Monday, January 19, 2009

Gardening for Beginners

It might be cold outside, but now is the time to start planning this year's garden.

A friend asked me about gardening tips for beginners and so I thought that I would share a few of my tips.

First of all - start small. First time gardeners many times don't realize just how much work a garden can be and have all sorts of grand ideas and then they don't have time to keep up with the weeding and watering. When their garden fails, they lament that they just don't have a green thumb. If you have truly never gardened before try planting just a few things the first year. Perhaps plant a salsa garden (tomatoes, hot peppers, onions and cliantro) if you love to eat lots of fresh salsa. If that goes well, then maybe the next year you can add on some cucumbers or carrots or something else that your family really loves to eat. Or maybe a salad garden with lettuce, radish, cukes, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers and whatever else you like to eat in your salad.

Another priority is to select your location for your garden. You want an area that gets at least 6 hours a day of direct sunlight - a lot of plants might do well in shade, but vegetables do not tend to be among them. You should select an area that is fairly level and well drained. If the water puddles there after every rain - it is not draining well and your veggies will not do well.

Once you have selected your garden space you need to prepare it. You will need to break up the ground for planting - the easiest way to do that is to rent or borrow a rototiller. Or, you can make a raised bed garden. A raised bed garden can be as simple as putting down some 2 by 4's, putting in a plastic liner (to keep the weeds from coming through) and filling it in with soil or compost. If you use treated wood, you want to be careful about what the wood has been treated with - you don't want arsenic leaching through into your garden and finding it's way into your body. You can find some affordable raised bed garden kits by clicking here. I prefer filling my raised beds with compost over soil - if you wish to do this, check your county recycling division to see if they offer compost. In my county, they offer cleaned and sifted compost bagged for a minimal price - or raw compost for free. Even though I compost - I never seem to have enough in the spring so we drive out and get some free - we take a piece of chicken wire to sift out the bigger pieces and lots of empty buckets (we use the buckets that we purchased kitty litter in) and get as much as we want. Andy loves climbing the tall piles of compost! If you till up the ground instead of a raised bed, you will still want to work some compost into the soil before planting.

Next you want to make sure that you have the proper tools for gardening. You don't need a lot of fancy equipment, although as time goes on you will probably add some. To get started all you really need is a good garden spade, hoe, hose and sprinkler. Garden gloves, clogs and something to kneel on are also nice - but you can get by without them if you need to.

Next you should pick what you are going to plant. A good place to start is by looking at what you and your family enjoys eating - that is what you should plant to get started. Then you need to decide how much to plant. To decide this, you need to ask yourself - how big is your family? What is your goal? Do you just want veggies for fresh eating or do you want to can or freeze the extra to feed your family year round? Or perhaps you want extras to share with the neighbors.

When deciding what plants to grow you need to realize that even the easiest plants don't grow some years and sometimes you will have success with the more difficult ones. There are so many factors that come into play - what is your USDA hardiness zone - the weather is a biggie - and you cannot control that. You want to pick plants that are suited for your area. I grow different varieties here in Minnesota than I did when I lived in Arizona.

You also need to decide if you want to plant from seed or buy plants from the nursery. You probably want to do a little of each in the beginning. Some plants need to be started indoors 6 to 8 weeks before planting outside - those are plants that the beginning gardener might want to purchase from a nursery. Other plants do best direct seeded in the garden.

You probably want to sketch out your garden on paper so you know what you want to plant where. I no longer do that but I used to find it very helpful.

Another consideration might be whether you want to include your children in the gardening. I give Andy his own little area to garden every year and he loves it - he also makes sure we know that anything produced in his area is HIS and he better not find me or Dan in there picking his stuff. And he always plants a sunflower fort every year now.

My list of easy to grow veggies for beginners (in no particular order):
  • Radishes - start from seed right in garden
  • Lettuce- start from seed right in garden
  • Tomatoes - buy plants or start inside 6 to 8 weeks before planting outside
  • Peppers - buy plants or start inside 6 to 8 weeks before planting outside
  • Cucumbers - start from seed right in the garden - you will need to trellis them or have a lot of space for the vines.
  • Strawberries -you need to buy plants for these - they will come back every year.
  • Green Beans - start from seed right in the garden. I prefer pole beans - I think they produce more in small space and I like the taste better - you do need to trellis pole beans.
  • Pumpkins and Squash (if you plant zucinni, make sure you don't plant too much - it is very prolific) - start from seed right in the garden. Pumpkins need a lot of room for the vines to grow.
  • Sunflowers - great for kids - plant from seeds right in the garden
  • Carrots - plant from seeds right in the garden.
  • Beets - plant from seeds right in the garden. Beets are a dual plant - you eat both the leaves and the root.
  • Potatoes - You will need to purchase seed potatoes to plant. These can be fun for kids to grow in containers or even plastic garbage bags! Click here for more info.

