Monday, July 21, 2014

Ten Tips for First-Time Veggie Garden Growers

I'm still a newbie when it comes to growing veggies.  Last year, when we built our flagstone raised garden beds, we decided to try out the whole gardening experience from the bottom up.  What we learned -- and continue to learn -- is invaluable, and the biggest tips we have for first-time veggie gardeners are provided below!

1. Realize that Yes, You Can Garden

Everyone can have a veggie garden.  It is up to you to determine how much you'd like to.  Whether you own a home with 10 acres or rent an apartment with a balcony -- you can garden.  Get creative by creating garden beds in unique locations and/or hanging them in planters or containers.  Whatever works for you, go for it!


2. Buy the Pre-Sprouted Plants First

I did everything from scratch last year, and for someone who doesn't do well with house plants, needless to say starting our veggies from seeds didn't go well.  The trick is to be both patient and diligent.  Keep them watered, warm, and under grow lights.  Start many veggies, like tomatoes and peppers, early.  Don't get frustrated if not all of the seeds germinate.  For first-time veggie garden growers, however, I recommend that you simply buy the pre-sprouted plants at Lowe's and Home Depot.  They have a large variety of veggies to choose from, and months' worth of work is already done for you.  Simply buy and plant -- the containers that most of these are in are biodegradable pots, which reduce both waste and transplant shock.


3. Build Raised Beds

Our raised garden beds were pretty pricey.  Since they're located in the side yard, they are visible from the road, so we built them out of red flagstone bricks.  The results are beautiful and will last a lifetime, so I have no regrets and believe that they were a wonderful investment.  Not all raised beds have to be expensive, however.  You can build them out of scrap pallets, cedar planks, or old logs.  I just recommend getting your veggies off of the ground -- it'll be easier on your back as you're caring for your veggies, and it'll also keep little critters out of them.  Fill the beds with garden soil rich in nutrients, water often, and soon you will have beds overflowing with beautiful leaves and edible veggies.


4. Pair with Companion Plants

Many veggies need the same nutrients as other plants, attract the same pests as others, or simply don't get along with other plants.  On the other side, pairing certain veggies together will actually help each other grow.  Check out companion gardening online before you plant your veggies in any particular areas, before you realize that your peppers might not do so well next to garlic.  As pictured below, the Three Sisters consist of corn, beans, and squashes which, when grown together, help each other grow and thrive all season long.


5. Plant Herbs in Containers

We made the mistake of using one of our garden beds last year for herbs.  What we didn't know is that lots of herbs -- especially mint -- grow like weeds, can swarm entire beds, and kill off neighboring plants.  Keep them contained in their own pots.  I bought hanging wall planters for $25 each from Lowe's last year, and that is where we are keeping our herbs this season.  Herbs are just as beautiful as annual flowers, so treat them as such.  Also keep them close to your kitchen as possible, so that you remember you have access to them!


6. Adhere to Plant Spacing

Every veggie sprout will have a recommended distance that they will prefer to be planted from neighboring plants.  This is to avoid crowds and prevent your plants from overshadowing each other and/or killing one another.  I made the mistake of planting three sprouts of zucchini and squash each fairly close to one another last year.  Little did I know that these plants get monstrous!  I've found, however, that sweet and hot peppers can be a few inches apart with no issue.  Feel free to experiment with the spacing and apply lessons learned to following seasons, too.


7. Buy Cages and Trellises Early

Tomatoes grow fast, and very soon will need support to keep their unwieldy branches upright.  Set in tomato cages early so that your plants will have something to grow into.  If you wait too long, the tomatoes will fall over and be impossible to contain.  Beans, too, are climbers, and prefer to grow on trellises.  Tie the branches and vines onto the cages and trellises with twist-ties or velcro to so you may adjust them as they grow.  We used wooden trellises to contain our tomatoes this year -- they are prettier than cages -- and work fabulously.


8. Keep Pests Out

It's inevitable that birds, rabbits, deer, insects, and slugs will soon notice your veggies.  Use Deer Off, cayenne powder and red pepper flakes, or dried urine and blood mixes around your garden on a weekly basis.  This year, my favorite pest-preventative were these Deer Off canisters that last all season long.  You don't necessarily have to fence-in your garden, but if the pests are that bad, you might have to after a couple of seasons.  We noticed that the deer stayed away from our garden beds last year, and that is probably because our dogs often did their business around the beds.  Find out what works and keep at it!


9. Water, Water, Water

It sounds silly, but it's very easy to forget to water your veggies every day.  Water them frequently, both from the hose and with Miracle-Gro.  Ask your neighbor's son to water them for you while you're on vacation.  Once the roots are established, you won't have to water them as often, but still -- keep to it!


10. Enjoy!

We feel like kids coming home from work to gaze at the progress that our veggie garden makes every day.  It is fascinating to watch and learn.  It's truly a rewarding experience and nothing beats a fresh, homegrown tomato.  Plant what you want, how many you want, and enjoy skipping the the produce section of your grocery store all summer and fall.  Depending on how many veggies and herbs you have, too, you'll likely be giving lots of them away to your co-workers and neighbors -- it's amazing how much you can get out of just one plant.  This is your garden; make the most of it!


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