"When all is said and done, is there any more wonderful sight,
any moment when man's
reason is nearer to some sort of contact with the nature of the world than the sowing
of seeds, the planting of cuttings, the transplanting of shrubs or the grafting of slips."
More and more people are growing their own fresh fruits and vegetables. This trend is not surprising given the current food prices, the downturn in the economy, and the demand for high quality locally grown food. Who has not overpaid for so called “fresh” vegetables at the local supermarket only to get home and find the produce lacking in quality and taste? You CAN grow fresh vegetables in your own yard, by following these simple steps outlined below.
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Pick a site that will get at least six to eight hours of direct sun a day. Inadequate light will lead to poor crop production. Some vegetables might tolerate less light per day (like lettuce), but most require at least six hours of sun. Site the garden as far away from large trees as possible. Other considerations for a good garden site include a level piece of ground that drains relatively well. Raised beds might be the only option for sites that are located on slopes, which could be terraced, or in low wet areas. In addition, it is a good idea to locate the garden as close to the house as possible. A garden right outside your kitchen window or back door makes harvesting a snap. Easy access to water, such as from an outside water spigot or even a rain barrel, is important. If finding the right site in your yard is a problem, consider growing vegetables in containers on a deck, porch, or even along or on a sidewalk or a driveway.
Even a small garden can produce a surprising amount of fresh vegetables. Beginners should start with one or two small beds (4ft.x4ft. beds are very manageable). Raised beds are recommended, but are not absolutely required. Additional soil preparation work will be required if raised beds are not used. If space is an issue, consider using containers. Raised bed can be constructed using ordinary pine or rot resistant wood such as cedar. Never use pressure treated wood! Ordinary pine is a good inexpensive wood to use, but will not last as long as other rot resistant kinds. Raised beds can also be constructed with bricks, concrete blocks, or plastic. Prefabricated raised bed kits and self-watering containers are also available for purchase from many garden supply companies (may I suggest the very affordable Grow Bed from Gardener's Supply Company or the Low Cost 4x4 Raised Bed Kit which can be assembled in minutes!!). Raised beds and containers will require more watering than traditional in-the-ground gardening, but the trade off in slightly better yields is probably worth the extra effort.
Soil is Important
After site selection, soil is absolutely the most important component of any successful vegetable garden. Without good soil, your garden will not produce. It is especially important, for those who chose to go the non-raised bed route, to amend the soil with copious amounts of organic material. Compost is the best soil amendment one can use, followed by peat moss. If no homemade compost is available, buy commercially bagged compost. Make sure to incorporate the compost and peat moss into the soil using either a shovel or a tiller. For hard compacted ground, it is really important to loosen the soil. Important Note: Do not work the soil if it is too wet. Working wet soil causes the soil to clump and will ruin soil texture. For those who chose to use raised beds, initial soil preparation is somewhat easier. After construction, fill the raised bed with 1/3 compost, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 vermiculite. If vermiculite is not available, use topsoil. Vermiculite helps the soil retain moisture, but topsoil will also work nearly as well. The exact proportions are not important, as long as the ingredients are mixed well before planting. Click here to view a handy soil calculator to determine how much soil you will need to fill a raised bed
Make A Plan
Determine the frost-free date for your area. If you do not know, ask neighbors who garden or consult your local Cooperative Extension office. Your local extension office can often direct you to a list of on-line growing guides that should answer most of your questions. Make a list of vegetables that you like, and then group them by frost sensitivity (cool or warm season plants) and plant accordingly. Five or six different types of vegetables are probably enough for a 4ft.x4ft. planting area. Chose an equal amount of cool and warm season vegetables to extend your harvest time. Buying transplants, if applicable, is recommended for beginners. Follow the recommended plant spacing from either Tim’s Square Foot Gardening web site or consult Mel Bartholomew’s All New Square Foot Gardening book for more information.
Easy to Grow Vegetables
A list of a few easy to grow vegetables, especially well suited for the beginner gardener, is included below along with some general comments. Note: Vertically grown plants will necessarily need to be grown on that part of the bed were they will not shade other smaller plants.
- Tomato (transplant): Warm season plant. Consider growing vertically or use a very sturdy cage. Full-grown tomato plants will shade and tend to crowd out other plants in the bed, so plant accordingly.
- Pepper, all kinds (transplant): Warm season plant. Mature plants might need staking or support and will possibly shade other smaller plants.
- Cucumber (transplant or direct seed): Warm season plant. Grow vertically unless bush or compact variety.
- Cabbage (transplant): Cool season plant. Good choice for fall as well.
- Broccoli (transplant): Cool season plant. Good choice for fall as well. Mature broccoli can shade other smaller plants.
- Lettuce (transplant or direct seed): Cool season plant. Easy to grow, but harvest before hot weather sets in. Good choice for fall as well.
- Radish (direct seed): Cool season plant. Easy to grow and fast maturing. Cold tolerant. Good choice for fall as well.
- Onion (transplant or sets): Cool season plant. Plant in early spring for best results. Can harvest some plants early in the season for green onions or let plants fully mature for full size bulb.
- Carrot (direct seed): Cool season plant.
- Beet (direct seed): Cool season plant.
- Green Bean-Bush (direct seed): Warm season plant.
- Green Bean-Pole (direct seed): Warm season plant. Grow vertically
Beginner gardeners might also find my web pages on Garden Tips and Tricks and the Planting Calendar useful.
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