I hope I am not the only one longing for spring. Here in California’s Inland Empire the hills have started to green, birds are out and about chirping, grasshoppers are hoping and chomping on everything green, and flower buds are starting to swell and burst through brown, twiggy branches.
We have so much gardening work to do. Spring-cleaning kind of work. Our backyard is modest, but fairly large and square. The sun walks across it every day, making it easy for us to work with nature and grow our own food.
With all the budding of life comes pollen, though. If you’re like me then you know that means hay fever, allergy flares, and sometimes a general feeling of malaise. Sunday we worked the full day, fighting Santa Ana winds and all. By the end of the day, my nose was sore, red, and cracked from the constant running. Come Monday, I had a full blown allergy attack: sinus headache, ear pain, post nasal drip and sore throat, and of course, itchy eyes. I’m better today, but still not feeling full of energy.
Instead of sulking, I’m going to take the time to do a little mental spring-cleaning. I have a few books on my nightstand to read, homework deadlines approaching, and an application to finish and send off. I find that sometimes taking the time to nap, do nothing, and laze around catching up on work cleans space out of your mind. Space needed to do the other shiny, fancy things like bake, write, garden, paint, and quilt.
In the back of my mind, I will be thinking and planning some great bread and salad meals to take advantage of all the greens and herbs growing in our garden. With all of the gardening work ahead of us this weekend, I’m guessing that spring-cleaning my mind, getting some much needed rest, and catching up on homework will be good.
I had my phone with me while watering the plants this afternoon, and I thought I’d take a few quick shots to share here and include some quick, beginning vegetable gardening tips.
Starting a vegetable garden is not that hard, but I know it can be a bit daunting as you try to learn what to do. You may not believe me, but I had quite a brown thumb. I didn’t find my growing “zen” until I started vegetable gardening. I find that vegetable plants are a bit hardier, patient, and willing to grow while you learn. Perhaps it is a part of their DNA; they are meant to grow, seed, fruit, and give their lives up for the next generation. Quite noble of them, if you ask me.
If you’re thinking about planting your own garden this year, here are some quick and easy vegetable gardening planting tips to get you started.
Vegetable Gardening Tips: A few tips for beginners planning a vegetable garden
- Preparation: Now’s the time to get your soil ready for growing. Unless you are my mother-in-law and are blessed with rich, fertile soil in your backyard, you will need to prepare your soil to nurture your plants. This is often where beginner gardeners make their first mistake—they don’t prepare their soil. It helps if you know your soil’s ph, but don’t let that stop you. Go down to your local nursery, get some bagged compost, manure, whatever you like, and add it to your bed. When we start our beds we dig down at least two feet, carefully breaking up the soil and aerating it. (We have clay soil.) Once we have dug far enough, we level the soil, add in compost and dried leaves from our garden waste, and work it into the top 12-18 inches of the soil. Most vegetable plants have shallow roots, which is why we work the good stuff into the first foot only. The rest of the soil work is to ensure good drainage and promote a healthy root environment full of earthworms. Those earthworms do all the heavy lifting.
- Location: The second mistake beginner gardeners make is failing to locate their vegetable beds in the right location. Sun is the vegetable plant’s best friend. These yummy guys and gals need lots of sun to carryout photosynthesis and produce the seeds, leaves, and fruit you’ll be eating. We are lucky; our house faces west, which means our backyard faces east. “The sun rises in the east, but sets in the west.” This means our backyard is full of light as the sun dances across the sky. If you don’t have an east or west-facing yard, spend some time taking note of the sun’s position throughout your yard on a sunny day. Most vegetable plants need a minimum of 6 hours and ideally 8 hours of full sun to grow and fruit properly. Another hint? Plant taller plants, like corn, facing north. This way, they won’t cast shadows on your sun loving plants.
- Selection: Here’s a secret—the best gardening advice you’ll receive is from three people/places: 1) neighbors who have been gardening a few seasons, 2) your own gardening journal, which you will start (right?), and 3) nursery and seed catalogs. I can tell you what grows well in our backyard, but unless you live on the other side of the fence, street, or avenue, it may not do you any good. Get out and talk to your gardening neighbors, visit your local nursery and ask questions. When they answer, ask some more. Repeat until they refuse to answer anymore. Add to that plant information from seed and nursery catalogs. All the growing information you need to know is there. What zone the plant thrives in, water and sun requirements, growing habits, planting tips, and even what the fruit tastes like. This is a wealth of information and can serve as your gardening book. To this add your own experiences. Start paying attention and taking note of how different plants behave in your garden. Sure, if you’re just starting you don’t have anything, but next year you’ll have a book of hints and tricks tailored to your backyard.
- Design: The beauty is in the details. To some this is the fun part, and to others, not so much. But, it is wise to start planning out your beds. You don’t have to get fancy. A simple sheet of notebook paper and a pencil will do. The goal is to think about which plants you are going to group together, and how you are going to best utilize your space. Certain plants perform well together, like tomato and basil, and others, like super-sweet corn and regular corn, should not be grown together. Also, if you plan to garden annually, you’ll want to rotate your crops so that pests are kept at bay and your soil is not routinely zapped of the same nutrients. It is also important to know that plants of the same ‘family’ or that share the same nutrient needs should not be grown together, or follow each other. It goes back to keeping the soil full of necessary nutrients, and confusing the hungry pests.
- Water and Food: Finally, perhaps the most obvious, but most overlooked is considering your plants water and food needs. You should decide if you will garden organically, or not, and learn what foods are available within your decisions. We garden organically, so we say no thank you to Miracle Gro and the likes, but we've found that fish fertilizers, and other natural fertilizers work just as well, if not better. It is helpful to plant plants with similar water and fertilizing needs together so that you don’t give a water loving plant all it needs, but drown a dry soil loving plant nearby accidentally.
I hope these few tips show how easy vegetable gardening is. A little time, effort, proper planning, and you can have a small plot of plants growing and feeding you and yours this summer. Sure, we can get complicated and go deep into vegetable gardening science, but the truth is it starts with these five things: soil, location, plant selection, design, water & food. Each season, we spend a little time doing all of these, and I am rarely disappointed at our garden’s ability to feed us through the summer months.
Above all, take some time to nourish yourself as the seasons begin to change. I am a believer in sunlight…find a little time to soak some up today!
Peace and blessings!
P.s. Vegetable gardening questions, problems—drop me a line. I don’t know everything, but in my 8+ years of growing I've learned something. I also know where to find answers I don't have. If you’d like me to address a topic in a post, let me know that too. I’ll do my best to share knowledge.