Beginner Gardening Success
Abbot Walafrid Strabo said, “Get a garden! What kind you may get matters not.” Following a popular trend to grow your own food, how about starting a vegetable garden? Try these steps to ensure a successful first year.
Choosing the correct site will make the difference between success or failure. Think sun, lots of sun – you need a minimum of eight hours a day. You also need easy access to water, so if your only outdoor faucet exists on the east, don’t put your garden on the west.
Next, prepare the soil by removing everything that doesn’t belong, and work in some organic matter. Well-rotted manure or compost works great. Normally, I discourage mechanical tillage, but digging up a new site and incorporating organic matter requires the extra power of a tiller.
If the sunniest spot in your yard holds the worst soil, consider building a raised bed, which consists of a garden built on top of your native soil. Not only will it keep the grass out, but you can tailor the soil to your needs. (Learn more about building a raised bed at ilfbpartners.com/raised-beds.)
Then head to the nursery to purchase your plants. March right past those tempting seed packet displays with their glossy cover photos, and continue outside to the transplants. Seed starting requires a lot of work. Some, such as tomatoes, start their early life inside where most homes don’t have enough light, causing them to become leggy as they reach toward the sun. The vegetable seeds you start outside have to be kept moist until they germinate and develop some roots. Babysitting them on hot, windy late spring days gets old in a hurry. So, for your first year, stick with transplants. Someone else went to the trouble of getting them up and growing for you. Take advantage of the head start.
Time to plant. Sprinkle a balanced fertilizer (10-10-10) where you are planting, and work it into the top several inches of soil. If the transplant comes in a plastic container, pop it out. Follow the instructions for planting distance and depth. Gently pry apart the roots, open a hole in the soil, put the plant in, pat the soil around the root ball and water. Some transplants come in a pot made of peat moss that can be planted directly in the soil. Bottom line: follow directions on the small, plastic descriptors that nurseries poke in transplant containers.
Save mulching for the final step. Choose something that will compost in place over the next year, such as grass clippings, shredded leaves or straw that results from harvested crops such as wheat and sold in rectangular bales at many nurseries. Losing a garden to weeds can discourage any gardener, new or experienced, and mulch shades weed seeds so they don’t receive enough sun to germinate. Mulch also conserves water and keeps the soil at an even temperature to benefit your growing veggies.
You did it. You got yourself a garden.
Ask the Expert
Can I reuse last year’s potting soil?
Absolutely. Dump it out, mix in some fresh peat and fertilizer, put it back in your container and you are ready to plant.
Is spring a good time to transplant bluebells from a nearby woods?
It is better to leave bluebells in their natural habitat unless you know slated construction will destroy them. Moving plants out of the wild to cultivated areas is taboo.