Monday, May 30, 2011 Post By: Grayne Wetzky

How to start your own vegetable garden

Having a vegetable garden is great. It gives you access to cheap high quality food; you can pat yourself on the back knowing you are reducing your environmental impact; it is a great way to get exercise and if you are anything like me you'll take pleasure in making your own food.

There are many reasons to start a vegetable garden, but if you look for information online how to get started it can be intimidating. Most guides will tell you to either build raised beds or rent a tiller and turn your soil. Both these approaches are excellent for getting off to a great start in your new vegetable garden, but perhaps you think it's a little bit of overkill?

I started my vegetable garden in the simples possible way. I skipped most of the required prep work and just went with my own gut feeling instead. While I am sure I could have done even better with a traditional approach, the results so far have been fantastic. I was able to grow a large number of delicious produce with very little effort.

I started my new garden by scoping out our side yard. This piece of the yard was not used for anything and had essentially turned into a storage area for junk that really should just have been thrown away. So first order of business was to clear out all the stuff that was just stealing space.

My next step was to clear out the weeds and grass that had taken control of the side yard. This is where a serious gardener will tell you to rent a tiller. I went with a lower tech and more exercise friendly solution. I bought a hoe. I used the hoe to clear out all the vegetation in the side yard leaving me with a farm area of about 15x8 feet. This might not seem like a large garden, and it isn't, but I strongly suggest starting with a small plot and then work your way to a larger farm if you think it becomes necessary. Even a small plot like mine will provide plenty of work, and you don't want to get yourself in too deep at the get go.

The clearing out of weeds and grasses was a great upper body work out, and it also provided me with the organic matter needed to start a compost. Two birds with one stone. I didn't bother with creating beds for my vegetables, I just left the area flat and weed-free ready for my seeds. If I could go back and change one thing I would probably invest the extra work in preparing beds for the plants, but as it turned out, it is perfectly possible to grow excellent vegetables on flat soil.

My next step was to provide irrigation. I know myself well enough to know that the daily waterings needed for a successful vegetable garden would be a big hurdle for me to get over, so I set this up to be as easy as possible. The solution I went for was to get a long garden hose and two inter-connectible drip hoses (a drip hose is a hose that is perforated and spreads water evenly along the length of the hose). I hooked the hose up to a tap in my back yard, and connected the drip hoses to it. Then I laid out the drip hose in my garden trying to maximize the space. Now the chore of watering the vegetables becomes as easy as just remembering to turn on the water for 30 minutes every evening.

With this basic work in place, it's time for the fun stuff. Planting your vegetables. Again, real farmers will tell you to start the seeds indoor 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost. This again is too much work for me, so I planted seeds directly into the ground in early May when there's no risk of frost. (I live in Southern California and probably could have planted seeds safely in early March). I did my best to follow the instructions in the seed packets about spacing and sun requirements. But for most of my plants I planted harvested seeds that I had saved from peppers I had bought at the store. This is a high risk way of collecting seeds as many of the vegetables you can buy in the store are sterile. If you buy high quality seeds from a garden center you can expect a much higher germination rate.

From this point on my gardening adventure was basically turning the water on and off, and weeding the plot once a week on the weekends. In my inexperience I mistook an insect infestation and didn't treat it in time. This led to a severe loss of cauliflower. I also planted the spinach in too much sunlight and the bell pepper in too much shade, along with a million other fatal mistakes. Despite this blatant neglect on my part, the plants sprouted and grew and provided me with fresh vegetables for the summer and well into fall. The great thing about these mistakes is that they have thought me how to improve my vegetable garden year after year.

This is how I started my journey as a backyard farmer. It doesn't have to be complicated or expensive. The most important part is just to take action and get started. The rest will follow and the rewards will be well worth it!

  1. I'm a gardening newbie. I know I am making a lot of mistakes this year, but like you I am using this as a learning experience. Great post!


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