easily plants can take up nutrients from the soil.
pH is scaled basically from 0-14 and 7 is considered neutral. 1-6.5 is considered acidic and 7.5-14 to be alkaline. For example many vegetables such as beans, cabbage, tomatoes prefer close to a 7 pH, but your blueberries and potatoes prefer a more acidic soil to grow well. A chart that I have referenced often can be found here.
Most states have a local extension office in your area and they will have the necessary forms and how to gather soil samples in their office.
Step #7 – Prepare Your Soil
Plants so appreciate healthy soil. With proper nutrition, plants will grow and thrive well producing higher yields. They are also able to fight off disease when they are healthy. At the beginning of spring each year I amend my soil with organic matter. Some great organic amendments are:
Fall leaves (crush these to help them to break down faster) My neighbor loves it because I take his…
Compost (either purchased or homemade)
Manure (this for sure needs to be aged by 2-3 years to help prevent spread of disease)
Wood chips (can be used as a mulch and will break down over time) look to see if there is a tree trimming business in your area, many times, they will deliver for free because they would have to pay to haul them to the land field, it a win win for both!
Just start with mulch and compost. Mix these in with your soil well. You will quickly realize that organic soil amendments are great for your garden.
Step #8 – Choosing Seeds or Plants
Seeds can cost much less than beginning with plants. Depending on the number of days in your growing season, some plants may be better started with seeds. You can find how long your planting season is by taking a look here. Calculate the number of days between last frost and the first, this will give you your growing season time.
If you purchase seeds from a reputable seed company, the number of days til harvest can be found on the seed packet. Learn how to read a seed packet here.
Once you have decided what kind of seed you want, this article you will learn valuable tips to save money and time. You will also better understand differences between Heirloom vs GMO seeds to aide in your decisions as well.
If starting from seeds does not sound like something you are ready to begin from the start. Then purchasing plants from your local nursery is a possibility as well. Here are some tips to help know if a plant is healthy and a wise choice:
- Look at the Roots – It is perfectly ok to lift a tomato plant out of its plastic grow container to check its roots. They should be white in color and the soil should be moist. If roots are “pot bound” (growing in circles around the shape of the pot) it will need recovery time with transplanted. This is probably not a good plant to purchase.
- Look at the Foliage or Leaves – Are they green, shiny, lush looking? If not, avoid this plant. Steer clear completely of plants with leaves that are wilting or yellowing. This could be a sign of stress or disease.
- Inspect the Stem – Carefully look it over. If it has any cracks or scrapes this could weaken the plant. Choose another one.
- Weeds in the pot – Weeds growing in the pot isn’t a good thing! It shows not only neglect from the nursery, but it also means that you will introduce weeds to your garden. Pass on this plant.
- Look for Insects or signs of disease – Check the plant closely for signs of insects – looking closely on the top and bottom side of the leaves. If a plant has yellowing of the leaves, holes in the leaves, or wilt, its a good sign the plant may be infected with a disease. Do not purchase this plant.
It’s better to purchase from a local nursery rather than a “big box” garden center. Ask the attendant how the plant was grown, if either the seeds or the plant has been treated with any potential harmful chemicals? Pollinators are critical to fruit set in any vegetable or fruit and if the plant has been treated with any chemicals, it could prove deadly to them. Don’t purchase this plant.
Step # 9 – Taking Care of the Garden
Adequate water is vital to the plant life and production. Over watering can prove harmful to your garden just as not watering enough. During hot weather gardens need to be watered 2-3 times a week. Water needs to be able to sink 2-4 inches into the soil in order for the roots to take it up. Water slowly near the roots rather than a big quick spray.
Watch for indicators of dryness. Plants will begin to wilt or show signs of stress.
Avoid wetting the leaves. A great tool to use for watering your garden is the water wand, you can read about it in this article. If watering with a sprinkler system, water as early in the morning as possible in order to give leaves time to dry before the sun gets too hot.
Another way to help keep the ground moist is by keeping a 2-3 inch layer of organic mulch or straw on your soil. This will help to shade the soil and keep it moist.
Step # 10 – The Harvest
The best part! The enjoyment of gathering your harvest and eating it. Seed packets will give you the average number of days to harvest. Also in the article, when to plant spring vegetables will give you a list of the number of days to harvest. You can also find the information on the back of the seed packet as well.
As vegetables come to full harvest, it is best to remove them from the plant.
So, are you ready to get started?
Learning how to start a garden can be an enjoyable and rewarding activity. The wonderful thing about it is that if the first year you start a garden is not as successful as you had wished, there is always another year. Keeping a journal of notes will help you to get better and better each year.
I would love to hear from you about your garden experience and how it went?
What fruits or vegetables do you plan to plant when you start a garden?