Last year my boyfriend and I started the year off by moving out of a small apartment into our first home. We were faced with so many projects to make this place our own, and once spring arrived the one I was most excited about was making my own vegetable garden. The idea of growing my own food fascinated me. At that point in my life the only food I had ever grown was a propagated tomato plant, and I only ended up with 3 tomatoes on that plant! I wouldn’t say that counts, even though it was better than nothing.
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I wanted to start my plants from seed so I could learn as much as possible about the whole process. Planting from seed is a lot more affordable than buying pre-started plants from a garden center. I don’t discourage checking out what your local garden center has though. They often sell pre-started plants which you may not have found seeds for.
I had a lot of success during my first year, but also a few flops. I learned a lot from those flops so hopefully this information will help you out so you don’t make those mistakes.
One of the first things you should do when planning your vegetable garden is to figure out how much space you have available. Once you have this figured out it will be easier for you to make your desicion on which plants you want to grow. When you decide which plants you want make sure you do your research and find out how much space each individual plant needs to grow. A huge mistake I made from the beginning was not taking into consideration how much space my plants needed so my garden was crowded in certain areas. The plants in that area were not able to grow to their full potential and I ended up losing out on some crops that could have been.
Each plant you choose will have different requirements to grow properly so it’s really important you do some research on each one before you begin. Be prepared for how tall and wide the plant is expected to grow, how much sun and water it needs, how long it takes to grow, ect. I went out of pure excitement last summer and ended up planting a tomato plant in front of a cucumber plant. I had tons of tomatoes on my tall plant but only grew 2 cucumbers on the short vine. If I had reversed where I planted them then they both would have gotten the proper amount of sun and I would have gotten more cucumbers. The photo below shows a tall tomato plant I grew and that little vine behind it was my cucumber. What was I thinking?
Some plants (such as my zucchinis and tomatoes) grew best when I started them indoors and transplanted them outside, others (lettuce and leeks) grew better when I planted the seeds directly in the ground. When you do your plant research you’ll notice that it is recommended to start certain plants indoors before planting them outside. You may be wondering how do I know when it’s time to plant outdoors? Check out the Old Farmer’s Almanac for the area you live in to find out when the expected last frost will be and the dates it recommends planting each plant outdoors. https://www.almanac.com
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When it gets close to the expected date of last frost make sure to check the upcoming weather forecasts to make sure there aren’t any days coming up that could drop in temperature. Last year I transplanted my seedlings outside after the expected last frost date and sure enough there were a few evenings where the temperature dropped below freezing and killed some of the plants. This is one of the many reasons it’s a good idea to have extra seedlings started as back up.
You may also have some animals from your area steal your plants so it’s a good idea to have back up. One little critter kept stealing my cucumber plants. I was only able to grow one cucumber plant even though I had started off with 8 seedlings.
I read that marigolds release a scent that repels small animals, such as rabbits and squirrels, and will keep them away from your crops. I don’t think this holds up too well (unless I didn’t plant enough) but i will try it again this year because the puffy little orange and yellow flowers were cute as hell!
If you really want to keep animals away from your crops it’s best to invest in some plant cages. If you plant a lot and don’t want to spend a lot on cages, you can always make your own with chicken wire.
Knowing that it’s almost time to start planning out this season’s garden I have started cutting the tops off of 2 liter pop bottles (and other clear plastic bottles of a similar size) and setting them aside. I use these to cover any seed that I plant directly in the ground. This will help keep the soil warm while the seeds germinate. I also had an issue with a critter eating my kale plants as they started to fill out. I put the pop bottle over them and was able to save my kale plants.
Don’t start all your seeds at the same time. Before I started, this was a piece of advice my father gave me. If i started all the seeds at the same time then I would have all my crops ready at the same time. Not only would that be overwhelming, but it would also result in a lot of waste since I wouldn’t be able to eat everything. So for each type of plant I wanted I planted the seeds on different dates. This gave me a steady flow of crops come harvest time.
Give your garden a good clean out before planting anything. Loosen that soil and dig out any rocks or weeds that could get in the way. Your plants need space for their roots to grow strong. This is also a good time to mix in any compost you would like to add to your soil. Items such as coffee grounds, egg shells and banana peels provide a lot of nutrients to grow healthy plants. Also make sure you have picked a stable area for your plants that gets a good amount of sunlight and is not likely to flood. If you plant anything in bins or containers make sure they are able to drain properly.
Always check your plant’s information on how long it takes to grow crops. You don’t want to harvest anything too early or too late. They won’t taste right. I had left a couple vegetables out too long and they ended up having a very bitter taste to them, not to mention the texture was just awful.
If you’re wondering what vegetables are the best options for new gardeners, most people always have success with the following plants if they take care of them:
- Beans (green/yellow)
If it’s your first year gardening always start small. You may be excited to grow your own food and want to go big, but there is a lot to learn and you don’t want to end up with one big overwhelming mess. It’s better to start small and learn as you go. Your plants will be more successful and you can add more the following year with more experience.
I can not wrap this post up with out suggesting you also add an herb plant or two to your garden. They smell amazing and add more flavor to your meals. (They’re also very easy to grow)
What do you plan on planting this year? Let me know in the comments below.