Sowing a seed with your hands, watching it grow to maturity, and ultimately harvesting the fruit of your efforts is a genuinely down-to-earth type of inner satisfaction. If you have ever experienced farm-fresh vegetables, you may already know that they are exceptionally sweet, juicy, and flavorful. Vegetable gardening can be your source of exercise, hobby, and food for the table. A small backyard vegetable garden containing a nice mix of seasonal vegetables can be more than enough for you and your family. If your garden space is large enough, you can also convert your excess harvest into a small home-based business by selling fresh vegetables to nearby grocery stores or neighbors.
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Tips for planning your vegetable garden:
- Choose vegetables that your family already likes and consumes on a daily basis.
- Determine how much you might consume per month to know how much to plant.
- Choose plants based on growth and maturation times to ensure a steady supply throughout the season.
- Select viable, true-to-type seeds having a 100 % germination rate.
- Plan to monitor the garden for adequate water and plan to thin, harvest, and pull weeds as needed throughout the season.
How to start your vegetable garden
Selecting the right site
Location is a significant factor to consider before planting. Sunlight hours/day, site drainage, wind pattern, soil fertility, etc., are essential factors in site selection.
- Sunlight hours/day: Sunlight is directly related to the success or failure of your crop. Most of the fruiting vegetables require 6-8 hours of continuous light every day, while the others, like leafy vegetables, are not as dependent on sunlight and can tolerate a bit more shade.
- Drainage: Improper drainage will lead to water pooling and root rot. It is best to ensure that excess water drains away from your garden and that your soil is friable and drains moisture well. However, if the area is a bit wet and the soil is not as well-drained as it should be, you can plant vegetables on ridges or in raised beds or containers.
- Container Garden: In a container garden, annual and biennial (mostly root vegetables) vegetables are planted as the containers are not deep enough to support the root system of perennial vegetables. Many vegetables like carrots, beets, lettuce, coriander, spinach, eggplant, etc., will do well in containers. Container vegetables are quite easy to grow and maintain and can be protected from several soil-borne diseases and climatic severity.
- Raised-bed Garden: Raised beds or ridge planting can be used very successfully in vegetable gardening. Realize that any sort of container or raised bed will require more frequent watering. Source: Heflebower, R. (2012). Raised Bed Gardening.
- Soil Fertility: a healthy soil will produce healthy plants and vice versa. Always use organic, well-aged fertilizers and compost for your home garden. They will keep your soils nutrient-rich and help you to produce healthy vegetables.
Not all vegetables are easy-to-grow. For example, cooler climate vegetables cannot be grown in the hotter areas unless they are provided special care. Therefore, as a beginner, you should start with easy-to-grow vegetables that are well suited for your climate. It is not a bad idea to consult the experts when you are just starting out. Contact the Cooperative Extension Services (https://www.almanac.com/cooperative-extension-services); they will guide you to make the best choices for your garden according to the climate and other related conditions.
Following are some of the easiest vegetables for the Beginners in Gardening:
- Green beans
The vegetables above are very good choices for the beginning gardener and can provide you and your family with lots of tasty food. Some of your veggies may occasionally be bothered by insect pests or diseases, but these are not very common and relatively easy to overcome using biological controls.
How much and when to plant?
For the beginning gardener, it will be helpful to always plan and label your garden, allowing plenty of space for the plants to grow and thrive and also leaving plenty of room for you to work between the rows. A very typical beginner’s mistake is to plant rows and plants too closely together, making them hard to tend and necessitating thinning of plants which wastes your valuable seeds.
Also, don’t overwhelm yourself with your first garden. Planting is the fun part, and it is very easy to go too big. Weeding is the hard part, and it is very easy to let a large vegetable garden get away from you. Allowing your vegetables to be overgrown with weeds can cause severe stunting and even plant death, so it is better to go a bit smaller to start.
Now the question is how to arrange your vegetables? Let’s discuss:
- You should plant the cool season and warm season vegetables according to their sowing dates. For example, lettuce, peas, and broccoli will be sown in early spring, while warm-season crops like cucumber, pepper, and tomatoes are not planted until the soil warms up a bit later.
- Tall and vine-making plants (needing support) should be planted either in containers or along the edge of beds where support structures can be installed without impacting the other garden plants. If you have some shade-tolerant plants, the vining structures can provide a bit of shade from the hot summer sun for these more shade-tolerant plants.
- If planting perennial plants, choose a spot in the garden that will remain permanent and group these plants together since the spring preparation will be much different.
- Plant slowly but surely: do not plant all of the cucumber or lettuce or any other vegetable seeds all at once but in gaps of one or half months. In this way, you will have fresh food to consume throughout the season as your plants mature in stages.
Two methods of vegetable planting:
- Seeds: Seed sowing is a relatively inexpensive and easy method of planting as they are available in bulk, and they are easy to store and sow as you see fit. You can also harvest seeds from your own plants; just let them finish the reproductive stage, followed by the seed forming stage. You can also grow your own nursery stock from the seeds. This is a relatively inexpensive and healthy way to ensure an ample supply of seeds for next year’s garden, and you will be more self-sufficient.
- Nursery planting: For many warm-season vegetables, it is necessary to raise nursery plants first, transplant them, and then flowering and fruiting will take place. For example, tomatoes, chilies, eggplant, capsicum, cabbage, onion, kohlrabi, etc., will need to be started early if you are in a cooler climate.
Raising early seedlings has advantages:
- They can be raised in trays, making them easy to care for indoors to protect the tiny, delicate seedling from harsh climatic conditions.
- The seeds and seedlings can be protected from birds and other animals.
- You will have the choice to transplant only healthy and vigorous seedlings.
- It is possible to provide uniform, controlled conditions to all the seedlings until favorable climatic conditions exist outdoors.
- It allows you to plan your plant growth and timing even more accurately to ensure a balanced harvest all season long.
The following links are the Garden-Expert’s transferred knowledge about home gardening:
- Marsh, R. (1994). Nutritional benefits from home gardening. ILEIA Newsletter, 10(4), 14-15.
- Marsh, R. (1998). Building on traditional gardening to improve household food security. Food nutrition and agriculture, 4-14.
- Woodhead, E. (1998). Early Canadian Gardening: An 1827 nursery catalogue. McGill-Queen’s Press-MQUP.
- Blakstad, M. M., Mosha, D., Bellows, A. L., Canavan, C. R., Chen, J. T., Mlalama, K., … & Fawzi, W. W. (2021). Home gardening improves dietary diversity, a cluster‐randomized controlled trial among Tanzanian women. Maternal & child nutrition, 17(2), e13096.