I always love to hear from people starting a new vegetable garden. What a wonderful thing. And on this Inauguration Day, a day of such hopeful new beginnings, it seems a particularly appropriate topic.
I was asked to post information on starting a garden. How-to information. But it also gives me a chance to reminisce. And to follow my newly expanded community garden space this season.
I’ll put a new link on my sidebar “For New Vegetable Gardeners”.
To reminisce a bit, I started helping my Dad in his gardens more than 30 years ago. I remember the vegetable gardens he started back in 1972. He marked out plots with string and then turned the lawn over. I remember strawberries and awesome tomatoes. I wish I had photos.
I grew my own first garden outside our first apartment in a small plot our landlord let us use. There were three nice gardens in back yards very close together and I’d look across the fences to see what was growing. One of the gardeners was an older Italian man who knew what he was doing. I’d admire his tomato supports, tall tomato plants and heavy bearing peppers.
17 years ago we turned over our side lawn within a week or two of buying our first house. For many years, the vegetable garden doubled as a children’s play area (mud puddle) in spring. Later we put in raised beds. (Someday I’ll write down more of my garden memories….. Maybe I’ll even find those old photos I know are around here somewhere….)
Last year I got my first community garden plot and this year I have a large area of newly claimed garden area to fill with vegetables.
One of my favorite video clips is this one showing a new vegetable garden: from turning the lawn to harvesting the tomatoes. Its fantastic. Its part of the proposal for an edible garden on the White House lawn. We’ll see if the new President joins the ranks of new gardeners.
Many Presidents have been gardeners. I just read a nice article at Dave’s Garden about Presidential Gardens. The article has a photo of one of my favorite gardens – a fantastic garden kitchen at Jefferson’s home in Monticello. Talk about inspirational!
One of the gardens that has been a big inspiration for me is the WGBH Victory Gardens. Especially the photos in the Victory Garden Cookbook by Marion Morash. Here’s the photo from the back cover of the book:
I always imagine I would have so much space, and such a neat and organized garden. And so much color!
Steps for starting a new vegetable garden
1- Identify where your garden will be. The main thing needed is sunlight. The more the better. Also a flat spot and a way to get water to the plants. Lots of different types of spaces work for edible gardens, including balconies, patios, front yards, back yards, containers, raised beds, etc. I love to see vegetable plants scattered among shrubs and flowers in a perennial area. And don’t forget to consider a community garden. Here’s a link to find the community garden closest to you.
2- Check the soil. If there’s any chance of lead or other contaminants, do a soil test. Here’s where I send my soil for testing. Even aside from lead, the soil test will tell you exactly how much organic matter, nutrients and lime you should add to the soil.
3- Make a list of the vegetables you’d like to grow. As a suggestion, start with five vegetables: e.g. peas, green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini squash. Potatoes also work well for getting the soil mixed in a new garden. Learn about culture of these vegetables. Pea seeds should be planted outside as soon as the soil thaws (March or April), beans seeds also should be planted directly in the garden but after all danger of frost is past (May or June). You can buy young seedlings of tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchinis and transplant these into your garden.
4- Make a plan. You can do this with pencil and paper, on the computer
(try: Google SketchUp, Gliffy, I use MS Office PowerPoint)
or in your head, but its good to have a sense of what you plan to plant, how many plants and where they will be. Here are some of my plans.
5- Prepare the soil. Patrick has a great post on turning a lawn into a garden.
This can be a big topic. For a first year, I’d say to turn the soil (with a shovel) to loosen it. Optimally, you want to spread 2 inches of compost, along with lime and fertilizer, and then turn it again to mix. If you’ve done a soil test, the results will tell you exactly what and how much you need to add. And it will list organic and conventional sources.
6- Then plant!
9- And repeat. (The following year you may want to try more vegetables, no-till soil preparation, raised beds, or lots of other fun stuff.)
There are innumerable details to fill in. Let me know what topics are most useful for new gardeners. Or leave a comment on your new garden plans.
There are many good sites on line about starting a vegetable garden. Most University Extension schools have very informative sites. Here are some:
Iowa State Extension
Univ of Minnesota Extention
Cornell University Vegetable Gardening Basics
But one of my favorite sources is Bifurcated Carrots. Check out this post for more information.
Here’s how my new community garden plot looked early last spring and, at the right, how my newly expanded space looked this fall. I feel such hope, promise and joy in a fresh plot of dirt. Big dreams. Newness.