How to Start Your Own Garden

Beginner’s Guide to Gardening

Having your own garden can be so rewarding in so many ways. People take an interest in gardening for a variety of reasons. Like higher quality produce, exercise in the great outdoors, or saving money. Which ever the reason for your gardening interest you will love how easy it is to have a garden, how fresh and delicious it is and you will definitely save on produce.

  • Get the Right Gear – it is worth investing in some quality gardening tools. Buying bad quality tools will not only be frustrating when they break, but they will also cost you more money and time in the long run. Proper tools provide more comfort and efficiency, which means less work for you. Here is what you’ll need to get started:
  1. Trowel – for weeding and digging small holes.
  2. Gardening gloves – as much as we like getting our hands dirty, we don’t like getting them that dirty. A good pair of gloves can also protect your hands from bugs (if you’re squeamish) and prickly plants and weeds.
  3. Sun hat – for UV protection, make sure this is wide-brimmed and cinches.
  4. Watering can and/or Hose – what you need will vary depending on your garden’s water needs and proximity to your water source.
  5. Wheelbarrow – for larger gardens, you’ll need one to transport mulch, dirt, and compost.
  6. Round-head shovel – for digging larger holes.
  7. Rake – ideal for spreading mulch, and gathering or transporting debris that has collected around your garden and between plants.
  8. Shears – use to prune away browning leaves or snipping herbs.
  9. Pitchfork – this is an essential tool if you are creating a compost heap or pile
  • Choosing Where your Garden Will Be - There are three common types of gardens, all of which have their own pros and cons: traditional (in-ground), container and raised beds. Once you’ve picked out the sunny spot where your garden will reside, it’s time to decide on one, or a combination of these three garden types, depending on your needs.
  1. Traditional Garden – an in-ground garden often provides you with limitless options for what you can grow, while utilizing the natural ecosystem of nutrients, bacteria, and insects already present to help your plants grow. Ideally, choose a site that receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight and faces south.
  2. Container Garden – for those that can’t plant a traditional in-ground garden, whether because of poor soil or no soil at all container gardening is a fantastic alternative! There are many different types of containers available at nurseries and home improvement stores. Your containers can vary in shape, size and material to suit your gardening needs. Beyond terra-cotta and clay pots, almost anything can work as a gardening container: plastic bins, untreated wood barrels, galvanized metal buckets, a hanging planter, a planter box on a windowsill, even a recycled yogurt container or an old boot. Not every plant is suitable for container gardening and not every container matches up well with every plant. Remember that deep-rooted plants (carrots, for example) require a deep pot (at least 10-12 inches). Ideal candidates for container gardens are leaf and head lettuces, spinach, green beans, peppers, onions, radishes, tomatoes, squash, carrots, garlic, and herbs.
  3. Raised-Bed Garden – raised beds are a happy medium between a traditional garden and a container garden. The benefits of this garden include better control over the soil, more manageable weed control, and easier access for gardeners who experience pain from bending over too far or have limited mobility. Materials used to create raised beds include cinder blocks, bricks, untreated wood and even rocks. A raised bed can be anywhere from 6 inches off the ground to the height of a standard table, and generally, these beds are about 3 to 4 feet wide with a depth of at least 16 inches. Fill in these beds as you would a standard garden, using good soil enriched with compost. Carrots, cabbage, and other deep-rooted vegetables do especially well in raised beds because you avoid compacted dirt that could be full of obstructions to their deep roots.
  • Prepare your Soil -  poor-quality soil can seriously hurt a gardener’s best efforts. What characterizes as good soil? A high-quality soil for gardening will be:
  1. Well-aerated, which means air circulates through it well. Dense soil, like clay, is often too thick for roots to grow properly and doesn’t drain well.
  2. Free of stones and other obstructions. Soil shouldn’t be too sandy, either.
  3. Rich in organic matter, such as compost or aged manure. Organic matter provides nutrients to plants. When a garden is rich in these resources, the soil itself will provide nutrients for the plants to grow, which means that artificial fertilizers are often unnecessary.
  • Decide What you Will Grow – deciding which fruits and vegetables to grow will depend on what appeals to your diet, which plants will fit within the size of your garden, and which plants are appropriate for your hardiness zone. For the cost of a packet of seeds which is usually a few dollars, your garden will more than pay for itself with the amount of edibles it will produce. Not to mention be superior in nutrient content, freshness and taste too. Fresh fruits and vegetables, especially organic ones, are expensive to buy, but you could save a lot of money in just one season by growing some in your own backyard. You can grow all plants from seeds, but many starts or seedlings are available from your local nursery like tiny tomato, pepper, onion, broccoli, and melon plants, started in a nursery greenhouse, are usually ready to plant directly into the soil. Buying seedlings is more expensive than buying a packet of seeds, but it’s a great option if you’re a fledgling gardener or want to save time as many seeds need to grow indoors for weeks before they’re ready for the outdoors.
  • Grow your Garden – you’ve got your gear, prepared your plot and soil and bought your plants. Next comes planting them to ensure they’ll get adequate sunshine and water as they grow. Different plants have different needs for sunlight. Those in need of more sun include tomatoes, squash, beans, eggplant, corn and peppers, while those less dependent on the sun are leafy vegetables, potatoes, carrots and turnips. You can sow plants that need less sun in early spring or late summer when the sun is less vibrant, too. When choosing what to put where, remember to place taller plants on the north side of your plot to prevent shadows from forming and inhibiting the growth of shorter plants. After your seeds or seedlings are in the soil, you can use additional compost as mulch to improve water retention, help control weeds and keep the roots cool in hot weather. Remember to water your garden. Always water plants at soil level in the morning, as evening watering can make them more susceptible to disease and mildew. Sporadic deep watering is more effective than frequent shallow watering. Be diligent about watering and weeding your precious new garden and chances are, it will flourish before your eyes!

Start small and begin with plants that are easy to grow. This way, you’ll avoid situations where the joy of gardening is replaced by frustration. Relax, have fun and enjoy your time outdoors. There will be successes and failures, but remember it is worth it!

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Suzana (SCM) is the owner, editor and main contributor of SocialCafe Magazine. As a wife and work at home mom of two (tween girl & baby boy), she enjoys writing about fitness, food and style among other things.

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