Welcome to the first post in our organic vegetable gardening 101 series where you’ll learn a little about my gardening history and then be able to get started gardening with 10 basic steps. My goal with this series is to arm you with inspiration, knowledge, step-by-step instructions, and tips I’ve learned so that you can grow your own food. I want to emphasize that it does take time (although you can decide how much), but it doesn’t have to cost a lot, it’s fun, and takes you back to a simpler time – in other words, it’s definitely a ‘cottage’ thing to do!
I love, love growing my own vegetables now but I didn’t start out that way – I was all about flowers: roses, daylilies and peonies especially. But I thought I should have a little area to grow a few vegetables, so I grew some lettuce, tomatoes, and beans in a couple of raised beds. And then something I could’ve never guessed happened: the first time I created an entire meal out of the vegetables I grew gave me such a thrill that I began carving out more and more space for vegetables. To be able to say that all the produce in a meal came from my garden became my goal. I taught myself to can my produce and that pretty much sealed the deal: I needed more room for vegetables.
So we moved to a house with more space and I have been able to have a bigger garden, which has been a blessing. I finally met my goal to produce all the vegetables for our meals and then extended it by trying to provide ALL our family’s veggies during the summer, met that, and now the goal each season is to buy very little, if any, produce from April through November.
You, though, can grow vegetables in any amount of space and in fact, if you are just thinking about starting a garden, here is my biggest tip:
You can always add more beds or space as you want, but starting too big and having the garden get out of control by midsummer or drowning in heaps of produce in September is one of the things I’ve heard from a lot of people who were turned off of gardening after starting too big. Catch that “I grew that!” bug first, have fun with it, and then add more. And while winter is a great time to plan and dream of your future garden, any time of year works, too – we have built raised beds in July that we wanted to add and planted them with fall-growing varieties.
With this in mind, here are 10 basic steps to take before planting your first seeds and plants:
- Choose your space. It needs to get the most sun possible, so plan your garden space for the area that is sunny for most, and preferably all of the day. If that’s not possible, aim for 6 hours sun. Anything less than that and things like tomatoes, beans and cucumbers just won’t produce very well for you.
- Decide on your garden design. I’m an advocate of raised beds for their ease of watering, weeding, and growing a lot in a little space. However, some things just do better in traditional rows – like corn. So I have “modified” raised permanent beds for these vegetables. See more about my take on easy care design for gardens here.
- Buy tools and fertilizer. You’ll need some basic tools like a trowel, shovel, and rake plus a good all-purpose organic fertilizer. It’s nice to have clean grass clippings, hay, newspaper or purchased mulch to be able to lay down between plants to conserve moisture.
- Prepare your garden space. As soon as the ground can be worked in spring, build raised beds, clear sod, add organic matter, and do any other task you need for your garden to be ready to plant.
- Before planting anything, decide what you want to grow. Choose vegetables that your family actually eats, not what you think will be fun. Later you can experiment with a plant or two of a new vegetable, but when you’re just starting out it’s most rewarding to stick with tried-and-true varieties.
- Locate your area’s first and last frost dates. Seed packets will tell you when to plant based on this date (“plant 2 weeks before your last frost date,” etc.), so you’ll need this information. In Western Oregon, our last frost date is May 15th and our first frost date is October 15th.
- Purchase seeds. Visit a local store or order online (here are a few of my favorite catalogs to order from). Plan to buy enough to be able to plant a few succession crops of quick growers like lettuces, or herbs like cilantro. I would suggest buying carrots, lettuce (a few different varieties), spinach, beans and squashes your family likes.
- Start seeds indoors early or purchase seedlings later. Wait until it’s okay to plant according to your frost date before buying tomato and pepper plants.
- Plan your watering. I strongly advocate using soaker hoses or some other system that waters at the root of the plants. Overhead watering often spreads diseases, encourages shallow root growth, and loses a lot of the water to evaporation before even reaching the plants.
- Plant, maintain, harvest and enjoy!
Other Organic Vegetable Gardening 101 Series Posts:
- How to Start Seeds – A Step-by Step Tutorial
- Caring for Your Seedlings at Week 1
- Caring for Your Seedlings at Week 6
- Planting Your Seedlings
- Design Your Garden for Easy Care
- Planning for a Fall Garden
Within this series, I’ll pass along tricks and techniques I’ve learned that make gardening easier, and one thing you should know – I’m all about EASY. I wouldn’t garden if it just involved lots of weeding and digging, so I’ve adopted ways to garden that minimize these tasks that I am happy to pass on to you.
So, I hope you join me in creating a garden this year, whether it’s your first or fifteenth!