Last fall was my first attempt at gardening. Riley and I moved to a duplex and for the first time I have a backyard and a place to plant veggies! Ya gotta love Lawrence, KS – nature lovers permeate this town and my landlord is cool with me planting whenever and wherever I want.
With my ever increasing interest in real food without chemicals or genetic modifications, I decided I wanted to grow my own food! I determined to go all out and have a spring, summer, and fall vegetable garden. All over the web you may see, “Beginner, be advised, don’t start too large!” but if you are anything like me, you’ll know that finding a new interest means diving in head first with fierce
In this one year of learning to garden, I’ve bought and borrowed books, read web articles, talked to friends and family members, and went out and got really dirty.
I did a few things in this one year that I found very valuable. If you have some land and are thinking of throwing some seeds down for the first time, maybe you’ll find these actions helpful as well.
Find out your plant hardiness zone.
Go here and enter your zip code. This is your standard at which you can determine what plants will thrive in your location. Most seed packages tell you when to plant the seeds based on this standard.
I’m sure that without this standard you could instinctively figure out what does and doesn’t thrive in your location. I live in Kansas and it’s pretty obvious I’m not going to grow pineapples in my backyard.
However, for less obvious examples like rhubarb you want would want to check if it grows in your location. You aint growing rhubarb in places like where my mother-in-lives (Oklahoma panhandle desert) where the wind and dryness beats it to death, but can grow it just 100 miles north of that in western Kansas where the weather is just slightly milder.
Find out your first and last frost dates.
Lookup your dates here. These dates are normal averages for a light freeze. These averages are saying that the possibility of frost occurring after the spring dates and before the fall dates is 50 percent.
Seed packages will give you directions according to these dates so it’s very helpful to know them for your area. If you live in Kansas like I do, you expect any type of weather at any time of year, the reality is that these dates may considerably vary. So…
Keep in mind these classifications of freeze temperatures (and know what to do when they come):
Light freeze: 29° to 32° F—tender plants killed.
Moderate freeze: 25° to 28° F—widely destructive to most vegetation.
Severe freeze: 24° F and colder—heavy damage to most plants.
Watch the weather! If you are nearing a dangerous temp, a great tip is knowing that wet soil is warmer than dry soil in colder weather. So, be sure your seedlings are resting in wet soil before the cold. Some people will also cover their plants if temperatures are going to drop too low – I have yet to succeed in doing this.
Subscribe to email reminders for best planting dates according to The Old Farmers Almanac for your area.
Even though this is just for popular plants in your area, it’s a great start! The simple act of subscribing here eliminates any planning of your own and does it all for you AND THEN reminds you!! Who doesn’t love that?! All you have to do is check your email and then dig!
Subscribe to Rodale’s Organic Life newsletter:
Rodales Organic Life sends newsletters via email with monthly garden to-do lists for each zone. This simple newsletter kept my anxiety at bay. I never had to worry that I wasn’t doing something that I should be. Awww, relief – I’m not falling behind.
Go to garage sales for garden tools!
Garden tools are expensive new and used ones do the trick just fine. I found a shovel, rake, hand cultivator/tiller, garden hoe, and a hand shovel all under $30. Most garden tools cost that much for one. Try Craigslist to find local garage sales.
See if your city has free compost and mulch.
Compost is great for adding nutrients to your soil. It also helps your soil drain well. Add that compost!!! Lawrence offers free compost and wood chips if you are willing to pick it up yourself. If you need an entire truck load (with as many trips as I made made back and forth with buckets this year, I’m going with a truck next year) it’s just $10 – crazy cheap. Check your city website to see what it offers.
Dig, Dig and Dig some more!
To create that well draining soil in which plant roots thrive you need to get that shovel out and DIG! There are many articles on the web with step-by-step guides on how to double dig your garden. Here is one I found on my first google search.
There is no need to buy that expensive tiller. Embrace using your body for work – it’s made for that. Skip the gym and work in your garden. It’s very satisfying to eat vegetables that you poured sweat and hard work into.
Start a journal for your garden.
Yes, even at the least just jot down when you planted and where. It’ll help you remember what you did for the next year and when your plants should be ready to harvest.
It’s possible you can’t tell when to harvest from just looking at the plants (it’s a crazy thing – most plants naturally make it obvious when they are ready, but some don’t). If you can’t tell by looking, most seed packages tell you how many days until harvest. Count back from the date you planted and pick!
Writing down where you planted veggies is important because that garlic and dill you planted will come back next year and you don want to give them room for when they do.
Thin those vegetable seedlings!
Everyone wants to maximize the amount of vegetables they plant for the space they have but you have to remember that veggies need space to grow! Directions on seed packages tell you to plant closer than needed so that you can be sure to not have a gap in vegetables.
If you don’t thin your seeds your plants will be so crowded that they won’t grow or they might become some mutant veggie! It’s very tempting to want to keep all your veggies that made it past the seed stage, I know! Use your sprouts in salads so that it doesn’t feel like a waste. Example: beet leaves and spinach salad.
Weed’em and reap!
We’ve all heard that if you don’t weed your garden, vegetables will have to fight for nutrients and water. So, it’s very important to weed your garden.
To keep weeds out try mulching your garden. There are many ways to mulch. Either pick up mulch from the city or simply use grass clippings. If you choose to use grass clippings from your yard, be sure you don’t use chemicals on your yard. This is important for you and your veggies – eat those dandelions; they make a great salad! It’s not worth altering your chemistry for aesthetics if you ask me.
Apply grass clippings after weeding in thin layers. Three thin layers spread on throughout two weeks will help keep weeds out and fertilize your garden.
I hope you find these tips helpful. I’ve spent a lot of time reading and planning for my first garden and maybe this will help you save some time or grow a better crop!