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Plant a Vegetable Garden
Living off the land isn’t just for flower power fanatics and green fanatics. Besides being able to literally enjoy the fruits of your labor, there’s always the added benefit of saving a few bucks at the supermarket. Gardening can be a little labor intensive, but with the right equipment and a few good tips, you’ll have green thumbs in no time! Please be warned that this is a very simple guide to getting started in gardening, we won’t get into soil science as it can be overwhelming and discouraging for beginners. If you don’t think your soil can grow a garden, i.e. your neighbors have tried without success, take a sample to your local greenhouse or plant store and have it tested, you may need to adjust the pH.
For everyone else: The first thing to consider when planting your garden is the type of soil you will be working with. There are three general types of soil, sand, loam/silt and clay. Not sure which one you have? Here’s an easy way to find out. Go to your future garden, pick up some soil, enough to make a ball the size of a table tennis ball, and try to shape it into a ball. If your soil doesn’t even come close to forming into a ball, you have sandy soil, if your soil seems to go with the program but falls apart when you stop trying to shape it, you have loamy soil, if it holds its shape like a ball you have clay soil. No worries, you’ll be able to plant regardless of soil type with the help of topsoil or compost.
First think about what kind of vegetables you want to plant, this is a fun process and will get you excited for the work ahead. A good starter garden includes tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers and peppers etc, and don’t forget herbs, basil, cilantro and mint are great herbs to use in many dishes. My best advice is to keep it simple. It’s easy to get excited about all those fresh, organic, juicy vegetables under your fingers that you’re biting off more than you can chew. Choose about 4-5 vegetables that you eat most often and plant them, but don’t leave out the tomatoes, you won’t regret it because they are infinitely better than any supermarket. Follow the link at the end of this article to find out when to plant the vegetables of your choice. It also tells you when you can expect the vegetables to arrive (harvest).
Once you’ve got your amazing list of vegetables, it’s time to prepare your soon-to-be bountiful garden. After the last frost of the season, prepare the soil by mixing in topsoil or compost, both of which contain essential nutrients and are the perfect density to retain and drain water at an optimal rate. Choose a nice spot that gets a lot of sun and start plowing to increase and expose the soil. To an area the size and shape you would like your garden to be, evenly remove two inches of soil and place it on the side where you will replace those two layers with topsoil or compost.
Side note: If you don’t want to remove soil, no problem, just choose a raised garden. Add two inches of topsoil to your current soil level after it has been prepared. If you choose a raised garden, you should line it with short pieces of wood as edging (a 2 x 4 is sufficient) so that the roots are not exposed when they start to grow.
Now let’s get back to processing. You should cut about 6 inches deep into the soil. Once you’ve collected all the soil, add topsoil or compost to it and stir a little more to mix it in. Add enough topsoil to the mix to give your soil the consistency and density of loam. If you already have clay soil, you should still add topsoil to make up for any nutrients your current soil may be lacking. I have found that a 50/50 mix works well for me. After the fertilizing time is up, spread (see jargon list) the fertilizer of your choice and use a rake to spread it evenly over the top of your plot. If you are not sure what type of fertilizer to buy, ask your local dealer and be sure to mention that you are using it for a vegetable garden.
Once you’ve done that, it’s time to plant your plants. A good rule of thumb is to start your garden when the plants in your area begin to bud. Who better to tell you about nature than Mother Nature herself? You can also see the previous link for a more specific calendar. If you plan to start seeds, get a modular tray that has squares of soil and start the germination process indoors to protect the fragile seeds from harsh external influences. Follow the link at the end of the article and watch the video on how to prepare the trays. Note: Containers that come prepared with the soil already in the cells can be purchased at your local gardening store.
If you are starting with small plants from a local greenhouse you can put them in your plot, I recommend this method as it is much easier to care for the plants. To transplant them into your garden, dig a hole about 6 inches deep, depending on the size of the plant, and place the plant with the soil you bought directly into the ground and pack a little more soil around the roots to keep it stable. Make sure you plant each plant a few inches apart to give them room to grow. After you have transplanted all your veggie plants, water the garden to let the roots go down.
Congratulations! You have planted your first garden. Now is the time to take care of it!
For the first few weeks after you’ve planted your plants, your garden will need some serious TLC. This means that you will need to water more often to keep the soil moist.
Watering should be done before dawn or at/after sunset. If you don’t water when the sun is full, water droplets in the leaves will intensify the sun and potentially burn the plant’s leaves.
Keep in mind that there is a fine line between wet soil and overwatered soil after you have watered your garden, the soil should be moist enough that you can form a small amount of dirt into a compact ball. If a lot of water comes out without much force, you watered too much (a little water is fine). It is better to water a little, check the soil and water a little more if necessary. A good way to check if you are watering enough is to stick your finger in the soil. After watering, give the soil a few minutes to absorb the water. After about 20 min. is over stick your little finger (or thumb!) as deep as possible into the ground. Be sure to stay away from the roots of the plants as you don’t want to disturb them. If the soil is moist, good job, a great way to hose down! If the soil underneath is a little dry, add a little more water, but be careful not to overdo it.
Now that we’ve encouraged you to pick up that hoe, keep these dos and don’ts in mind when planting your garden.
Plant your garden in an area that gets the most sunlight for about 5-6 hours a day.
Do not overwater your garden
Pull as many weeds as possible during tillage and after your garden starts to grow.
Do not dig up the plants after laying them down.
Do not water when the sun is full.
Harvest vegetables after they are ripe or they will rot in your garden.
Share the wealth. If you have more vegetables than you can handle, give some.
Have fun and enjoy the fruits, or in this case the vegetables, of your labor.
Great, you have all the information you need to start your garden, but you can’t call yourself a Green Thump Garden beginner until you learn some of the language:
Spread = distribute evenly over the entire plot
To ventilate = to loosen the soil by digging so that air can pass freely. It is used mainly on clay soil
Annuals = plants that only grow for one season
Biennial = plants that grow for two seasons
Germination = when the seed has germinated in the soil
Perennials = plants that grow every year if you take care of them naturally
Hardening off = gradually introducing plants or seedlings into nature by placing them outside every day to acclimate them to the weather and increasing the time they spend outdoors every day.
Wow, good job, you’ve officially earned your green thumbs, now get out there and get some dirt under your nails!
Happy planting to the beginner!
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