The most important thing to remember is to just have fun. A garden should be a place to relax and enjoy - it should never be stressful.


BabiesandBargains said...

Ok from the garden dummy!!

I plan on using the ground as my garden however I am going to need to make a fence around it(we have a wood chuck in the area)...Till up the land and plant the seeds or plants....then fertilize and water...Do I water daily? (I wasn't kidding when I said I was dumb) How do I know when the veggies are harvested?

Kathi said...

No such thing as a garden dummy! You are just new to gardening.

How often to water depends on the weather. Until the plants sprout, you do want to water daily because the top layer where the seeds are will dry out quickly and the seeds won't germinate.

Once the plants have sprouted you don't want to water too much because you want to encourage the roots to go down deep looking for water to anchor your plants and also the seeds can rot if you water too often.

You can buy a nifty little thing that you can stick in the ground that will tell you when the ground is too dry and needs watering but I just dig down a little with my finger - when the dry dirt on top gets to two inches deep I water.

In the heat of the summer you probably need to water daily. But it all depends on the heat and how much it rains.

Melissa said...

THANK YOU! What an awesome post!!!!

Kathi said...

Melissa - thank you for the idea to write it. I'm glad you found it useful.

BabiesandBargains said...

great thanks....Your so very helpful. I feel bad for the pour soul at Lowes that sees me in May.

Lori said...

I ran upon your blog completly by accident and took it as an omen that this was to be the year! I have been considering a garden for years. I am new to gardening as well, I do have two rose bushes that I have been able to keep alive for a few years on the not so great growing side of the house.I live in a neighborhood with lots of mature trees that block out most of my mid-late afternoon sun. I do get late morning sun till about 2:00pm. Will that be enough? The best place for me to plant would be along a part of my yard that gets very little sun,(same area as the rose bushes) but of for better sun its going to have to go somewhere else. So sorry boys, some of the "football/soccer field" area has just become mom's. I think a raised bed would be better for us to keep little feet from accidently trampling through it. How do you know what the lumber has been treated with? And how big would you suggest I start with for a "salad garden" and maybe a couple zucchini for my daughters zuccchini bread I have been purchasing at the local farmers market. How deep does it need to be? Thanks for the great blog and any help you can offer.

Kathi said...

Hi Lori,

Welcome to gardening! I totally believe in omens. This is your year to garden!

You want your garden to get a min. of 6 hours of sunlight a day. In the spring note what time the sun starts hitting that area and what time it stops and you will have your answer as to whether you can stay there or take some area from your children.

If you buy your lumber new, you can just ask the salesman. Tell him you want it for a garden and don't want anything that has been treated with harmful chemicals for a garden. There are lots of options and he should be able to help you find the right one for your needs.

As to size, it depends on how many people you will be feeding. A salad garden can probably be as small as 4 ft. by 4 ft. 4 by 8 if you have a large family. You don't want your garden any wider than 4 feet so you can easily reach the middle from either side -length doesn't matter but lumber is often sold in 4 ft lengths so that makes it easy without having to cut lumber.

If you plant zuchinni - don't plant more than one or two plants - they are very prolific. I usually plant just one.

For depth, most plants have a root zone of 6 to 12 inches. So a min. of 12 inches - deeper if you are going to be growing root crops. I like 18 to 24 inches for my beds.

I hope that helps. And please come back and report how you do. I love hearing about other people's gardens.

The Gardeness said...

Thanks for the tips. I've been gardening a couple years and still feel new to the activity!

Connie said...

Hi Kathi! It is nice to see you posting again. This was a great post, full of good tips for beginners. I hope you are staying warm? The weather where my Dad lives in N.Dak. has been frightfully cold.

Kathi said...

Hi Connie,
It has been COLD here this year. Colder than it has been in several years. All of this below zero weather is getting old.

Jamie Keifer said...

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