By Kim Hudson
When starting a small vegetable garden, first and foremost you will want to choose an ideal location. You will need to find an area that receives at least six hours of sunlight a day. Choose a relatively level area or one with a slight slope for good drainage.
Next, you will need a water source close to your garden. A watering can will get pretty heavy if you have to carry it a long distance – not to mention the number of trips you’ll have to make! (If you are fortunate enough to have a building close to your garden you may want to consider setting up a rain barrel system that utilizes the overflow of rainwater from the roof.)
You will need basic gardening tools to start your small vegetable garden, such as a flat-end shovel, pointed-end shovel, rake, hoe and garden gloves. You will also need compost and/or manure and peat moss. It would also be a good idea to have a wide-brimmed hat and a pair of washable footwear.
First-time gardeners should start with a small vegetable garden. Small gardens give you more control and also keep you from feeling overwhelmed by upkeep, weeds and even crop abundance.
1. Start with an area approx 11’ x 11’; this will give you 9 – 3’ x 3’ areas to work with. This set-up will allow you a foot of walking space between each planting area and will give you optimum reach advantage from both sides.
2. Prepare your area by first using the flat-end shovel and clear away all grass and weeds including roots to at least a 2-3” depth. This may seem like a tedious task but this will dramatically reduce the weed population during the growing season.
3. Once you have cleared the area you will need to cultivate the soil. You can easily do this by renting a tiller from your local rental center, hiring someone with a tiller to do the job or rolling up your sleeves and tilling by hand with your pointed-end shovel. Either way, make sure the soil is not too wet. Note: You can check soil moisture by examining a sample in your hand. If you can crumble the soil easily then you are ready to start. Make sure to cultivate the soil to a depth of at least 12” to ensure proper root growth.
4. With your rake, level out the soil and remove any roots, rocks, and other debris and break up any large dirt clods from the area. Begin adding compost and manure for nourishment for your plants and peat moss to keep your soil light.
5. Now you can start to “lay out” your garden. Using your hoe, separate the garden using into nine distinct areas that are each 3’ x 3’ with 1’ in between each area.
6. Let’s start planting! And most importantly plant what you like to eat. Even with a small vegetable garden you may be able to plant early and late crops, depending on the length of the growing season in your part of the country. Early-season garden vegetables include potatoes, onion sets, peas, lettuce, spinach, broccoli and cabbages. Late-season crops include tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, beets and beans.
Here are some suggestions on the different types of vegetable plants that are available at your garden centers. “Sets” usually include vegetables such as potatoes and onions. “Slips” are usually onions and sweet potatoes, and “packs” will include vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, lettuce and squash. The latter are vegetables that are cultivated from seed and usually grown in a greenhouse. You will find anywhere from 2 to 8 plants to a pack, which can be easily transplanted to your garden. Some vegetables, such as peas, beans, beets and radishes, are just as easy to plant from seed. Just plant according to the seed packet directions.
There are a few last-minute things to remember. Water your garden if it hasn’t rained in three or four days and try to water early in the morning so the water will have time to evaporate off the leaves. This will cut down on any fungus or bacterial growth. Weed, weed and weed….get those weeds out of your garden on a daily basis. The weeds will use up the nutrients, moisture and eventually choke out your vegetable garden.
See also: Garden Planning 101