I married a man who spent his last bachelor year on his grandparents farm eating fresh homegrown vegetables at the dinner table. So when we moved into a little cottage in the country after the wedding, he wanted us to have a garden of our own! If you’ve ever wondered how to plant a garden, this post is for you!
Here I am pictured with our old friend John, a county fair winning preserver and expert gardener. He had just shown me how to make my first two rows of tomatoes and peppers. John passed away a couple years ago, but his love for the garden lives on. A vegetable garden will bring folks together, teach valuable skills and produce food that is healthier, fresher and more economical.
If you’ve never had a vegetable garden before, there is no better time than now to give it a go! We have had our last frost of the season here in Ohio and the warm April sun and cool soil provide the perfect environment for starting our favorite vegetables. I recently sat down with another dear friend named Bettyann, who studied horticulture in college. We talked gardening and she helped me come up with some helpful tips for planning their first garden.
Notice I didn’t say the word plant yet. The secret to a successful garden is all in the planning and that involves answering some questions first…
4 Key Questions To Ask Before You Plant Your Garden
How much time do you have? Big gardens take more time than small ones, but every garden will take some time from your schedule. In other words, if you plan to just sprinkle some seeds on a patch of soil and hope to be eating ripe eggplant in a few weeks, gardening is not for you. Plan on planting only what you will realistically take care of through the season and have time to harvest.
How much space do you have? Even those in the city can have little vegetable gardens growing in large pots on a balcony or along the side of a house. Space will help you determine how much you need to plant. To plant enough vegetables for your aunt’s famous salsa recipe and freeze the leftover peppers for winter soups, you will need accommodate for that.
To put this in perspective, my husband and I grew a 40 x12 foot garden by our first home in order to grow all the bounty that you see here (and my camera would only capture half of it!) Obviously, with a garden that size, we had enough to eat fresh, preserve and share. The more space, the more vegetables… but also, the more work! To maximize garden space, plant multiple vegetables within the same row by splitting the row up into sections.
What do you like to eat? I know someone who planted 3 rows of cucumbers plants, Since cucumbers don’t freeze well and nobody in her family likes pickles, they gave away A LOT of cucumbers that summer. Cucumber cake anyone? Plant not only what you like, but also what you find yourself eating fresh or what you find yourself cooking with.
What can you grow? Mary, Mary quite contrary, how does your garden grow? Keep in mind that climate and soil type play a large factor in what type of vegetables you can grow in your garden. Growing hot weather artichokes in NW Ohio summers might not be the best idea. If this is your first garden, consider planting the laid back veggies first. Bettyann gave me this fantastic reference list for Ohio climate:
Easy: radishes, beans, lettuce, beets, tomatoes, peppers, onions, chard
Moderate: peas, carrots, squash, cucumbers, corn, melons, broccoli
Difficult: sweet potatoes, watermelon, cauliflower, celery
Stony soils provide a different growing environment than soft sandy soils. The PH level in your soil is a big deal too, but don’t be overwhelmed! There are all kinds of soil test kits out there that can help you determine what you can grow. One more thing to consider is garden exposure to sunlight. There is a balance between too much sun and too little. Consider sunny areas over shaded areas and be careful when planting on the side of a building. Heat reflection can affect plant growth.
If you’ve answered those questions, now it’s time to gather the tools for the trade. You don’t need a shed full of tools to plant a garden. A tiller will help turn up the soil for planting if you are starting on a patch of grass, but you only need to do this once a year, so borrow the neighbors! Once the soil is turned up, a scuffle hoe and regular hoe are two essential tools. The scuffle hoe (pictured right) will help smooth out the soil for planting. The regular hoe (pictured left) will create a divot in the soil for which you will sprinkle your seeds. If you are starting with plants instead of seeds, you will need a small shovel to dig a hole for the plant. And of course, invest in a watering can or hose!
Seeds or Plants?
Seeds are less expensive than plants, but remember that seeds will take an additional 3-4 weeks to get as tall as a ready-to-plant plant grown in a nursery. Here is our typical seed reference list for what we like to grow:
Best from seed: beets, kale, lettuce, spinach, squash, cucumber, zucchini and sweet corn.
For the freshest seeds, look for the date stamped on the back of a packet and keep them in your refrigerator until you are ready to plant. You can buy seed packets at pretty much any garden store or from reputable companies online (Mail order January – April for best selection).
While some plants can handle growing from seed fine, others are best purchased in plant form. Here is our typical plant reference list for what we like to grow:
Best from plant: Tomatoes, bell peppers, hot peppers, eggplant, broccoli
Keep in mind that one germinated seed or one plant will produce multiple vegetables. Four tomatoes plants, for example, will feed our household of five for the summer and still provide plenty of fruit for canning or freezing.
Let’s do it!
Last evening, we decided to plant a row of beets from seed. In less than 10 minutes, it was done. We had tilled up our garden a few weeks ago, so all we needed to do was use the scuffle hoe to smooth things out. We created our trough in the soil using the edge of the hoe, sprinkled seeds, covered up our path and watered. The stakes and string you see helped us follow a straight line in planting. The seed packet directions told us how much distance is needed between rows, but we didn’t follow their instructions on how far apart to place the seeds. Instead, my husband sprinkled the seeds generously in the trough to ensure that the whole row is full of seeds. Over the next couple of months, we’ll keep them well watered and as they start to grow, we will thin them (pull out the plants that are too close together).
Few things in life are more rewarding than gardening. I’ve made burritos for dinner using harvested garlic, onions, peppers, tomatoes, corn and cilantro from our own backyard. I’ve also taken lots of pictures of our children enjoying the garden too. Our eldest daughter, who was 15 months at the time of this picture, helped herself to fallen cherry tomatoes and sucked on them until they popped 🙂 Whether it’s about making memories or making food, having your own vegetable garden is one of life’s greatest blessings.