Planting a garden that is capable of providing you with your own fruits and vegetables can seem like an overwhelming prospect to an inexperienced gardener. A deceptively large amount of decision go into just deciding which plants to pick: what part of the country do you live in? What kind of soil are you working with? What seeds do you have access to? What produce will you and your family actually eat?
Lucky for you, we have put together this comprehensive step-by-step guide to help you set up a great beginners garden this spring.
The first step to starting up a garden is to choose the right spot for it. How large your garden is going to be is highly dependent on your yard and space you have available. You generally want to pick a spot that receives a good amount of sunlight and doesn’t block your path to other parts of the yard, as some plants can grow well beyond the edge of your plot.
Dirt is going to provide the solid foundation and vital nutrients your plants need to grow, so it’s important to check the quality of the soil where you’re planning on planting. Without getting too scientific, nutrient-rich soil will be dark and thick and non-sandy. The darkness of the soil comes from the amount of organic matter it contains. The more clay or sand your soil contains, the less brown it will appear.
If you do have poor soil where you plan on planting, the situation isn’t hopeless. You can purchase topsoil and manure from your local gardening center or hardware store, though ironically when it comes to gardening the saying that something is “dirt cheap” is highly misleading: good, rich dirt is actually rather expensive, though you probably won’t have to take out a payday loan or go into debt to afford it. Generally, you’ll want to buy one bag per square yard and thoroughly mix it into the soil where you plan to plant. Otherwise, your garden will probably suffer from lack of nutrients and poor root formation.
The truth is that not all vegetables are created equally. Some plants are prolific producers while others are more problematic to propagate. Tomatoes, for example, are notoriously high yielders. Just one or two of them can keep you well-stocked with fresh, delicious tomatoes for months. Other high yield vegetable plants include green beans, zucchini, lettuces, and several pea varieties.
If what you want from your garden is fruit, you need to be prepared to wait for it. Most fruit trees take years to grow tall enough to start producing fruit, and won’t yield any fruit before that. One option if you have the money is to buy a two or three-year-old tree from nursery and plant that in your garden instead of growing from seed. It’ll drastically increase how fast your trees will bear fruit, but it is a substantial investment.
Probably the most important consideration to keep in mind while you’re choosing what to plant is whether your selections actually reflect what you and your family like to eat. It’s always more rewarding to care for a garden that provides you with food you actually like. Otherwise, the produce will go to waste or get passed off to friends and family, simply because you grew something you didn’t actually like to eat.
If you don’t want to spend money each year buying soil supplements each year, the smart and environmentally friendly option is to start your own compost. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or elaborate: just a bucket in your backyard where you throw your leftover food and organic matter will suffice. There are other more complicated ways of achieving the perfect recipe for good dirt, but nothing adds rich nutrients to your soil quite like good, old-fashioned compost.