When I was 8 years old, a neighbor gave me a johnny-jump up flower to plant. I dug a hole and planted it alongside our house, watered it, weeded it, and marveled at it. When it “died”, I pulled it out and was scolded by my neighbor/mentor. You see, if I had left it alone, it would have re-seeded and returned next year.
I thought I was taking care of things, but that was my first gardening mistake. I’ve made many. I’ve put together some info here for beginning gardeners so that, perhaps, you’ll make a few less than I.
Vegetable gardens need full sun, so locate your garden where it will get at least 8 hours of sun. Cooler weather crops such as lettuce and spinach don’t mind less sun and may not bolt (go to seed) as quickly when the weather warms.
A great way to learn the sunniest area on your property is to track shadows. It’s an easy way to determine how many hours of sun your yard really gets.
A spot close to your kitchen should be your next consideration. I frequently run out to the garden for herbs or another tomato for the salad, etc., when I am cooking. Having it close by is a convenience.
When beginning a new garden, I recommend that you start small and work your way up over the years. Like a new exercise program, if you overdo it in the beginning you will likely become discouraged and quit. A small weed-free garden will produce much more than a large, weedy mess.
There are many ways to plant a garden. Choose a style for your organic garden that suits your needs.
- Traditional “dug” garden: Each year you turn over the soil in your garden plot, amend the soil as needed and plant. (I’ll talk more about amending in the section on soil). While hand digging is not terribly destructive, I do not ever suggest using a rototiller. Read why rototillers may be more harmful than helpful in an organic garden. My main recommendation if you choose this method is to incorporate paths into the garden and walk only on these paths. Walking on soil where you have planted compresses the soil. Roots thrive better with airy soil.
- Raised bed garden:
With a raised bed, the garden is built on top of the ground with sides to hold the soil in place. This is filled with soil, either purchased or “lasagna” style (see below). Soil amendments are often added as well.
Raised beds warm up earlier in the season, extending your growing season, have good drainage, and prevent soil compaction because you never step into the bed. It is best to keep the width of each bed under 4 feet so that you can reach all areas from outside of the bed. In addition, yearly digging is not necessary.For more information, check out my guide to raised bed gardening.
- Lasagna gardening: With this method, organic materials are layered on top of the ground. No soil is added and no digging is involved. Lasagna gardens may be built in a raised bed. This method, also called sheet composting, is my preferred method of gardening. For more information on this method, see my previous post.
Healthy Garden Soil
When we think of starting a garden we usually think of the “fruit”. But I encourage you to think, instead, “soil”. Soil is the foundation of your garden; your vegetables and your garden will only be as healthy as your soil.
What to Grow
Planting Your Organic Garden
If you are wondering what to grow in your first garden, see Easy to Grow Vegetables for Beginners from Southern Dreams Homestead. Steel Raven Farms also has a helpful post: What to Plant in Your Vegetable Garden.
Watering Your Garden
Mulching Your Garden
Staking and Trellising
Dealing with Disease and Pests in the Organic Garden
To learn how to build a garden that builds healthy soil, be sure to check out my eBook The Art of Gardening: Building Your Soil. You really can become a better gardener, and you really can grow healthy, nourishing produce. It’s all about the soil! Click here to buy now.
Lasagna Gardening by Patricia Lanza
Healthy Soils for Sustainable Gardens edited by Niall Dunne
Identifying Diseases of Vegetables by MacNab, Sherf & Springer
Postage Stamp Garden Book, The by Duane Newcomb – This is the book I read when I was 16 and dug my family’s entire small backyard for a garden. I’m thankful for parents who didn’t blink an eye!
Practical Entomologist, The by Rick Imes – good introduction to the world of insects.
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