Starting Your First Vegetable Garden

Gardening is such a satisfying activity because it results in a tangible product that can be tasted or touched and boosts your sense of accomplishment. I remember the first garden I ever planted because it produced the most beautiful spinach I have ever seen.

garden bed

I was about five years old and my gardening passions had already surfaced. For someone who has never gardened before, it can be intimidating; just bolster up your confidence and jump in! A few little steps here and there build slowly and become big steps. After all, confidence is gained through experience. Before you know it, you will be picking your own memories!

Where to Begin?
Think about your space, sunlight and how much time and effort you want to put into your garden. Most vegetables need an area with full sun in order to produce fruit. A few pots is a great way to begin if you have limited space or don’t want to spend a lot of time with it; they don’t require the effort of digging up grass and conditioning soil.

daddy-petes-raised-bed-mix

For some, a raised bed is the way to go. Many easy-to-assemble kits can be bought or for a more permanent solution you can make your own. For someone with a sunny spot and more space, a nice garden plot can be created. Grass and weeds can be dug up and removed by hand or tiller. Soil is the most valuable part of your garden so it is important to add manure, organic materials or any of the many forms of compost offered at your local garden supply store; it is never possible to have too much of this! Once your soil is ready, everything will fall into place.

What’s Next?
Decide on the vegetables you want to grow and if you will begin with seeds or plants. Some plants, such as tomatoes, need to be set out in the garden as seedlings because they take too long to mature from seed. The crops you choose depend on what you want to achieve and how much time you want to spend.

seed start

A good rule of thumb: Beginners should start small. A 10 X 10 foot bed is big enough for a variety of vegetables but small enough not to be a burden. It’s best to start with a diagram. You may use graph paper with a scale of 1/4 inch to the foot for easy reading. With this, you can plan what you will grow this year, in what location, you’ll know the quantity to plant, which crops to locate next to each other and it will remind you next year where you positioned your crops. Keeping records of when seedlings first appear and harvest of fruit will help you learn when to pick early crops, when to make your plantings from year to year and where to rotate your vegetables each year. Note: Crop rotation means not growing the same plants in exactly the same spot for at least two years in succession.

Bits of Advice
– Locate your tallest growing plants at the north end of the garden so they don’t shade the shorter ones.
– Check spacing requirements for each plant.
– Group long-season crops together (such as cucumbers, eggplants, peppers, beans and tomatoes) for ease in preparing soil for succession plantings of short season crops (such as lettuce, radishes, beets, and peas).
– To save space, plant quick growing vegetables between slow growing ones such as radishes between tomato plants. The radishes are harvested before the tomato shades them!
– Growing vine crops on a trellis or fence saves space.
– Most of a vegetable crop matures at the same time so make successions of two weeks in planting your crops for a continuous harvest.

cucumber seed

Starting your first vegetable garden may seem difficult to begin with but it will be a cinch once you get the hang of it. Once you get started, you’ll discover what works best for you and your location. For a great variety of plants, seeds, materials and gardening advice come to Fairview Garden Center.  Dig in and enjoy!

Starting a Vegetable Garden from Scratch – Part Two

Now that all the dirty work is done and your garden plot is ready, it’s time for the fun part. Deciding on what vegetables to grow in your new garden? A good place to start is to make a list of the vegetables your family likes to eat. Next look through some seed catalogs or stop by Fairview. We carry a great selection of seeds. There are hundreds of varieties of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers etc. You will be tempted to try them all but don’t let your eyes get bigger than your garden. Vegetables require a certain amount of space between each plant. It does differs from one veggie to the next, so do a little research on the ones you want to grow to make sure you have enough room. For example, corn is a space hog. You need several rows of corn to have enough to cross-pollinate each other and produce actual ears of corn. Its takes a long time to mature and then you get one good harvest and it’s done. On the other hand pole beans take up very little space and keep producing for weeks.

Seed-Display

Next thing to consider is whether you start with seeds or transplants. Some vegetables take several months to mature from seed, so it’s not practical to direct sow them in the garden. That’s why when it comes to long season vegetables like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, most folks start their plants indoors or buy seedlings from their local garden center. Some vegetables transplant well and others do not. Some can be done either way.

