There are many things that prompt people to think about starting their own vegetable gardens. Maybe they’ve purchased their first home and have a backyard for the first time. Maybe they’ve made some lifestyle choices towards eating healthier and want to try to grow their own fresh produce. Maybe they want to start a new hobby and gardening is interesting to them. No matter the case, vegetable gardening can be a great endeavor to embark upon for people young and old.
At first the whole concept of growing vegetables can seem rather daunting when someone is first starting out. Keeping some basic concepts in mind can help make growing vegetables much easier and hopefully more successful.
Before the Season Starts
While it’s tempting to head out to the garden center, buy a bunch of plants, and stick them in the ground there are some important things that should be done before you even start the actual gardening part of having a vegetable garden.
Put together a plan — The first thing to start with is to sit down and create a plan for the garden. Think about how much space you have to work with, the plants you’d like to grow, and the fundamentals needed to properly grow plants. When putting together a plan
- Start small — A common mistake made when starting a vegetable garden is taking on too much, too quickly. Until you get a good feel for the amount of work involved with growing your own produce its best to start on a smaller scale and then expand in following growing seasons. Think about the vegetables your family really enjoys and start there. It’s pointless to plant — especially in the early growing season — something that your family might not even eat when you put it on the table.
- Maximize space — Starting small doesn’t mean you have to only grow a couple of plants. When designing a garden plan make sure to utilize all of the space you have available. Think about growing up (trellises) as well as outward, and look into companion planting (planting more than one variety in a space). This allow you to successfully put more plants into a smaller space.
- Lots of light — Vegetables need an incredible amount of sunlight to grow and produce a harvestable crop. Sunlight is needed to power photosynthesis within the plant; photosynthesis is a process that takes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and water from the soil to generate sugars the plant uses as food. Most vegetable plants prefer locations that receive at least 8 hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight every day.
- Good soil — One of the most important aspects of growing vegetables is starting off with a good foundation, i.e. quality soil; without a decent base to start from, your plants will struggle all season. Good soil is important because of the relationship it develops with the roots. It will help to adequately anchor roots, providing support to the plants; it will allow access to nutrients, water, and air; and good soil will allow roots to grow and “stretch” out without interference. Take a look at the soil you have to work with and amend it by adding some organic matter or composted manure if it needs it.
During the Growing Season
After you’ve spent some time planning your vegetable garden, and making sure the location you have picked out has good sun exposure and quality soil, it’s time to actually start getting plants into the ground and get your garden
Plant spacing — When you purchase plants, they will list on the label the recommended plant spacing. It’s important to follow this when planting to give plants adequate room to grow. If you plant them much closer together they will compete with each other for water and nutrients within the soil, impeding their growth and potentially reducing their harvest.
Fertilizers — As plants grow they are constantly feeding on certain nutrients found in the soil that are essential for functions within their cells. Over time, they can deplete even the most fertile soil, making it necessary to periodically add plant “food” to grow strong, healthy plants. A quick look in any garden center will give you a wide variety of fertilizers to choose from that you can tailor to your gardening preference (organic, conventional, etc.). Any products purchased will give you detailed instructions on how much fertilizer to apply and when to apply it for optimal results. Always make sure to water fertilizers in well to avoid potentially negative side effects to surrounding plants and water bodies.
Watering — No matter what vegetable plants are being grown, they all need sufficient water to grow vigorously. This can be a little tricky in certain places. Some areas of the country receive plenty of rainfall to water gardens sufficiently; other areas need supplemental irrigation to make their gardens grow. In order to provide the water your plants need you can either drag a hose or watering can around the yard or you can cut down on your manual labor and install an irrigation system. These systems can be turned on manually or run automatically via an irrigation valve like Wise Orchard’s that adjusts the watering scheduling according to the weather.
Mulch — Many people often overlook this step, but it’s an important one when vegetable gardening. Spread 2-3” of mulch throughout the garden beds to cover the exposed soil surface making sure to keep it from directly touching the stem of the plants. Mulching the exposed soil will most importantly help to retain moisture within the soil, but will also reduce the germination of weed seeds and slowly breakdown to add nutrients to the soil over time.
Beneficial insects — No, it’s not necessary to eradicate any and all insects that want to hang out in your garden. Truthfully it’s really good to encourage beneficial insects such as honey bees, butterflies, and ladybugs to come hang out in your vegetable garden. This can be done by planting small patches of plants that will attract them. These beneficial insects will help to encourage pollination of your vegetable plants and may help to ward off damaging insect predators.
Pest/weed management — It’s inevitable that your vegetable garden is going to succumb to the occasional weed or insect pest. Make sure to pull weeds quickly by hand, or use an herbicide, to minimize the competition with your vegetables. Treat insects pests quickly too and remove entire plants and dispose of them properly if an infestation is past the point of being able to successfully control.
Down the Road
Even after your first growing season has wrapped up, it’s important to think about a couple of concepts that carry over from year to year.
Keep a journal — It may some like a silly aspect of gardening, but it’s really beneficial to keep a journal or notebook that talks about your garden failures and successes. This will help you in future growing seasons if you encounter problems; you can quickly look back and see what you did in the past that did or did not work.
Crop rotation — Every year it’s important to rotate the growing location of crops. Divide your plants into groups/families that are similar — legumes, root crops, leaf crops, and fruits — so that you can rotate where the entire family is planted every couple of years, if not yearly. This will help to manage soil fertility related to nitrogen-fixing plants, reduce problems with soil-borne diseases, and potentially reduce the incidence of some insect pests as well.
Growing a vegetable garden is a great venture to take on for many reasons. Not only are you learning the responsibilities of gardening and enjoying time outdoors, you can provide healthy, fresh produce for your kitchen table. If you’re just getting started gardening some of the tips listed above will help you get started off on the right foot, helping to encourage a productive growing season.
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