Hints for the Beginning Vegetable Gardener

by Jan Cashman 4/6/12

Vegetable gardening is “in”.  Everyone is growing vegetables these days to save dollars at the grocery store and provide better tasting, nutritious food grown without chemicals.  Vegetable gardening is an inexpensive, fun activity the whole family can enjoy together.

There is more than one way to be successful at vegetable gardening.  Remember, gardening isn’t difficult.  Here are 10 hints to help you get started:

  1.  Learn by reading books and magazines, attending classes, and asking neighbors who are successful at gardening or the staff at your local garden center for advice.
  2.  Plan out your garden on paper before you start.  Keep this plan for your records and jot down other ideas throughout the season for next year’s garden.  Choose short-season vegetables—‘days to ripening’ is usually listed on the seed package or learn from others which varieties are best suited to our climate.
  3. Start small.  Make the size manageable for your first garden so you won’t be overwhelmed.
  4. Consider gardening in raised beds.  We have found our raised bed gardens to be easy and productive for several reasons: Their height makes them easier to plant, weed, and harvest; weeds pull easily in the loose soil, the soil is warmer so vegetables grow faster.   Whether in the ground or in raised beds, rotate your crops every 3 years or so.
  5. Amend your soil whether you are growing in raised beds or in the ground with generous amounts of organic matter such as compost or peat moss or well-rotted manure.  Our heavy clay soils can be lacking in organic matter.
  6. Know when and how much to water.    A drip system or soaker hose keeps water off the leaves which is important for leafy crops like lettuce.  These watering systems will not waste water because they don’t water between the rows (Don’t water your weeds).  Watering in the morning is best–water deeply, not daily.  A general rule, unless our weather is unusually hot and dry, is 1” of moisture a week for most plants.  Learn to recognize signs of stress in a plant from too much or not enough water. 
  7. Fertilizer is a must! Whether you use organic or chemical fertilizers, your garden will do better if you fertilize it.  We fertilize twice, once when the seedlings are a few inches tall and again when they are ½ grown.  Corn and leafy crops need higher Nitrogen fertilizers; the rest of your vegetables will do well with something like Lily Miller’s Tomato and Vegetable Food (5-10-10), an environmentally friendly fertilizer which also includes important trace minerals.         
  8. Don’t let your weeds get out of control!  Weeds are a lot easier to pull when they are small and your soil is moist.  We avoid chemical herbicides in our vegetable garden.  Some gardeners place newspapers or black poly between their rows to keep weeds down. 
  9. Protect from deer, rabbits, voles, and other pests.  They can ruin all your hard work.  Last spring, after deer pulled up our newly planted Brussels sprouts, we fenced our whole garden with 5’ fencing.  Use smaller gauge wire to keep rabbits out.  Voles are hard to control but traps work and poisons are available.  Net strawberries and raspberries from birds and use rotenone or row covers to protect broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower from cabbage worms. 
  10. Use tricks to keep frost at bay—such as wall-o-waters for tomatoes, hot caps, frost blankets, even old gallon milk jugs or 5 gallon pails.  Turn on your sprinklers when a frost occurs to protect vegetable plants from freezing.

Get your children involved. They might be persuaded to eat their vegetables if they grow them themselves.  Have fun with your vegetable garden and enjoy the nutritious, delicious fruits of your labor.