Have you ever been lucky enough to taste homegrown vegetables and fruit, freshly picked from a garden? I consider myself one of the lucky few because I grew up eating fresh picked produce on a regular basis. To this day, I am a bit of an “uppity bitch” (as my Aunt Sue lovingly calls it) when it comes to my produce. It is part of the luxury of having family in the ranching biz!
Although it seems like it should be super easy to grow a garden (take plant, put in soil, water as needed and enjoy the fruits of your labor), there IS more to it than this. I’ve created this guide to assist in planting a successful vegetable garden, and let’s be honest, I need the reminder myself from time to time!
Finding the perfect location is super important when it comes to gardening. There are three important factors when it comes to choosing a garden spot; sun, stability and soil.
Veggies are like us, they enjoy soaking up the sun beams, it helps them grow. Most varieties need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day to make them happy. Find a place that gets plenty of sun, and plant your rows from North to South to ensure they get as much sunlight as possible.
Mixing natural soil with compost helps provide the required nutrients to your plants. Make sure the soil is soft enough to let roots easily spread and grow, but stable enough to hold and drain water properly.
Location stability simply means choose a place where wind, rain, floods, fire and brimstone will not be messing with your garden. Does your chosen location flood in the winter? Don’t plant there! Does it get extremely windy or super dry?! Don’t plant there! This may be one of the biggest frustrations in my world! I have had to move and adjust my garden locations so many times, because what is a lovely location in the spring, could be a flood zone in December! It’s best to listen to the wisdom from the Knight in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, “Choose, but choose wisely”.
Spacing and Care
If this is your first garden, I suggest starting small and getting the hang of it, versus the ol’ go big or go home mentality. I am one who needs to be reminded of this. I often bite off more than I can chew in gardening, and then become quickly disappointed when I cannot keep up with the maintenance required to ensure healthy plants.
Make sure to space your crops according to the vegetable you choose. Squash likes to take over and can overrun some plants that are not so aggressive. Corn and beans grow fast and block out sunshine to shorter plants below. Make sure to take into account these growing habits before digging in.
Obviously, make sure to give your plants the correct amount of water. There will be watering instructions on each individual plant, even if you plant seeds. If not, google it! There will be more watering information and instructions per plant than you can even fathom! Keep in mind that some plants will look wilted each afternoon, no matter how much water they have, but should perk up again at night once the heat of the day has subsided. Watch this for a bit to ensure you don’t overcompensate!
Timing is particularly important, depending on what you want to grow. Try growing strawberries outside in New Hampshire in January. I bet that will work super well! All sarcasm aside, there are certain guidelines that everyone should follow when planting their fruit and vegetable garden, no matter what planting zone or climate you live in. For example, I live in Zone 9 in California. My final frost is typically in April, so I can easily start planting frost tolerant plants earlier than those in the North-Eastern part of the country. However, cold weather vegetables, such as Broccoli should be planted as early as mid-January and harvested in April, as the heat kicks in so much earlier for my climate. A great resource that I use to choose the right time for planting is, The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Click here for a link to the best planting dates. By entering your location, you are able to access a planting and harvesting calendar for free.
When it comes to choosing the best vegetables and fruit to plant, first thing is first. Plant what you like to eat! If you hate tomatoes, don’t plant 15 Beefsteak Tomato plants only to be stuck with 90 lbs of tomatoes (I am exaggerating to emphasize my point!) that you have no idea what to do with. Plant what you will eat, can, or what you know you can easily give away to friends and family. That being said, here is the list of the most popular, typically due to ease in growing, plants for beginning gardeners. Choose a few, or all of these and jump on in!
Finally, when it comes to gardening, always remember, even the best and most successful growers have killed a plant or two in their lifetime. Probably a heck of a lot more than that! As with most things, gardening is all about trial and error. Don’t give up, the adventure is often the most enjoyable part of the experience. Well, that and the gorgeous, fresh picked, flavorful produce!
One last tip: Go out and get yourself the biggest, most obnoxious gardening hat you can find, wear it proudly and don’t forget the sunscreen!