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Thursday, February 9, 2012

KNOL: How to Build and Plant Your First Vegetable Garden

Transfered from Google Knols to be stored on my blog.

Gardening is good for your mind and body. It is a great place to think while you get exercise. One of the best parts of gardening, unlike other work, is that you get to see the progress of your labor. You can easily save hundreds of dollars a year... but before we get to calculating costs and savings... you need a place to plant your vegetables. One step at a time! I will help you dig past that barrier that has been stopping you from having a garden. Yes, that barrier is you!

How to Build and Plant Your First Vegetable Garden

The Only Barriers are You and a Bit of Time
by Gary Pilarchik LCSW-C
To read more on everything gardening, check out my blog The Rusted Vegetable Garden
I have been gardening most of my life. I find it relaxing at many levels and I find it easy to do. Easy, not because I have experience, but because vegetables seeds and transplants want to grow. It does not take a lot of time or effort to start a garden. One barrier to having your own vegetable garden is the belief you need a lot of time. It will take about 4 or 5 hours of your time to set up your first garden. This includes the time for building labor and going to stores to get supplies. You can do those things over several weeks and put in 1 or 2 hours a week until your done.
I have a lot of friends say, "I wish I had a garden. I always wanted one but I just don't know how to get started." I will tell you how to get started with building and planting your first vegetable garden. Once it is built, you  will need about 15 - 20 minutes a day to maintain it.
This Knol is to help you get started. It won't be fancy. It won't have pictures. You can check out my other Knols for pictures and extra details on all things related to gardening. This Knol is to help get you motivated and to help you dig through the biggest barrier to having your own vegetable garden. And that barrier is you.


Plants need sun to grow and develop. There are basically 2 groups of vegetable plants. Plants that need 4 to 6 hours of sunlight and plants that need 6 or more hours of sunlight. When I say sunlight, that means full sun. The best place to plant your garden is the southern side of your house. This is where the sun spends most of its time between 10 am and 4 pm.
Some plants that need 4 to 6 hours of sun are lettuces, greens, radishes, onions, and peas. 
Some plants that need 6 or more hours of sun are tomatoes, peppers, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, beans, and beets.
There are many many more types of vegetables but let's keep it simple to start. For you first garden, these plants are outstanding.



Garden Location

The first step to location is picking a spot with sun. We can get into patio gardening, container garden but I am going to focus on a 4 foot by 6 foot plot in the ground. The second step is to make sure your garden plot doesn't sit where rain water pools. It should be fairly well drained. You don't need a specific test for drainage. After a hard rain, look outside. If the water pools in the area and sits for a while, it will be too soggy for your standard garden plot. If it rains an no water pools or it quickly drains off, you are good to go.

Garden Soil

Garden soil, I feel, is what scares first time gardeners the most. What is the PH of my soil? Is there to much clay? Does it have enough organic matter? These things can be looked at latter once you have some experience. Think about it this way... if the plot you pick is in the sun, fairly well drained, and you have grass and weeds growing on it then your plot will sustain vegetables.
PH describes how acidic or alkaline your soil is. Most vegetables like the mid range. Most soils are in the mid range. Therefore you can worry about this latter.
Clay soil is an issue. That is what I have and it is easily amended to grow vegetables. If your soil looks orange like a terracotta pot... that's clay. If you grab a handful of soil and squeeze and it stays packed tightly... that's clay. Clay soil doesn't have to be orange. It might be gray or yellow. To fix this you are going to buy some soil amendments.
The amendments you will need for clay soil and I will say for all soil types in your first garden are a bail of peat moss, 6 bags of garden soil, and the smallest bag of pulverized lime you can buy. No matter what kind of soil you think you have, buy these things. The peat moss comes in 3 cubic foot bails and costs about $10. The garden soil bags should be garden soil and not top soil and come in 40 pound bags or so. They can cost anywhere from $3 to $6 a bag. Do not buy high end garden soil. You just don't need it. The lime bag will probably come in a 40 pound bag and cost $7.

