Friday, February 3, 2012

Your First Vegetable Garden

Well, how about it? Is this going to be the year you start a vegetable garden? You know you've been meaning to for the past few years, but somehow the season always seems to get away from you before you get started. You really mean to, but the summer's underway and you're never quite sure -- is it too late to plant anything for this year?

That's why February is the perfect time to start planning. So let's sit back, relax, and think about what you might want to plant this year. No pressure, okay?

The first thing you need to do is to think about where you're going to locate your garden. Ideally, you'd like a spot that gets full sun for the greater part of the day. (If you don't have a spot like that, it's okay, you'll still be able to plant some things. You'll just need to be more selective about choosing what to plant.)

Good soil and good drainage are the next considerations. Soil you can fix; drainage you're going to be stuck with. So think back to last summer and try to remember what your yard looked like. If there was a big spot on the lawn that always seemed soggy, you're not going to want to plant your garden there.

Next, be honest about how much work you really want to do in your garden. If you've never grown vegetables before, you may be amazed at how easy they really are to grow. On the other hand, you may be amazed at how easy weeds are to grow as well. If you don't really, really enjoy working in the dirt, don't plant a big garden. Maybe all you want is a few tomato plants or a modest herb garden. That's fine. There's no shame in knowing your limitations.

If there's one mistake that first-time gardeners consistently make, it's in buying too much stuff. Too many seeds, to many seedlings, too much equipment. Study your seed catalogs to learn how much space those cucumber plants are going to take up. Stick to one or two varieties of beans. Ask yourself how many zucchini your family will actually eat. And for heaven's sakes, if nobody likes beets, don't plant them at all. That garden space will fill up much more rapidly than you think.

Don't go overboard on the equipment either. You'll need a hoe and a rake, and probably something like a hand trowel. Gardening gloves are a good idea, and I couldn't live without something soft to kneel on. Unless you have an enormous garden -- and I really don't recommend it on your first year -- you shouldn't need anything motorized. If you're planting a garden where no garden has ever existed before, you might need a roto-tiller to turn the earth over the first time, but you can rent one of those for the day and be done with it.

Planning a garden can be the first of the many enjoyable hours you're going to spend growing your own food, so settle back and have a wonderful time. Grab your garden catalogs, a sketch pad, and go to town. Doesn't it make spring feel a little closer?

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