There’s nothing more delicious and rewarding than having your own vegetable garden..not to mention all the money you can save on growing your own produce! Jennie and I have been talking more and more about the easiest way to start your own veggie garden. We opted not to plant last year because I didn’t like the idea of being big pregnant trying to weed our beds and being out in the heat of the summer is not fun or healthy when your body is working hard to grow your own little bundle of joy. Having a vegetable garden is a lot of work every day but it’s so much fun and I love the stress relief and therapy it gives me. There’s not much trouble the kids can get into out here running and playing in the dirt and I am able to unplug from the world while I soak up the sun. It’s pure bliss. I can see it now…Jennie will bring her radio outside and if you drive by her house you’ll see her dancing away to the latest Nicky Minaj (sp?) song while she weeds (and feel free to join her, she would love it!)! Believe it or not, that’s stress relief for her and while peace and quiet is what I like best, my point is that you can find a little stress therapy in even the smallest ways and whatever your preference…have a little fun with your garden in your own way because that’s what it’s all about!
I’ve written before about how we made our large 4 raised garden beds and we’ve loved the produce we’ve grown in the past. (This year we will update our boxes with a better weed prevention, more to come on this soon!) With the seed catalogs being stuffed into my mailbox already, we’ve started to get our plan together for what we want to grow in 2013. I remember the first year I attempted my veggie garden, I tried a lot of things and many people told me I was crazy to do so much my first year. I grew plants indoors from seed and then also had seeds that I planted straight into the soil. I also had some great advice about what was worth buying as a starter plant, as some plants weren’t easy to grow from seed as a first time gardener without experience. There is a pretty large learning curve with starting your own garden and I’ve kept various notes about what I learned and what I’d do differently.
I don’t regret doing so much that first year and had the time to learn all the tricks to figuring out what makes for a successful harvest. I’ve learned that planting a veggie garden is unique to you …everyone who’s ever grown a vegetable will be pretty quick to tell you how to do your garden. When you have 10 different people telling you 10 different things it’s easy to be overwhelmed! Even my M-I-L was keen to tell me I was doing it wrong and sent me a print out (from England!) on the correct way to grow my produce. There’s no universal right way to start your veggie garden, only the right way for you and your own individual preferences. So here are a few things that have helped me along the way and I’d love for you to leave a comment with your own tips and tricks that you’ve found useful with your garden!
- R.H Shumway’s Vegetable Garden Planner – for $25 a year this easy to use software can help you plot out your garden space, tell you how many plants and spacing needed for over 130 different varieties of veggies, fruits and herbs. It will automatically help you rotate your garden for the next year, adapts to your own area using a database of over 5000 weather stations. Print your own personalized planting chart showing how many of each plant you require and when to sow, plant and harvest them. My favorite part…twice a month the Vegetable Garden Planner sends email reminders of what needs planting from your garden plans. It is a fantastic tool for planning our your garden, especially for first time gardeners! It also helps with companion gardening – telling which plants are great “companions” for each veggie, fruit or herb – also essential for natural defense against those pesky bugs that will eat and/or contaminate and kill your plants!
- The next thing I have found useful is creating a garden binder – with lots of pockets! I have tabs with info from each year which helps keeps me organized. Because you do need to rotate your garden every year in order to make sure you have a good balance of nutrients that are taken out and put back into the soil you want to keep track of what you did last year. My first year I hand drew my garden plot with what went where so I could rotate it the following year. (Now I have my super garden planner above and love the print outs!) I also like to keep all my seed packets and receipts from what I purchased so I don’t have to try and remember what I purchased. I also keep notes in this binder of what we really liked and didn’t like. Some varieties produce more or less so it’s helpful to look back and decide what to do the next year!
- Heirloom plants/seeds? This is something I’m learning more about this year. Heirloom seeds/packets are not genetically altered to protect from insects, produce higher yields, prevent blemishes, etc. Heirloom varieties are supposed to taste better and possibly have more nutritious value. Because they are less uniform from hybrid varieties it can be beneficial for home growers to have a gradual supply of fresh produce instead of having them all ripen at once. I haven’t used heirloom plants or seeds in the past and this year I will performing my own “test” and will do both hybrid and heirloom types to do a true comparison between the two. I am also interested to taste the different between them!
- How many plants will fit in my garden? This solely relies on the space you have, I have 4 large raised beds and it’s a lot of work with the weeding and I’m out there a couple times a day with watering (best in the morning!) weeding and sometimes thinning the plants (i.e. carrots sprout out with a gazillion little shoots and need to be thinned to mature with enough space in the soil). It’s easy to plot out how many plants will fit in the space you’d like with the above software, it will tell you exactly how many plants will fit in your space and will also include pictures of each if you’ve never grown them before. There were times I wouldn’t be able to tell if the sprouts were a weed or my veggie! Also make sure you give yourself enough space to be able to reach all your plants – if the beds are too wide it’s difficult to get to the middle plants for weeding, etc. I’ve also used my deck space for planting in pots – I have a couple strawberry pots that are Luke’s to water and pick – great for teaching kids responsibility of their own! I also grow all my herbs in my deck pots too. If you have extra seeds or plants, grab a plant pot and use them for a deck landscape or give them to a friend (or teacher!) for a gift.
- Which plants to use? This depends on what your family will eat. I don’t have any picky eaters here, so we eat it all. I start with what we eat the most of – always tomatoes and salad lettuce and I can never have enough tomatoes because they can so easily. I always try to do at least one new plant each year to try something a little different (this year it will be broccoli and/or cauliflower!) and because you can’t do it all, so it’s fun to change it up a little each year. In my experience these plants were the easiest for me to grow: lettuce (seeds directly in the soil), tomatoes (from starter plants), potatoes, zucchini, carrots (seeds directly in the soil), squash, green bush beans and strawberries (from starter plants).
It’s up to you if you want to go “hog wild” and do lots of planting or if you want to play it safe and pick a smaller handful of plants to try out. Also remember that you can choose to do a spring planting and fall harvest, planting later in the year. You can easily spread out your crop yields to make it a little more manageable while you are improving your green thumb! You can’t do it wrong and in my opinion you can’t ever go wrong…even if you don’t get the harvest you are hoping for and a lot of your plants don’t make it, you learned an invaluable lesson on what works and doesn’t work for your plants and you’ll get it figured out next time!
Stay tuned for future posts on whether you can use pressure treated wood for raised garden beds, organic gardening without toxic pesticides, keeping the weeds down and how to make and use good compost!