Planting Your First Garden

Evan Pisk By Evan Pisk, 25th Jun 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Family>Rural Living

Planting a garden for the first time can be daunting, but there are ways to make it an easier and more successful project.

So you think your thumb might be green

In these days when there is ever-increasing concern about the ingredients in processed food and the quality and provenance of meat and produce, maybe you and your family are more concerned about what you eat. It's a natural step to consider growing your own food, so you have control over what you're consuming and where it came from. Although planting a garden can seem daunting, there are some easy steps to make your first experience a successful one.

What to grow and where to grow it

Your first step will be making some choices about what you're going to grow. This is very important; some vegetables are easier to grow than others, and there is nothing more discouraging than planting your favorite veggie hand struggling to get it to grow and produce. The nature of your property plays a heavy role in this. Tomatoes, for example, require six to eight hours a day of direct sunlight, so if your yard is heavily shaded then that might not be the best choice. Greens like lettuce, chard or spinach are a better choice, as are root vegetables like carrots, potatoes, and radishes. Radishes are an excellent choice for a first-time gardener because they grow very rapidly and lead to quick success.

Topography is also important in the placement of your first plot. Flat space is important, but not essential. My first property had more hillside than anything else and that forced me to make some important decisions. Squash, pumpkins, and watermelon need to be planted in mounds, and I knew it might be difficult to maintain them on a slope. They were joined by carrots and radishes on the flatter space. Tomatoes, cucumbers, and pole beans proved to thrive quite well in the situation, especially with stakes and tripods for them to climb.

To till or not to till ....

Once you've made your decisions about what and where to plant, you'll need to make another big choice: will you plant directly in the ground, or will you build a raised bed? Both have pros and cons. Planting directly in the ground means you will have to till or plow the ground first. This can save you some money, even if you are planting a large garden, but it also means you are in for some major amounts of weeding - turning the ground will expose a multitude of seeds that have just been waiting the right conditions to sprout.

A raised bed means building an enclosure and filling it with soil. A major plus to this is being able to build just the size you feel you can manage. I built the sides of my first bed from scrap lumber, so it didn't cost me anything to build; don't worry though, the cost of building doesn't have to be a major expense. Be creative -- my current property came with a huge stack of cinderblocks in one corner of the yard. Guess what my raised beds are built with? Consider building the bed with square hay bales; they're easy to move, and they can always be used for mulch.

Amendments

Whether you make the decision to till or build raised beds, most soil isn't going to be optimal for growing without adding something to it. You're probably going to need to add what are called amendments: compost, manure, fertilizer, etc. When making use of raised beds, you have the option to use a garden soil that is pre-mixed to contain these. They're available by the bag or in volume from most garden centers.

It's also important to lay down mulch once your garden is growing. Mulch helps suppress the growth of weeds, helps keep the fragile root system of your growing plants cool, and retains all-important water. If you're on a budget as I was when planting my first garden, consider alternatives to traditional mulch. I didn't have the money to spring for mulch, but I had many friends willing to bring me plastic bags full of shredder paper from their office. Lay it down, spray it with water, and it works extremely well.

Water and tools

Water is of course essential to growing a garden. You can overcome lack of soil amendments or tools when gardening, but go without water and you'll quickly have nothing but some shriveled, dried up stalks. Don't panic if you don't have a hose. It doesn't mean you can't water your garden, it just means you are going to have to haul some sort of watering can back and forth.

As with anything, proper tools are a must. I started my first garden with just three: a shovel, a hand trowel, and a 3-prong hand rake. You can get all three of these for a very small investment, especially with inexpensive trowels and hand rakes made of sturdy plastic. You'll also want some heavy-duty gloves and a hat to protect you from the sun. Other tools you might consider as your garden grows will include shears, a weeder, a pruner, a rake, a hoe, a wheelbarrow, and a kneeler pad.

What else?

There's no fixed set of rules or suggestions when it comes to gardening and there's no such thing as a tried-and-true method. What is successful in one gardener for one gardener may be a flop for you. Don't give up! There are bound to be very experienced gardeners in your community. Seek them out and solicit their tips and advice. Your local extension agent will have plenty of resources for your use as well. Lastly, don't discount the internet; there are great forums such as Garden Web that are chock full of new friends waiting to help you with their own wealth and experience.

Whatever you do, don't give up. You'll be glad you persevered the first time you sink your teeth into a fresh tomato or cucumber!

Tags

Garden, Garden Planning, Gardening, Gardens

Meet the author

author avatar Evan Pisk
Evan Pisk has been a missionary and pastor, and is currently a technical support technician. He is an avid cook, gardener, and home canner. He writes on religion, spirituality and technology.

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