Why garden, you ask? How about eating the most delicious fruits and vegetables you’ve ever tasted? If you have never tried garden-fresh food before, you will be astonished by the sweet, juicy flavors and lively textures. There is nothing quite like fresh vegetables, especially when you cultivate them yourself, which is possible!
It may initially appear intimidating, but gardening is a really rewarding activity. Before planting a food-producing garden, you should be aware of the following.
1. Start with a strategy
In early April, when the temperature rises and most of us have spring fever, we purchase a six-pack of tomato transplants because “they were there and looked delicious.” For excitement, we receive an A+, but for planning, we deserve an F. Plan at least a couple of months in advance of the planting season. Seasoned gardeners begin planning their spring gardens as early as September of the preceding year. In Texas, preparation for a fall garden begins in June of the same year.
2. Select the ideal place
Choose a site for the garden that receives adequate sunlight, has ample room, and is convenient to your hose or water source. Find a flat spot to reduce soil erosion.
3. Choose your vegetables
Determine which fruits and vegetables to include based on your climate, available space, personal preferences, and level of experience. Carrots, beans, cucumbers, peppers, and lettuce are some of the easiest crops for beginners to cultivate.
4. Preparing the ground
To prepare your garden’s soil for plant growth, combine compost and natural fertilizers. Garden-supply stores can test the acidity of your soil and offer amendments, or you can purchase large quantities of specially formulated soil.
5. Begin with a Small Area
If you’re a newbie gardener, start small. It is preferable to be delighted by the results of a little garden than to be frustrated by the time commitment a large garden takes. Before devoting a great deal of time and money to this new interest, it is also advisable to master the basics of gardening. You will gain an appreciation for how much time gardening requires. You will discover whether or not you enjoy spending time outdoors planting, watering, and weeding. You will also discover how much produce you and your family can consume during the summer.
Beginners should start with a 6×6-foot garden. Choose up to five varieties of veggies to cultivate, and plant a couple of each. You will have an abundance of fresh vegetables for your summer dinners, and it will be simple to stay on top of your tasks. Growing vegetables in containers is another excellent way to get started. You don’t even need a yard for them; a sunny deck or balcony would suffice.
6. Evaluate planting dates
Depending on the plant and the season, the growing circumstances and ripening cycles vary, therefore you should not sow all the seeds at once. The dates for planting can be seen on seed packets. Before developing a planting schedule, examine the optimal circumstances for each vegetable you intend to grow.
7. Prepare a garden layout for your vegetables
Choose either row cropping or intense cropping when planning the layout of your vegetable garden; each has its advantages. Space plants at least 18 inches apart in rows so you can easily walk between them. This strategy makes the greatest sense for big vegetable gardens, as rows facilitate the use of mechanical weeding equipment, such as tillers. The disadvantage is that land designated for footpaths reduces the amount of vegetables that can be planted.
8. Plant the seedlings
Carefully place your seeds or plants in the soil according to the depth and spacing instructions.
9. Start a garden
Your garden can be established with seeds, transplants, or both. For the majority of plants, transplants are the most efficient way, as they become established 7 to 10 days earlier than seeds. This early start is crucial in Texas regions where spring gardening season ends on July 1. There, the growth season is insufficient for planting seeds of eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes.
A 6-inch tomato seedling is around 6 weeks old, while an equivalent pepper transplant is approximately 8 weeks old. If you plant seeds instead of transplants, the temperature will rise too quickly for the plants to mature and produce fruit.
A downside of transplanting is that few kinds are available unless the seeds are sown indoors at least six to eight weeks prior to bringing them to the garden. Additionally, not all plant species are easily transplantable.
10. Plant Seeds in Good Soil
For the maximum yield, your vegetable garden requires the best soil possible. Rich, healthy soil can be recognized by its texture: It is easy to dig and drains well. Take a trowel and place it in your hands. Does it feel gritty? Abundant sand. Is it fluffy? Too much sludge. Is it adhesive when wet? Too much earth. How these three types are combined and in what proportions defines the texture of your garden soil. This texture influences drainage and nutrient availability.
You desire dirt that is black, crumbly, and teeming with life. Fortunately, all soils can be improved over time by introducing organic matter, regardless of their texture. Consider sandy soils, for example. They are composed of big soil particles, thus water and nutrients move rather fast through the gaps. The addition of organic matter, often compost, to sandy soil helps to fill in the crevices between sand particles, so enhancing the soil’s ability to retain moisture and nutrients for plant use.