Building the Vegetable Garden Plot

This can be the most difficult barrier. Once you build your plot, you only have to tend it. Tending a plot this size only takes 15 to 20 minutes a day, 3 or 4 times a week. Tending includes planting, weeding, mulching, staking, and picking your vegetables. But before we get into those things... back to digging your 4 foot by 6 foot vegetable bed. If you want you can even do a 4 foot by 4 foot plot.
Get a tape measure, spray paint, or a bag of flour. Measure out a 4 x 6 foot rectangle and spray paint the lines or drop flour along the lines. You now have the dimensions of your vegetable plot. The garden is almost there!
If you want to dig out and remove all the grass, go for it. This labor intensive part also becomes a barrier. If you are going to remove it, dig the grass out to about 1 inch in depth. This will get most of the roots. If you are going to compost, put the grass in the compost area upside down. If you don't want it, bag it, and put it curbside. Turn the garden over to about one foot in depth once the grass is removed.
If you don't want to dig the grass out because it is labor intensive, start your garden building off by covering the space with black trash bags. They are inexpensive. Cover the area that is going to be your garden with the trash bags. Over lap them so no light can get to the grass and weeds under the bags. If you already bought your soil supplies use them to weigh the bags down. Get rocks, bricks, fill used milk containers with water, or whatever you can find to put on the trash bags so the wind doesn't blow them away. If it is sunny out the grass will yellow and die in one week. Im some cases you might need two weeks. The grass should be fully yellow underneath when you remove the trash bags. Turn the yellowed and weakened grass over right into the plot to about a foot in depth.
If you want to use your standard grass killer, spray the whole area well and wait three days. The grass will die and you can turn the grass over right into the plot. The chemical breaks down and won't harm future plants.
This is essentially your vegetable garden.  The hardest part is done. We could talk about raised beds and borders but to keep it simple just dig a 6 inch trench around the perimeter of your garden and toss the earth into the middle of the bed. That is it. You have your vegetable plot cleared out. Time to amend the soil.

Amending Your Vegetable Bed

Peat moss is very dry. Open it up in the middle of your bed and dump it out. Spread it evenly over the whole bed. I suggest spraying it down with a hose to keep if from being so dusty. Peat moss is acidic. Measure 3 or 4 cups of pulverize lime and sprinkle it evenly over the entire bed. Lime is alkaline. The peat moss and lime mix and neutralize each other to a significant degree. Spray the lime and peat moss down again. You should try and avoid breathing in the dusts. Next open your 6 bags of garden soil and spread it evenly over the plot.
You know have all your amendments on top of the garden. Grab a shovel and turn the earth to a depth of about 12 -18 inches. Break up the clumps and make the garden area fluffy. Dig from the sides of the beds and don't walk in the bed. You want to turn the soil and keep the planting area loose. You now have a vegetable bed that is ready for planting. You don't need to fertilize. If you want to add fertilizer before your turn it... you can add a 10-10-10 granular fertilizer. Just sprinkle 2 cups over the area of the garden. You can also buy Miracle Grow and water you vegetables with it. You can really worry about fertilizing the next year.

Take a Break and Enjoy Your Success!

You just completed the hardest parts of having your very own vegetable garden. You did it!  You got some exercise and are on your way to planting and harvesting fresh vegetables. It wasn't that hard and now you might be wondering... "why did I wait so long!" Enjoy your success, take a picture and post it on the web. The next picture you take will be when it is full of delicious vegetables.

What Kind of Vegetables Are There?