Seed packets will give you most of the information you will need about whether to direct seed in the garden or whether you’ll need to start them so many weeks before the last frost date. Fairview has a vegetable planting guide with tons of information available free of charge. Stop by and pick one up. The lists below will give you some idea of what to plan for.

seed-starting-hands-close

Vegetables that transplant well:
Beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, celery, chard, chives, collards, eggplant, endive, escarole, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, mustard, okra, parsley, peppers and tomatoes

Vegetables that are usually direct seeded:
Beans, beets, carrots, corn, cucumbers, garlic, lettuce, micro greens, muskmelons, okra, parsnips, peas, pumpkins, radishes, rutabagas, squash, turnips and watermelons.

Then there are a handful of vegetables that aren’t usually grown from seed at all. They’re grown vegetatively.

Vegetable Grown Vegetatively
Asparagus 1 -2 year old roots
Garlic/Shallots cloves
Horseradish Root cuttings
Onions sets
Potatoes sets

Whatever your choice, direct seeding, early seed starting or purchasing seedlings, it’s best to decide while you are planning your garden. You will want to get your plants in the ground as soon as the last chance of frost has passed. In our area it is usually mid April. Make a schedule for planting. Get a calendar and circle the date of the last expected frost. Then consult seed catalogs, plant labels and seed packets to make a schedule for planting each vegetable you have chosen to grow. For example, the directions on a seed packet for spinach may say it can be sown outside 4 – 6 weeks before the average last frost, so count backwards from the last frost date and mark the date on the calendar to plant your spinach. I take this one step further. I also mark the date in which I can expect to harvest each vegetable. The seed packets, catalogs and plant labels will tell you how many days until harvest too. The reason I do this is simply so I don’t have to remember all those details. It’s all on my calendar.

cucumber seed

Garden Tools
Many tools are available to help you grow a vegetable garden. They range in quality from discount store lines to high-priced luxury models. Tools somewhere between these two extremes are suitable for most gardeners. The tools considered essential for maintaining a small or moderate-sized garden are a spade or four-pronged digging fork, trowel, rake, hoe, measuring stick, string, stakes, plant labels, a water-proof marking pen and watering equipment. To this basic list you may wish to add a small sprayer, and wheelbarrow. With these tools at hand you can readily handle most garden tasks.

garden-gloves

Watering
Regular water is as important to growing vegetables as sunlight. Regular water means an inch or two per week….every week. More if it is extremely hot. Without regular water, vegetables will not fill out and some, like tomatoes, will crack open if suddenly given a lot of water after struggling without it for a while. So, if you go on vacation for a week, have a neighbor or friend come by and water the garden while you’re away.

Weeding
Vegetables don’t like to compete with weeds for their food and water. Preventing and staying on top of weeds in your garden can be a challenge but not impossible. You will have an advantage since you are starting with a clean empty space each season. Be sure to remove any existing weeds that have popped up before you start to plant. Keep pathways and in between plants weed free cultivating or hoeing and put a good layer of mulch.

Mulch
Mulching is one of the best things you can do for your garden. It suppresses weeds, cools plant roots and conserves water.

Feeding your vegetable plants
Vegetables are very heavy feeders. Hopefully you have incorporated lots of organic matter into the soil while getting your site ready for planting. This will help feed your veggies. Organic plant foods are slow releasing and wont burn your plants. If you opt for a water soluble fertilizer, make sure the garden is well watered before applying it.

espoma tones

Staking Plants
Tall and climbing vegetables will need some sort of staking or trellising. It is best to install the stakes at planting time. If you wait until the plant has grown, you run the risk of injuring the plant roots.

Well, that about sums it up. This is by no means an all inclusive article, but I hope I have inspired you to give it a try and given you enough information to get started. Our knowledgeable staff is always available and willing to answer all your questions and give you the tools you need to be a successful gardener.


Starting a Vegetable Garden

Starting a Vegetable Garden from Scratch – Part One

Starting your first vegetable garden isn’t as hard as you might think. All it takes is a sunny spot in the yard, a few tools, a little planning and yes, a little hard work and sweat too. But in the long run, growing your own veggies is a very rewarding experience and well worth all the effort you put into it.

I am breaking this article down into two parts because it is a very “in depth” subject. Part One is all about the selecting your site, preparing your soil and the tools you will need. Honestly, this is the most important and time consuming part of the whole project. Part Two will be all about the plants from selecting them to harvesting them.

