We’ve got a whole new yard to work with this year for the garden. A roomy yard with a sunny corner, thanks to a large, recently felled tree branch. Despite the month, it feels like spring here – warmer weather and plenty of sunshine lately, with longer days and cool breezes.
This morning we received a small brown package in the mail – this year’s seeds from Seed Savers Exchange. We’ve got a good spread this year, selected strategically from what’s worked and hasn’t worked in our past three years of gardening. In fact, the whole garden is being designed around our gardening experiences to date.
I’ve been reflecting on what these experiences have entailed, and I’ve come up with my top ten list for starting a garden…
- Start small. For you, this may mean a couple of potted plants or some small garden boxes. Either way, gardening is a lot of work – planting, weeding, watering, harvesting. And, at least at the onset, you need a little bit of seed money for raised beds or pots or extra soil or seeds. Starting small means less work and fewer expenses. My first garden was actually my favorite as far as manageability goes. I built 2 square boxes from 2x10s. They were 4 feet wide, easy to walk around, easy to fill with dirt, easy to weed.
- Plant easy and fast growers. Gardening takes a lot of patience and waiting. I find that the less I have to wait, the more I enjoy gardening. So, in addition to planting veggies that take a while to mature, I also plant things like beans and okra, which are both easy to grow and mature fairly rapidly.
- Be flexible. I’ve been known to let a 12′ squash vine limp along even though I know it has vine borers. It seems a waste to rip out a whole vine because of a few little bugs, but if they’re destroying one plant, they’ll destroy another. If they’ve already ruined the plant, then getting rid of the bugs will help neighboring plants and will open up some free space in your garden for something else.
- Plan for a year-long garden. Look at the shady and sunny spots in your yard and think of if and how they will migrate during the year. The spot where you want your garden might have great sun during the summer but very little sun exposure during the fall and winter. If you live in a growing zone where you can get things to grow year-round, like I do, then you may want to pick a spot where you have sun year-round. Consult a planting guide for when to plant veggies year-round. A lot of A&M colleges publish these for their region. If you live in the South/Southwest, you can check out LSU’s planting guide, which is excellent, or Texas A&M’s, which breaks down Texas into regions.
- Use what you already have. From fertilizing to planting, use what you already have in your kitchen. There are a number of kitchen scraps that you can plant in your yard, like green onions and celery. You can also fertilize your garden and your compost bin with scraps from your garden, like crushed egg shells, ground coffee beans, or banana peels. Using what you have cuts down on what you toss in the trash and what you spend on new plants and organic fertilizer.
- Plant what you’ll eat. If you love salsa, then plant lots of tomatoes and jalapenos.
- Eat what you plant. With Google at your fingertips, there’s also a world of recipes out there. Got extra cucumbers? Learn how to pickle. Too much squash? Give some to your neighbors.
- Don’t forget about herbs. Fresh herbs are your kitchen’s best friend. Have some fresh basil in the garden for when you make pasta, some cilantro for salsa, rosemary for grilled chicken or fresh bread, or fresh mint for mojitos. Some herbs can also be companion-planted with your other plants to ward off unwanted pests.
- Know the necessary growing conditions. This is fairly self-explanatory, but the first year I gardened, I didn’t know that pumpkins needed to be planted months before the fall to be ready for the fall. Knowing how long your plants take to grow,
- Companion plant. There are tons of guides out there for companion planting – or planting compatible plants next to each other to ward off pests. One of the most famous examples of companion planting is the Three Sisters, in which you plant corn, beans, and squash all together. Mother Earth News has a nice list for which plants do and don’t work together as companion plants. Using the companion planting guide can help save you time, money, and energy in weeding and de-pesting.