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Growing Your First Vegetable Garden

 
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Have you always wanted to grow your own vegetables, but didn’t know how to get started? Now is the time to start planning your garden, so you can yield a bountiful summer harvest. Below, we offer a simple list to help make your first garden a successful (and delicious) one!

garden-6.jpg1 – If this is your first year growing a vegetable garden, start small and see what works for your budget, soil, and time. Beginning gardeners often make the mistake of burdening themselves with large gardens that require an overwhelming amount of effort and yield too much produce than any one household could eat. Start small the first time and take notes about how things go, so you can streamline your plan for next year.
 

2 – Purchase high quality seeds. Seed packets are less expensive than individual plants and the extra pennies spent on better seeds will likely yield a healthier, more abundant, and better-tasting harvest.

garden-5.jpgCheck around with your local seed stores to find who offers the best quality seeds. For example, Sow True Seed, located in Asheville, NC, offers GMO-free seeds in organic, heirloom, and traditional varieties. Old Salem Gardens, in Winston-Salem, NC, offers high-quality seeds as well. You may also research seeds on the internet and order them online. Seed Savers Exchange and High Mowing Organic Seeds are a couple of our favorites.

Additionally, many farmers’ markets offer less expensive seeds that are locally harvested as well as heirloom seed exchanges. Ask around about seed exchanges when markets reopen this spring.


3 – Pick a sunny location. Vegetables require at least 6 hours of direct sunlight daily. The more sunlight, the better.


4 – Plant in fertile soil. Your soil should be soft. Avoid areas that are too hard (likely due to packed clay), dry, or sandy. Fertile soil allows the plants’ roots to penetrate easily. Proper water drainage is also important.  Use a trowel to create water diversion channels so that excess water doesn’t drown your plants.

garden-4.jpgA few ideas for making your soil more nutrient rich:
-    Composting is the easiest way to enrich your soil because we all have food scraps. Anything from fruit and vegetable rinds and cores, old bread and grains, to coffee grounds and even tea bags will help turn your soil into “black gold.” Yard waste like leaves, grass clippings, and shredded twigs all decompose into wonderful sources of nutrients, too! Check out our Compost Keeper and degradable compost bags HERE. Also, click HERE for composting tips as well as a terrific list of do’s and don’ts to help get you started.

Additionally, some cities offer compost bins and rain barrels at low cost or for free. Check with your local agricultural cooperative extension for more information.

-    Aerate your soil by adding earthworms. These champion plowers create tunnels that allow water and air to get to the root of plants. Look into a local worm farm or stop by a bait-and-tackle shop to pick up a container of red wigglers or redworms to add to your garden.

-    Use horse or goat manure. Manure offers a mix of excellent organic materials like straw, hay, and table scraps. Of course, this plan is easier to execute if you know someone who owns farm animals. Only use straight manure if it’s been aged 60 to 90 days first. Cattle manure works, too, if they are grass or hay fed.


garden-3.jpg5 – Space out your crops. Refer to your seed packets which offer specific spacing guidance for each type of plant. Plants that are placed too close to each other compete for water, sunlight, and nutrients. Also, pay close attention to how tall each plant it expected to grow. For example, corn and tomatoes need extra space to fully mature and may also overshadow other smaller vegetables.  

The Old Farmer’s Almanac recommends the following plants for your starter garden. This list should feed a family of 4 all summer long with a little extra for freezing, canning, and sharing:

Tomatoes—5 plants staked
Zucchini squash—4 plants
Peppers—6 plants
Cabbage
Bush beans
Lettuce, leaf and/or Bibb
Beets
Carrots
Chard
Radishes
Marigolds (to discourage rabbits!)

The Old Farmer’s Almanac also offers a helpful planting calendar by state and county. Take a peek at yours by clicking HERE.

For local tips and ideas about what other veggies grow well in your region and when, check in with local nurseries, go to native plant sales this spring, and stop by your local agricultural cooperative extension for any issues that may arise or if you’d like to take advantage of soil testing. Many communities offer low cost master gardener’s classes for beginners. Visiting local community gardens is another helpful way of getting to know other gardeners and find out how they approach gardening in your area.

Looking ahead, we’ll explore porch plants and container gardens for apartments and smaller dwellings this spring. We’ll also offer tips for starting your herb and flower gardens. Happy planting!