Starting Your First Vegetable Garden
There is something delicious about the smell of freshly tilled soil, like fresh cut grass or clean laundry it imprints a vision of simple pleasures and stress free days. It is easy to forget that gardening is a learning process; and as with every new skill it is best to start simple, not diving into the deep end with the vegetable equivalent of orchids to a new flower gardener. So here are a few things I've learned along the way.
My Planting List
- green beans (blue lake bush)
- carrots (scarlet nantes)
- sugarsnap peas
- beets (detroit red)
- Winter Squash
- Summer Squash (yellow)
- lettuce (ice queen, buttercrunch and mesculin mix)
- radishes (cherry bell)
- cucumbers (burpless)
- green pepper
- eggplant (long purple)
- tomatoes (roma)
The Garden Bug
It is easy to romanticize farm life; the idea of being your own boss, growing your own food and living off the land. In reality farm life is anything but easy and the closest most of us get to it is having a modest vegetable garden and even caring for that sometimes feels like a chore. But even on those late afternoons when you've worked all day and don't really feel like going out an hoeing the garden you are always happy when you do. Well, I am anyway. There is something meditative about standing barefoot in the late afternoon sun, watching the little seed you planted sprout and grow. It is not just satisfying, it is fulfilling.
I grew up on a dying dairy farm. My Grandfather had been forced to sell most of his cows before I was born and eventually the barn was empty and all that was left was his massive vegetable garden in the south field. I still remember pulling up warm radishes, brushing off the dried soil and biting into the spicy red skin as I watched him putter through the rows. He died when I was six and after that his old John Deere just stayed in the shed and the field took back the garden.
It wasn't until my older sister got into her hippie phase that the garden was resurrected (though only to a quarter of it's original size). Remembering Grandpa's garden I wanted to help, but being the annoying little sister my pleas fell on apathetic teenage ears. Our father, ever the peacemaker, tilled another little plot next to hers and said I could have my own garden, as long as I took care of it...I didn't. Needless to say, I was a twelve year old with a very short attention span.
A few years later, having developed a little more patience, and a work ethic, I decided to try again. This time I was hooked. I fell in love with the process of gardening and each year my plot got a little bigger, my planting choices a little more daring.
I still have a big garden, though I've pared it back down to the basics, the things I know I'll use or share. And now that I've had it in the same spot for a few years the maintenance is fairly minimal.
If you've never had a vegetable garden consider it. Even if that garden is just a few rows, or three pots of greens on your patio. You never know, maybe you'll get hooked too.
- Stick with the basics: Don't try growing a ton of exotic or finnicky vegetables your first year. Instead go with the garden equivalent of box macaroni and cheese; lettuce, green beans, carrots, zucchini etc.
- Don't be afraid to ask for help: Talk to the staff at your local garden store, neighbors or the vendors at the farmers market about what grows best in your area. Gardeners are infamous for their love of sharing. Once you get a gardener talking you can get all kinds of great advice.
- Plant what you like: Ask the members of your family for a list of their favorite veggies and make your garden plan with those in mind. There is no point planting brussel sprouts when no one will eat them.
- Consider the light: Read the back of the seed packets to see what amount of light is needed for each vegetable then divide your seeds into three piles; full sun, partial sun and shade. Then observe your garden space for the sunniest and shadiest spots and plant accordingly.
- Fertilize: If your garden will be relatively small you can purchase bags of composted manure at your local garden supply store. If it will be larger consider having a truckload delivered. Or if you have neighboring farms and a truck, ask them for some and go pick it up yourself.
- Don't Procrastinate: Take the advise of a chronic procrastinator, it is better to take excellent care of your garden for the first month than the last. Make sure to regularly weed/hoe your garden, especially in the early days, these are tiny seeds, they don't need to be competing more than they have to for their light and water.