The idea of growing your own vegetables and enjoying them straight from the garden may fill you with excitement, but the process of preparing and planting the garden bed can be frustrating. Not only are there some things no one thinks to tell you, there are many you may not think to ask. But with a little knowledge, you can accomplish your dreams and put fresh food on the table as well.
Selecting a Site
Selecting an appropriate site for your garden is critical. Garden vegetables require at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight a day, but all-day sun is preferable. Observe the area throughout the day and watch for shadows cast by buildings or trees. If you are selecting the site in early spring before deciduous trees have developed leaves, check that trees will not shadow your garden area once leaves form. The ideal garden bed is well-drained, does not stay wet in the spring or after heavy rains, and is located on level ground.
Preparing the Soil
Preparing the soil for planting is another important step. Not all soil is suitable for gardening, but most can be amended with organic matter. Assuming the soil is suitable because it looks "dark and crumbly" can be dangerous.Test the soil to determine the condition of your soil and its pH level.
Contact your local extension office for a soil test kit and follow the directions for gathering the sample. The extension office will analyze the soil and provide you with a written summary that includes information on amending your soil and adjusting the pH. Follow the instructions to get your soil ready for planting.
Once you’ve decided on the type of vegetables you wish to grow, visit the nursery. Look for varieties that are suitable for your growing area. Some varieties perform better in cool climates while others prefer warm climates. Read the plant identification tag, or ask an attendant, to determine the number of days to maturity. Always choose varieties with days to maturity that are fewer than the number of frost-free days in your area.
One of the most common mistakes made by new and experienced gardeners alike is planting seedlings too closely. Check the plant identification tag and follow the spacing recommendations. Even though it may look like you are planting them too far apart, plants grow rapidly and fill in the area quickly. Planting vegetables too closely prevents good air circulation and makes them more susceptible to disease.
You may have added fertilizer when amending the soil, but many plants benefit from additional fertilizer during the summer. Follow the recommended application rate carefully. You can find this information on the label of the container. This is one time when more is not better. Too much fertilizer or too strong a solution can burn young roots and damage plants.