There is nothing quite as rewarding as tasting flavorful vegetables grown in your own backyard garden. Turning over dormant soil, planting seeds and lovingly maintaining a garden that will eventually produce appetizing vegetables can be a very rewarding experience. However, the reward does not end with taste. It also includes saving money, exercise and fresh air. If you are a first-time gardener here is a useful guide to help you get started.
Assess Your Space
Determine exactly how much of your backyard land is available for gardening and select a garden size that is manageable. Although gardens are fun, they do require commitment, time, labor, and patience. Choose a sunny or partly sunny area of your backyard and use stakes to mark off a section for the garden.
Prepare the Soil
The next step is soil preparation. Rent or purchase a garden tiller. A garden tiller is a small-motorized machine with fork tines underneath. As the tiller is pushed along, the tines dig and turn over the soil loosening hard spots. This creates less dense dirt and the lighter soil will make it easier for seeds to root and young plants to push up. A shovel can also be used to loosen the soil but it will take much longer and will require more physical stamina. After the soil has been loosened, add fertilizer to the soil and “turn it over” with the garden tiller. If the soil appears really hard, porous, or clay-like, consider sending a soil sample to your local cooperative extension office, school of agriculture, or gardening association. The sample will be tested and recommendations will be offered about what should be added to make the soil suitable for growing vegetables.
Itemize Your Vegetables
Make a list of the vegetables that will be planted. The amount of vegetables will depend on the size of the garden, spacing requirements, and the length of the growing season. Choose vegetables that are family favorites. Wait until you have mastered gardening before experimenting with the more exotic varieties. Purchase the seeds or potted plants at garden shops, nurseries, online, or through mail order. Mail order and online orders should be purchased a few weeks before your estimated planting time.
Tools and Accessories
Buy a garden hose or sprinkler, tools, and accessories. The tools and accessories purchased will be determined by the money budgeted for the garden and your personal preferences. Basic accessories include garden gloves, lightweight durable clogs or garden boots, trowels, digging forks, shovel, garden hoe, wheelbarrow, and rake. Extra accessories include a garden bench, kneeling pad, gardeners hand lotion, sun hat, and planting labels that can be affixed to row markers. Store accessories in a labeled bin or a garden tote for annual use.
Plot Your Garden
Mark rows with enough space in between to facilitate weeding or tilling. Even spacing between rows is very important because it will make weeding easier and create an orderly arrangement. Plant the seeds or potted vegetables according to the directions. After planting, set the hose nozzle or sprinkler on the “mist”or “spray” setting and water the seeds daily at that setting until the young shoots are visible. A forceful flow of water will uproot newly planted seeds and wash them from the soil. Potted plants can be watered with the “shower” or “full” setting of the nozzle. Another convenient timesaving option would be to use a timed rotating garden sprinkler.
Allot one hour daily during the early morning or late afternoon for garden maintenance. This will make the garden chores more enjoyable and relaxing during the cooler part of the day. Garden maintenance should include weeding, watering, trimming, and checking for disease or bugs.
Weeding can be easily done with the tiller or by loosening the dirt with a rake and hand pulling the weeds by the roots. Water the garden everyday. If you are growing tomato plants, eggplants, or any other weak plants, support them with garden cages or stakes. Cages and stakes can be purchased at hardware stores or in the garden section of department stores. Trim excessive shoots and check the plants for disease and signs of insect invasion. Bug droppings, holes in leaves, withering, yellowing, black spots, and any visible signs of insect infestation will require immediate attention. If you notice any of these telltale signs, it will be necessary to treat the plants with a pesticide or organic insecticide. Select the pesticide that is suitable for the vegetables you are growing. If rabbits, deer, or other wild animals invade the garden, it might also be necessary to erect an inexpensive netted fence.
If you are a beginning gardener and you are unfamiliar with the growing cycle of vegetables, it would be helpful to do some research on the plants you are harvesting. Some plants are harvested from underneath the soil. Carrots, potatoes, turnips, and sweet potatoes fall into this category. Other vegetables are ready for harvesting when they adopt a particular color or skin texture. Green onions can be mistaken for grass while cucumbers and zucchini mature on vines that can be easily hidden under leaves. Some vegetables need to be picked before they grow beyond a certain size or before they start seeding. Other vegetables need special care such as packing soil or “hilling” around the roots to provide adequate support.
After you have harvested your crop of succulent vegetables, remove all dead vegetation, “turn over” the soil again, and let it rest until the next planting season.