To keep it simple, there are 2 kinds of vegetables. Vegetables that like cool weather and vegetables that like warm weather. Cool weather vegetables like  nearly 60 degree days and 40 degree nights. Warm weather vegetables like nearly 80 degree days and 60 degree nights. They can survive fine in the overlap area. If it gets too warm for the cold weather vegetables, they turn to flowering and seed production. This is called bolting. If it is too cold for the warm vegetables, they just sit there and don't grow. There is no point to putting out warm season vegetables early. They won't grow.
Some cool season vegetables are lettuces, spinach, kale, cabbage, broccoli, radishes, and peas. These vegetables can be planted in early Spring and late Summer.
Some warm season vegetables are tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, melons, squash, zucchini, and eggplant. These vegetables go in after the danger of  frost has past and the nights are steady in the 50's and on there way to the 60's. Don't forget basil, an herb, loves the heat.
The other thing to know is you can plant you vegetables from seeds or as transplants. I suggest you use seeds for everything but by your cabbages, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. They should be purchased as transplants. You can find seeds and transplants at your local home improvement centers or nursery.

What to Plant?

Plant what you like! If you have at least 4 weeks of cool weather left before the real heat comes, you can plant some cool weather crops. They will bring you vegetables and greens before you put in the plants that will grow bigger, like peppers and tomatoes. If not you will have to start with the warm weather vegetables first.
I live in Maryland and will give you a basic planting schedule based on our weather and assume you built a 4 foot by 6 foot garden. You can adjust accordingly. But remember plant only what you like. You could try some of everything I list or just grow cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers.

Basic Cool Weather Crops

Buy some radish seeds, spinach seeds, and lettuce seeds. One pack of each. You can start these in the ground in Maryland around March 15th. You can plant them up until May 1st. They take about 25 to 45 days to mature. They can also be planted as Fall approaches.


Basic Warm Weather Crops

Buy some bush green bean seeds, bush cucumber seeds, basil seeds, bush zucchini or squash seeds,  2 tomato transplants (1 cherry type and the other your choice), 1 pepper transplant (your choice) and you can buy a 2nd pepper transplant or an eggplant transplant. You can get these in the ground in Maryland from May 1st until July 1st.
Bush varieties take up less room and are clearly marked on the seed packet.
If you start your garden late, the warm weather crops will go in first and the cool weather crops will follow in Fall and go in the ground around August 15th to September 15th.


How to Plant?

This is your first garden. I am going to keep it simple. Follow the seed packs 100% for planting instructions. It is the easy way to plant. You can also read my other Knols for more details on planting the seeds and transplants. I do want to give you some basics to follow.
  • Follow the directions on the seed packs.
  • Water with a spray nozzle or watering can (don't blast the seeds out of the ground with a jet).
  • Water them every other day while they are sprouting.
  • Water them every third day once they are about an inch high.
  • Water them as needed once they are established.
Notice all I said was follow the seed packs and water. This is all you have to do. The seed packs give you all the details for planting depth, spacing, and thinning.

Plant Spacing

The seed packs will tell you how to plant most of the plants but I will give you some tips.
  • Don't plant corn because you don't have enough room.
  • Plant your tomatoes at least 3 feet apart and don't put more then two in your plot.
  • Plant your peppers and eggplant at least 2 feet apart and don't put more then 2 combined in your plot.
  • Plant your tallest plants so they don't cast shade into your garden.
  • Plant you bush cucumbers, squash, zucchini, or bush melons 2 feet apart and don't put more then  2 combined in your plot. 
  •  I suggest 2 tomatoes, 1 pepper, 1 eggplant, and 1 bush cucumber for your first garden. Replace the eggplant with another bush type variety as listed above if you wish.
  • The rest of your plants can be planted as the seed packets instruct you to do so.

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  1. I've kept a small garden for a couple of years now, mostly tomatoes and peppers but it hasn't really done as well as I would have liked. I'm going to pretend like this is my first garden and go through your steps. I can't wait for spring to get here :)

    1. Good luck. What hasn't done well or how hasn't it done well? Maybe there is a solution.

  2. Hello. splendid job. I did not anticipate this. This is a impressive story. Thanks!
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