Choose your site. The amount of sunlight is very important in picking out the proper placement of your garden. Vegetables are sun lovers. You will want an area that gets 6 -8 hours or more of direct sunlight each day. Something else to take into account is the drainage of the land. You will not want your garden in a depressed area of land because water will tend to flood those areas and won’t drain properly. Veggies don’t like their roots to sit in saturated soil. I prefer using a slightly sloped piece of land or a flat piece of land that retains and drains water properly. How big should you make your garden? My first recommendation is to start small. Unless you have your heart set on space hogs like corn, start with a manageable sized garden. 12 X 20 should give you plenty of variety. You can always enlarge it next year.

The next thing to consider when choosing your site is accessibility to a water source and well as your kitchen. Vegetables need water on a regular schedule. If they get watered erratically they will exhibit all sorts of problems, like cracking open, not setting any fruit or becoming prone to cultural problems like blossom end rot. Proximity to the kitchen or at least from some entrance to the house will help you remember to water and check on your garden everyday and you will be more tempted to run out and pick something fresh while you’re cooking. Once you have chosen the location and size of you garden you will want to mark the boundaries of the garden with stakes or flags.

Soil.  Next, let’s talk about the soil. Soil is the most important factor in any garden and perhaps more so in a vegetable garden. Almost all vegetables are annuals which means they begin their life and end their life all in one season. You will be starting with new plants or seeds every year. They are very heavy feeders and a rich soil will not just keep them growing strong, it will also help ward off disease and pest problems. For most gardens, the perfect soil is a quality light loam made up of nutrient rich organic matter and equal amounts of sand, silt and clay. Organic matter is defined as plant and animal residues such as leaves, trimmings and manures at various stages of decomposition.In general, the more organic matter the better. And also know that you will be adding organic matter every year. Not sure of what kind of soil you’re working with? Simply grab a handful of moist (not saturated) soil and squeeze. If the clump falls apart as soon as you open your hand, you have very sandy soil. If the clump stays intact, then your soil contains too much clay. Loamy soils hold together to some degree, but crumble when poked. That’s what you want to see. I highly recommend doing a soil test to determine your soils pH as well as nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus levels. NC States Cooperative Extention Office will test your soil at no charge. The form and the boxes are available here at Fairview and at the local Extention Service Office in Raleigh. We also sell home soil testing kits so you can do it yourself .

Now for the dirty work….. digging the actual vegetable garden plot. This is no one’s favorite job but there is no way around it. Your chosen site probably has grass on it or at least weeds. They must be cleared somehow before you can plant anything. A sharp flat edge spade can be used to slice out the grass and get rid of it. You can also use a roto tiller to break it up. Then you will have to rake out all clumps of grass and weeds. You may have to dig or till it again then rake and remove clumps a second time. Work the soil until all grass and weeds have been removed. Now you are ready to till in your soil amendments such as composted manures (cow, horse or chicken), topsoil or garden soil.

How you develop the actual layout of plants is entirely a matter of preference. Each style has its advantages and drawbacks.

petes in bed

Rows
Pros: Planting in neat, tidy rows allows for good air circulation, easy weeding and easy harvesting.
Cons: Single rows of plants can take up more space than wide rows. Floppy plants, like peas, will need to be trellised.

Wide Rows
Wide rows are when you plant long blocks of the same vegetable. Wide rows shouldn’t be so wide that you can’t comfortable reach into the center of them, from either side. Four foot wide rows are good for most people.
Pros: Wide rows let you cram more plants into less space. Without the spacing and paths in between, you can get up to 6 times more vegetables in a wide row than in a conventional single row.
Cons: Not all crops lend themselves to wide rows. Tall, long growing crops, like tomatoes and eggplant, yield better if not crowded. I, personally, do a little of both depending on what vegetables I am going to plant.

Lastly, you will definitely need to create paths between your rows. Since you’ll be hauling compost, manure and other amendments into your vegetable garden on a regular basis, having paths that are easily navigable is a big plus. I recommend making paths wide enough for your wheel barrow or cart to get through. It may seem like a sacrifice of good growing space, but you’ll be glad for the functionality when you’re bringing things in and out and when it’s time to harvest.

I hope this helps you get started. You can always call us or stop by and our staff can answer any questions you may have.

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