There are few things as satisfying as picking your homegrown vegetable, warmed by the sun, and eating it while standing in the garden that you created. There are many reasons to start your own vegetable garden. Firstly, is the taste. In these days of genetically altered grocery store produce, many people forget how produce should taste. With your own vegetable garden, you will remember, and be hard-pressed to return to store produce. Another reason is in these days of rising food costs; a vegetable garden makes economic sense. Lastly, there is nothing as soothing to the soul as being able to say, “I did this.”
There are many different type of gardens: deep bed, container, and hydroponic, just to name a few. However, the most straightforward type is a tilled row garden. This can be as simple as staking out a piece of your yard and tilling it. One thing to keep in mind when starting your vegetable garden is the location. Find an area that experiences full sun all or most of the day. Also, be sure that is located near and outdoor water faucet. There is noting as frustrating as hauling 200 feet of hose around your yard!
One of the first things you will need to do is till the soil. I recommend using a front wheeled self-propelled tiller. This allows more control over the machine, and does not leave wheel tracks over your freshly tilled soil. A tiller will likely be your largest investment. They can range from $200 for a good used one, to upwards of $1000 for a top of line model. For your first time, you might consider borrowing one from a friend. If you do this, do not forget to give them some of your harvest at the end of the year.
Some other supplies you will need will be a large spade, a hand spade, a hoe, a cultivating hoe, and a dirt rake. In addition, you should have sufficient lengths of hose, a sweeping type of sprinkler, a rain gauge, and a soil test kit.
The tools are most important in this venture alongside the knowledge of using them properly where you have to be aware of when to use the shovel and when the picks because the weed control fabric is a headache that has to be dealt with sooner.
After you have picked your spot and tilled your soil down to about 6″, it is time to test your soil. The most import test is for pH. You want to have an essentially neutral to slightly acid soil. Rarely will you need to acidify the vegetable garden, but more than likely you will need to bring the acid level down by incorporating some agricultural lime into the soil with the tiller. This is also a good time to add some organic compost to the soul to provide more nutrients. Next, use your hoe to rake the dirt into rows. Once you have done this, you should have a final depth of tilled soil of approximately 12″. This will also leave you walking room between the rows.
Now it is time to plant! Be sure to wait until after all danger of frost has past, and then you can begin to place your plants into the soil according to the instructions for each different variety. For your first season, it would be best to buy most of your plants from a local greenhouse. After you have gained a little experience, you can try starting your own seedlings indoors before the growing season begins. Some of the easies and most successful crops are tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, radishes, carrots, peas, and zucchini. Radishes carrots and peas will be started in your vegetable garden from seed. You simply need to follow the directions on the seed packet.
Once everything is in the ground, you must be sure your plants have adequate water. A good rule of thumb is 2-3″ of water per week. Use your rain gauge to judge this. If it rains during the week simply jot down the about of water received and subtract that from the desired water amount. Then to measure how much water you have given your garden just place the gauge in the garden while you use the sprinkler.
The next thing you will need to do is get rid of the weeds. It is best to pull them out by hand so you get everything including the roots. Some are a little tougher to pull, so this is where the cultivating hoe comes in. Run the blade of the hoe underneath the soil, cutting the roots of the weeds. Be careful not to accidentally cut the roots of your vegetable plants! Remove the weeds from your garden area and either burn them or bag them in plastic and haul them away. This is important so that the weed seeds are not re-introduced into the garden.
It is now time to harvest! You can tell if most things are ripe enough by gently pulling them from the plant. If they come away easily, they are ready, if not, give them another day or two. For root vegetables such as radishes or carrots, when you see the tops of the tubers pushing above the soil, usually this means they are ready to eat! One thing to check before you plant is the number of days each plant needs to maturity. This is usually listed on the back of the seed packet. You do not want your vegetables still ripening when the first frost comes!
Now all you have left to do is enjoy! If you followed these tips, you should be filling your table with mouthwatering produce from your own vegetable garden. It is now time to sit back, eat, and begin planning for next year’s garden!