Clay soils are the exact opposite. They include very minute, densely packed particles that retain moisture but leave plant roots with little air space. Compost aids in separating these minute clay particles, allowing water to flow more readily enabling plant roots to absorb oxygen. Send a soil sample to a state-accredited soil-testing lab for analysis if it is unclear what type of soil you have.
Spread any necessary additives, such as compost, and work them into the soil using a tiller or shovel to prepare the soil for planting. If you step on freshly tilled soil, you will compact it and destroy your efforts. Then, smooth the surface with a rake and water thoroughly. Allow the bed to rest for several days before planting to allow the soil amendments to take effect.
11. Add water
Keep the soil equally moist during the growth season by spraying the garden with water. Invest in a spray nozzle for your garden hose so that you may create a gently rain-like mist.
12. Keep out the weeds
Mulching is the most effective method for weed control. To prevent weeds from overrunning your crops, apply a 2- to 4-inch layer of organic mulch to your garden. If weeds do appear in the garden, grab them low on their stems and yank them firmly, removing the entire root.
13. Allow your plants ample space to flourish
Check the spacing instructions on the seed packets and remove crowded plants immediately.
14. Fertilize as necessary
Hand-till the soil and add fertilizer to maintain its fertility. You can purchase ready-made garden fertilizer or create your own from Epsom salt, eggshells, fish tank water, and kitchen waste.
15. Harvest what you sow
Collect veggies when they are fresh and tender, but only when you intend to consume them. When root crops reach a size that is edible, they should be dug up.
16. Pest and Illness Control
Pests are drawn to stressed plants, so keep plants happy and healthy by providing them with sufficient sunlight, water, and nutrients. Include flowering plants that attract helpful insects for pest control and pollination support.
Select seeds or plants that are resistant to disease and pests by reading labels carefully. On tomato plant and seed labels, the letters VFN denote a variety resistant to verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt, and nematodes. Look for transplants that are healthy and free of insects and infections while selecting them.
The earth and roots should be watered, not the foliage. The use of soaker hoses and drip irrigation will decrease the amount of standing water on the foliage, which promotes foliar diseases. Avoid splashing soil and any potential pathogens it may carry onto the foliage.
17. Prepare yourself to tend to your plants throughout the growth season
Taking a summer holiday? Keep in mind that tomato and zucchini growth is at its peak in the midst of summer. If you are absent throughout part of the summer, someone must tend to your crops or they will perish. Alternatively, you might produce lettuce, kale, peas, and root vegetables throughout the cooler months of late spring and early fall.
18. Conduct garden cleanup
Many gardeners harvest the final vegetable and then abandon the garden until the following spring. This is a significant error. Vegetable plants neglected in the garden become weeds. They serve as hosts for pests and illnesses that will plague your next crop cycle.
End-of-season cleanup is just as crucial as initial preparations. Remove all cages, hoses, stakes, and wiring from the garden. Compost, burn, or till all plant matter under the soil. Add compost every year or manure every three years.
You can solarize the property in July and August to prevent weeds, insects, and diseases in the fall garden.
19. Schedule rotations
After harvest, begin preparing the garden for the following year. The first stage is to plan a crop rotation, which decreases the accumulation of soil insects and illnesses by a significant amount. Always rotate crop families, never individual crops
20. Keep studying
A devoted gardener is constantly considering new varieties or plants to cultivate, such as komizune, okahijiki, and Malabar spinach. It is possible that your local garden center lacks knowledge on how to cultivate these exotic plants, but books and online resources are accessible.
For many uncommon crops, there is no information on production requirements. In such instances, use information about closely similar species to decide whether the target species would thrive in your region.
A few closing thoughts
The benefits of gardening extend far beyond the production of nutritious food. Remember to appreciate the physical activity, fresh air, enjoyment, and stress release that home vegetable gardening may provide.
The only definite method to become an expert gardener is to practice gardening, gaining knowledge from successes and failures. There is no book that can match the value of the actual work. The best vegetable growers I’ve encountered, who consistently surpass my knowledge, have never read a gardening book. Years of practice have given them an expert level of knowledge.