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The Clueless Gardener: Getting Started

Updated on May 26, 2012

Plot your plot

Okay, so one of my “New year’s Resolutions” or goals this year was to kick it back to my roots, save some money, spread some green, and start up a small vegetable garden. Now I’ve decided to share my experience as a not-so-green-thumb first time gardener. I went with a container/box garden approach for my small yard, but I’ll cover traditional points as well. Like most projects, getting started is the hardest part, so in this first bit I’ll cover what I’ve learned so far.

The first thing I recommend before you every make a purchase or get your hands dirty is PLAN. I spent two weeks compiling a list of vegetables I wanted to grow. I made a list of vegetables that I spend the most money on versus the space I had allowed for my garden. I knew I wanted to plant tomatoes, squash, spinach, herbs, onions, and garlic. Two of my main vegetables were zucchini and squash, so I knew they needed a lot of room. As I started buying plants, however, my list expanded. In the end, my 2 boxes became 3, and I still had some plants left out, so I improvised. There are some great reading materials out there that are chalk-full of information and tips that are really helpful in every stage of gardening, but when you’re first starting they are essential reference tools.

My Choices

The Everything Grow Your Own Vegetables Book: Your Complete Guide to planting, tending, and harvesting vegetables
The Everything Grow Your Own Vegetables Book: Your Complete Guide to planting, tending, and harvesting vegetables

This book has everything from soil PH levels to making your own compost to (what I find the most important) what plants affect each other in a positive or negative way. With plant-by plant details, it's a great choice for planning what to plant.

All New Square Foot Gardening
All New Square Foot Gardening

A must-have if you go the raised bed route!

Better Homes and Gardens Vegetable Fruit & Herb Gardening
Better Homes and Gardens Vegetable Fruit & Herb Gardening

The only small garden book you'd ever need. It covers the basics and gives plant family details complete with pictures.Then tops it off with US planting zone maps in the back. And of course, it's from Better Homes and Gardens.... need I say more?


I’m going to tell you right now, starting up is not cheap. It’s like an investment, though, so it’s up to you to decide how much you’re going to put in and get out of it to make it worth your time. Depending on the type of garden you’re establishing and what you may or may not have in the basement/garage/shed… there’s some serious supplies required including, but not limited to:

  • Shovel
  • Hoe
  • Trowel
  • Gardening soil and/or compost
  • Fertilizer
  • Raised bed kit(s)/containers (if you’re doing box gardening or container)
  • Watering can/system
  • Seeds/plants
  • Seed starter kits

Overall, I probably spent $200 getting started… but the plus is, next year the only costs I have to worry about are the plants and fertilizer.

Get It Growing!

Now, after blowing a couple of paychecks at the store(s) of your choice, you’re ready to set up the garden you’ve been planning for weeks. Most of my plants I started from seed, so I put them in a seed-starting kit to get them going while I was setting up my raised beds. It took about 3 weeks to start getting sprouts, and not all of my seeds had sprouted when I placed them in the garden, but they’d had a good start and with 2 weeks, everything except two seeds sprouted.

Here’s a rundown of everything (in no particular order) I’ve planted in my garden:

Garlic, tomato, bell pepper, jalapeno, Greek oregano, cilantro, dill, basil, mint, lavender, sweet onion, crookneck summer squash, zucchini, sweet potato, carrots, eggplant, cucumber, asparagus, spinach, rattle snake bean, Cherokee black bean, spaghetti squash.

Whew! That sounds like a lot! How did I fit it all? With the guidance of my gardening books, my mother who’s gardened for the last four years, and planning it out based on the planting specifications per plant. That is one of the pluses of buying seedling plants from home depot or a nursery; they usually have a little plastic stake that has the name of the plant and planting instructions. Some plants can be planted mere inches apart, and some have to have feet between them. This is one of the most important factors in planning for limited space like I have.

Once you have your garden and plants all set up and planted, pat yourself on the back. You have initiated a project good for not only your wallet at the grocery store, but your health and well being. Home grown vegetables are free of commercial pesticides and fresher than anything you’ll ever find at the store, and working in the dirt and harvesting something you planted has its own rewards. Okay, take a deep breath and get ready to take care of your garden!

You're Turning Your Thumb Green!

Seeds and Seedling/sprout plants need consistent watering until they get big enough to build up some resistance. It is equally important not to over water them. Depending on your situation and the size of your garden, you may be fine with watering them with a can every 2-3 days, or you may want to invest in a watering system. Don’t freak out, I’m not saying you should dig up your yard installing an irrigation system or anything, a watering system can be as simple as a hose attached to a sprinkler… and apparently, the complexity and aesthetic appeal of sprinklers have evolved over the years, because the one I have for my garden is probably the cutest thing ever, but more importantly, it evenly waters my entire 12’x4’ gardening space. Since it’s been consistently above 75 degrees where I live, I run it about every 3-4 days for 10 minutes (unless it rains) to thoroughly water my plants.

Orbit 91594 Stainless Steel Ornamental Sprinkler (Styles May Vary)
Orbit 91594 Stainless Steel Ornamental Sprinkler (Styles May Vary)

This is the type of orbital sprinkler I have set up, and it works great!


Okay! You’ve got your garden set up, your watering schedule going, and you’re fertilizing every two weeks. You are well on your way to start seeing some beautiful garden results! I just picked my first jalapeno pepper, and I have a bell pepper and 3 green tomatoes coming to fruition. Ok… so far, so good.

The Pay-off

My raised bed garden... edited a little to make room for the onions & garlic.
My raised bed garden... edited a little to make room for the onions & garlic.
The herb bed with tomato & peppers
The herb bed with tomato & peppers
a custome built bed to seperate the asparagus from the other plants.
a custome built bed to seperate the asparagus from the other plants.

Next Topic!

Next time on “The Clueless Gardener”… The pain of pests!


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