Many people shy away from gardening because they think it’s too complicated. Gardening can be a daunting task at times, but for the most part it’s as simple as good soil, good seed, good sun, and lots of patience.
I’ll work backwards through the list.
Lots of Patience: Rushing things is probably the #1 reason why gardeners are unsuccessful. Don’t try to do everything at once. Start off small…one or two raised beds or a small in-ground plot is plenty to get your feet wet in gardening. Don’t try to plant too many different types of plants. Plant things that are easy to grow and are things that you and your family will eat. Follow recommended planting times carefully. Planting too early is a recipe for disaster.
Good Sun: Vegetable plants need a minimum of 6, but more ideally 8-10 hours of direct sunlight to grow. If your yard is shady, break out the chainsaw and clear out the canopy or find another location with more sun. If you do have a lot of shade, you will be limited in what you can grow…stick with lettuces, spinach, radishes, and onions in your areas with less sun.
Good Seed: Make sure that when you buy seeds or plants that you are buying quality, fresh seeds and healthy, hardened-off plants. Buy seed from reputable sources…avoid the mega seed companies and support those that provide quality and excellent service. Do not buy the biggest, most expensive plants at the nursery. Tomato and pepper plants should be from 3-10 inches tall, have very stocky stems, have no open flowers on them, and should have a “rootbound” appearance when you pull them out of their containers.
Good Soil: Most urban yards have poor quality soil. Too much clay, not enough drainage, and too many rocks. All of these obstacles can be solved by building a raised bed. A raised bed has a lot of advantages over panting directly in the ground and a few disadvantages.
Pros: Excellent drainage. Excellent soil quality. Soil warms up more quickly. Less bending over to plant and harvest. Neat garden appearance. Keeps the gardener cleaner.
Cons: Initial cost of materials. Initial Labor. Soil dries out quickly.
A raised bed doesn’t have to be expensive. You can use recycled lumber to build a box, or use stones from around the yard to make a bed edging. You can also just make a large, mounded row on top of the existing soil and reap some of the raised bed benefits.
I prefer to use treated lumber to build my beds. Today’s treated lumber is much safer for gardening purposes than the old “CCA” type lumbers that are no longer made. Check out this link to learn more about using treated lumber in your garden. If you’re still not convinced, you can use regular lumber, but it will need to be replaced after about 3-5 years.
Once you’ve decided on your bed location, decide on the length of the bed. I have raised beds that are as short as 4 feet and as long as 16 feet and everything in -between. The length isn’t nearly as important as the width. Raised beds should be no more than 4 foot wide. Any wider than that and it’s difficult to reach the middle of the bed for planting, harvesting and weeding. Many tomato gardeners say that 3 feet is ideal. I prefer 4 foot wide beds.
Go to your local lumber store and purchase two board of the length you desire for your bed. You can buy boards as wide as 18 inches or as narrow as 6 inches. The wider the board, the higher the bed. I really like my 12 inch high beds over my shorter ones. Also purchase one 8 foot long board that is the same width of your other two boards. Have the workers cut the 8 foot board in half for you (they will cut them for free). This will make two, 4 foot long pieces that will be the ends of your bed.
Next, purchase a small box of 3 or 3 1/2 inch screws. Make sure that you buy the screws that are for use with treated wood if you are using treated lumber. Do not waste your money on those fancy corner connector kits they sell for raised beds.
When you get the board to your garden area, partially install three of the screws in the ends of the longer boards. Screw them in about 1 inch from the end of the boards. This makes joining the boards together easier when you put them in place.
Place the boards in a box shape over your garden area, and fasten in all 12 screws.
You can now choose to lightly till the soil in the middle of the box, or you can place a layer of 10-15 sheets of newspaper over the bottom of the bed to avoid weed growth, or you can just fill the box in over the existing soil. I’ve used all three methods and haven’t noticed any difference in bed performance, so do what’s easiest for you.
Finally, begin filling the bed with compost. If at all possible, don’t buy the stuff in the bags. Go to Suburban Lawn and Garden or Missouri Organic and buy it by the yard. Buy COMPOST…don’t buy topsoil. Topsoil is a bit cheaper, but is not what you want to grow your veggies in. Don’t worry if you can’t fill the bed all the way to the top the first year. Fill it half-full and then add to it each year.
Total cost for a raised bed up to 12 foot in length should be no more than $100 including all materials and filling it with purchased compost.
Here’s a peek at some of my raised beds and the wonderful salads they are producing right now!
Well, I hope this helps those of you deciding to get into gardening or those wanting to expand their current gardens.
Plant sales start this weekend…can’t wait to see all of you again and talk tomato over the coming weeks!