Our household has grown vegetables in some way, shape or form for years now. Some seasons, our garden has been very simple and others have been more elaborate – depending on who was inspired and what our summertime activity levels were. Tomatoes are a given, as are zucchini and summer squash. I’ve delighted in the years we’ve grown beans and butternuts, carrots and beets – and there is nothing more satisfying than making dinner and realizing the majority of the produce was grown and harvested right from your own yard.
If you’re feeling the itch to grow vegetables, dive in. You can start small and add more year by year, or you can work with a landscaping company to help you go the full Monty the first time around.
Tips For Beginning Gardeners
Here are some tips for getting your garden started.
Get your priorities straight
There are certain must-haves if you want to grow a garden that bears fruit. These are:
- Plenty of sunlight. Most vegetables, especially those harvested in late summer and fall like lots and lots of light. Six hours per day would be the minimum and eight to ten is even better – especially if you love juicy tomatoes.
- High-quality soil. Soil is more than just a bunch of dirt. Healthy soil is a microcosm in its own right – full of rich, drainable soil that has plenty of minerals, decaying organic material, worms, microbes, fungus (mycorrhizae), and other energizing properties. If you’ve already started a compost pile, great – you’ll be able to incorporate fully composted materials into your soil beds. If not, you’ll want to spend time in your local nursery – bring in a soil sample from your garden area if you’re planning to use your own soil. Employees will help you figure out how much soil and/or soil amendments you’ll need for this year – and they can also help you with planting and spacing tips.
- Compost. If you don’t compost yet, it’s time to start. While it’s too late in the game for this year, next year’s garden will thrive as a result of your efforts. Read Composting At Home to learn more. You’ll be amazed at how much organic materials you produce each week – and now they’ll all be invested into future food stores.
- Access to water – not too little, not too much. Another reason soil quality is so important is that it must be loamy enough to retain a bit of water, but not too sandy (or it drains too much) or clay-rich (where water sits and rots the roots). If at all possible, I recommend installing a drip system equipped with a timer as this makes watering way easier.
Start Small and Grow Your Garden Each Year
Unless you have professional help, it’s best to start small. Gardening is an evolving process so if you go too big the first year, you might wind up with a whole lotta nothing, or more zucchini than you ever wanted to see in your lifetime.
According to the Farmer’s Almanac – a good “starter” garden for a family of four would measure 10-feet x 16-feet, with vegetable rows running north-south. That’s a pretty decent plot so if you’re a couple or your kids are really little, feel free to start smaller. You can also purchase portable raised beds – or build your own – that can be set up on top of existing soil and filled in.
Some of the veggies worth considering are:
- Green beans (add stakes or climbing cones)
- Zucchini or summer squash (no more than four plants – they’re prolific)
- Corn (space accordingly so they don’t block other plants from the sun)
- Kale or chard
- Marigolds – bordering gardens with marigolds helps to deter certain pests, including rabbits
Once your summer harvest is over, you can continue planting a new round of greens that will keep your kitchen leafy rich through the winter and early spring.
I recommend buying organic seeds and starting them inside – those should be started now, OR purchase small, organic starters at a local nursery to give yourself a head start when you plant. Use the Almanac’s Planting Dates Calculator to determine when to begin planting in your neck of the Bay Area. Planting zones are tricky around here because of all the coastal/mountain variations.
Consider Container Gardening in Smaller Spaces
If you just want to get your feet wet this year, or don’t have much room to work with – container gardening is the way to go. With this method, you use appropriately sized containers – no less than 7-inches and typically no more than 12-inches deep – filled with soilless fill that retains water and has nutrients included.
You can grow almost anything in a container if you choose the right container and planting mix. Read, Urban Gardening With Vegetables, to learn more.
Cultivating your own vegetables is addictive and it’s a healthy, outdoor activity. Your children – or grandchildren – will love to help you plant, tend and harvest. Happy growing!