Tips offered to assist beginning gardeners

Rachel Dove rbaldwin@civitasmedia.com

April 23, 2014

By Rachel Dove


Gardening has become a favorite hobby for the younger generations of Tug Valley residents who once moaned and groaned when asked to help their parents weed, water and tend their family gardens as a child.

They too, have developed the satisfaction of growing their own food and of the financial savings and other benefits that go along with it.

If you’re a beginning vegetable gardener, the Daily News has compiled a list of basic tips on garden planning in such areas as site selection, plot size, which vegetables to grow, and many others.

While planning your gardening experience, remember that one of the most common errors for beginners is planting too much too soon, and way more than anybody could eat or want. It is always best to start small. It’s better to be proud of a small garden than being frustrated or overwhelmed by a large one.

First, here are some very basic concepts on topics you’ll want to explore further as you become a vegetable gardener extraordinaire:

First, does your garden have enough sun exposure? Vegetables love the sun and they need at least six hours of full sun every day, preferably eight. Know your soil. Most soil can be enriched with compost and be fine for planting, but some soil needs more help.

Vegetables must have good, loamy, well-drained soil. Check with your local nursery or local cooperative extension office about free soil test kits so that you can assess your soil type. Placement is everything. Avoid planting too near a tree, which will steal nutrients and shade the garden. In addition, a garden too close to the house will help to discourage wild animals from nibbling away your potential harvest.

You must decide between tilling and a raised bed. If you have poor soil or a bad back, a raised bed built with non pressure-treated wood offers many benefits. Vegetables also need lots of water, at least one inch of water a week. You’ll need some basic planting tools. These are the essentials: spade, garden fork, soaking hose, hoe, hand weeder, and wheelbarrow (or bucket) for moving around mulch or soil. It’s worth paying a bit extra for quality tools that will last year after year.

Study seed catalogs and Internet gardening sites and order early. Check the frost dates for your area. Find first and last frost dates and be alert to your local conditions.

You must decide how big a garden plot suits your needs, and always consider the amount of time you will have to devote to it.

A good-size beginner vegetable garden is about 16-by-10 feet and features crops that are easy to grow. A plot this size, planted as suggested below, can feed a family of four for one summer, with a little extra for canning and freezing (or giving away). Make your garden 11 rows wide, with each row 10 feet long. The rows should run north and south to take full advantage of the sun. Vegetables that may yield more than one crop per season are beans, beets, carrots, cabbage, kohlrabi, lettuce, radishes, rutabagas, spinach and turnips.

The vegetables suggested below are common, productive plants, but you’ll also want to contact your local cooperative extension service to determine which plants grow best in your local area. Think about what you like to eat as well as what’s difficult to find in a grocery store or farmers’ market. Also suggested are the amount of plants one should consider to feed a family of four.

Tomatoes, five plants staked; zucchini squash, four plants; peppers, six plants; cabbage; bush beans; lettuce, leaf and/or Bibb; beets; carrots; radishes; and don’t forget to plant a few marigold flowers to discourage rabbits from gobbling up all your hard work.

Remember, if this garden is too large for your needs, you do not have to plant all 11 rows and you can also make the rows shorter. You should choose a different variety of vegetables that you and your family would enjoy seeing on your dinner table, or on the shelves in your pantry after canning them for future use.

The art of gardening is something that is often passed down from one generation to another, and is a good time for family bonding and for teaching your children healthy eating habits, and also how to be self-sufficient.