Vegetable Garden Anywhere – An Outline For the Beginning Gardener
You don’t have to live in the country, or even on a particularly large piece of land in the suburbs, to grow a vegetable garden. Nor do you need a degree in horticulture to figure out what to plant where. You do, however, need a working knowledge of the basics of what a successful vegetable garden needs in order to get started:
Sunlight. Your yard, deck, porch, or window must get sunlight for several hours each day. Plants require it in order to grow, so observe where it shines and for how long before you do anything else. If you’re one of those unlucky folks whose yard is completely shaded most of the day (or you don’t have a yard at all) and none of your windows are particularly sunny either, you will have to invest in some full-spectrum grow lights if you intend to successfully grow your own vegetable garden. It can be done, it will just take extra care.
Living Soil. You need moist, crumbly loam – a healthy mix of sand, clay, and organic matter that holds moisture but drains effectively. If you have a yard, do yourself a favor and either test the soil’s pH level yourself (there are testing kits you can purchase for a reasonable price), or contact your county extension office about sending your samples to them for testing. Testing your soil will tell you what amendments you need to add to it before planting, and double-tilling (to 2 feet) will give your plants’ roots plenty of room to grow deep.. If you will be container gardening (either outdoors or indoors), find a good quality, organic potting soil to fill your containers with, making sure to allow for drainage.
Water. While tap water will nourish your plants, non-chlorinated/fluoridated rain water is best, so if you have a place to put a rain barrel, buy one and install it. Drip irrigation is your best choice for watering your vegetable garden, as it ensures that the water gets to the roots of your plants rather than just misting the foliage (which can actually spread plant diseases). There are drip irrigation kits available for both container and traditional gardening techniques, and you can even hook them up to your rain barrel with the proper hardware connections.
Seeds (or seedlings from a nursery). Buy organic. Buy heirloom if you can. These seeds or plants have been grown naturally, and will reproduce so that you can harvest your own seeds if you wish in order to plant the following year. You don’t want sterile genetically modified seeds taken from synthetically fertilized plants also dripping with synthetic pesticides. Don’t support Big Agribusiness and their increasing monopoly of the world’s food supply. Patronize the smaller, independent farmers and seed-growers, instead. After all, you are joining their ranks!
Plant Food. Organic fertilizers abound. Bone meal, compost, hydrolyzed fish, rotted manure from horses, cows, or chickens…to name a few. If you started out with healthy soil, you will likely need much less additional fertilizer throughout the year.
Pest Control. You can use barriers, such as fences, fabric row covers, and garden mesh or netting. There are scare tactics, such as motion-activated ultrasonic devices, artificial owls with rotating heads, or balloons and ribbons. Beneficial insects such as ladybugs can be purchased to release into your garden – they love to eat aphids. There are also organic pesticides that can be applied to your plants, such as homemade garlic or hot chili pepper emulsions, or commercial products such as Bacillus Thuringiensis or Diatomaceous Earth. Organic pesticides are made from plant material and do not destroy your soil like synthetic pesticides.
Crop Rotation/Succession Planting/Cover Crops. Don’t plant the same thing in the same place twice in a 3-year period (5 years is even better). If you’ve grown something that depletes the soil of a particular nutrient, plant something there next time that replaces that nutrient. Ration your seeds and plant them at 1-3-week intervals, so that you don’t have a glut of produce (lettuce, for instance) all at once and then nothing later. Instead of letting your garden lie fallow during the winter, plant a cover crop, which helps prevent erosion and feeds your soil until it’s time to till it under and plant again.
There are no shortcuts to a bountiful harvest. Preparation is the key to getting a successful vegetable garden growing and seeing it through until harvest time and beyond.
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