How to Grow a Successful Vegetable Garden
My Vegetable Garden
Eat Healthier by Growing a Vegetable Garden
As you mother told you when you were young. "Eat your vegetables so you will grow up big and strong." Eating healthier means eating more fruits and vegetables and growing your own vegetables makes it even better. Growing a vegetable garden is not as difficult a thing as many people make it out to be. Some people try to over complicate things. Here are some tips for growing your own vegetable garden.
My husband and I have grown a garden every year for the last 25 years. There are three basic things that are needed to grow a successful vegetable garden. Once you have mastered these basic needs for your area, you just let nature do the rest.
I think one of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to grow a vegetable garden is making the garden bigger than they can properly take care of. Start small and as your garden becomes successful you can enlarge it the following year. Now let’s look at the basics.
Vegetable plants need plenty of sunlight. Plant your garden in an area where it will get at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day. Leafy vegetables such as lettuce and mustard or spinach greens, can get by with less sun, so plant your garden accordingly. If part of your garden is going to get less light than others, plant the leafy vegetables in that area and plant the vegetables that put on “fruit” where they will get the most sunlight.
Early Vegetable Garden
Plants need nutrients to grow well. They get these nutrients from the soil. Depending on where you live as to what nutrients your soil has and what you may have to supplement. The first thing you should do when preparing a garden is to check your soil. This is very important. You cannot grow a good garden without good soil. It’s as simple as that! There are various extension centers that will do this for free or perhaps a small charge. We take a soil sample to the Oklahoma State University extension center and they send it off to be tested. The soil sample is nothing more than a small scoop of dirt from various places in your garden area, placed in a bag. They will mail you a report as to what nutrients your soil needs. This year we need to add some nitrogen and potassium. You can purchase what is required from your local nursery or agricultural center. Add these nutrients to your garden area by simply sprinkling them over the garden and tilling them in.
Loosen Your Soil
Now that you have the proper nutrients in your soil, you need to loosen the soil so the plant's roots will be able to grow and take hold. If you have a considerable amount of clay in your soil as most of us here in Oklahoma do, you should add some type of organic matter to your soil to keep it loose, such as compost or mulch. You can purchase mulch at your garden store or you can use hay, mulched leaves, and even some kitchen remnants such as coffee or tea grounds. Different types of manure, such as cow, horse, and even chicken or rabbit manure works well. We have a mulching mower and each year we run the mower over all the leaves in the yard and use these as well as some hay. Till all of this into your soil and be sure you have tilled it until there are no large clumps in the soil.
Planting your seeds can be as easy or as hard as you want to make it. I like the easy way! Mark off the area you want to plant using stakes and string. This will create straight rows. Create a burrow in your garden by simply dragging a spade or shovel through the soil along your string line. The burrow only needs to be about 2 to 3 inches deep. Walk along the burrow dropping the seeds as you go. Depending on what you are planting as to how far apart you want to plant your seeds. You don’t necessarily have to place 1 seed every so many inches apart. You can always thin out your plants if they get too crowded. If you are planting vegetables that grow in clumps or hills, such as squash or potatoes you will want to give them enough room to spread out. Now go back and cover the burrows with soil and give them some water, but be careful not to wash the seeds away.
A Healthy Garden
Not enough water is probably the biggest downfall of most gardens. This is the main reason I mentioned not getting your garden larger than you can properly take care of. Your plants are busy growing roots. If your soil is hard and dry, the roots are not going to be able to grow. Keep your soil moist enough that your plants can get the moisture they need. Be sure your garden is level so that there no places that will pool water around your plants. If they roots remain wet or soggy too long they can rot. If you find places that are washing out and creating pools, simply drag some soil up to fill in. If you use some type of sprinkler system, be sure that the water is getting out to the edges of your garden. I prefer to use my sprinkler for a couple of hours and then go around the edges, watering by hand.
Use Dead Leaves as Mulch
One of the best things we have done to improve our garden is to add mulch. Depending on the size of your garden as to how much mulch you will need. Buying enough mulch to cover your entire garden can get expensive. We purchased a lawn and leaf vacuum sometime back and use that to make our own mulch. I have found that using dead leaves makes the best mulch. Mulched leaves don't seem to wash away as easy as other mulches. The lawn and leaf vac attaches to our mower and when we mow for the first time of the year, we save all the leaf mulch to use in the garden. Try to keep the mulch at about 1 inch deep and mulch the entire garden, not just around the plants. This will also keep the weeds from growing in your garden. This has saved me more time, work and water than I can possibly tell you!
Once your plants have begun to grow, you may want to thin them out a bit. If the plants are growing too close together, they will be competing for water, nutrients, and sun. Keep your plants thinned out as they grow. I like to keep mine, what I call “shoulder to shoulder." Don’t let one encroach on the next one's space. As the plants grow they will still begin to crowd each other. If you feel like there are some too close together, pull one of the plants out. In the beginning, this was so hard for me to do, but I found that the plants do much better and are more disease tolerant when they are not crowded together.
It doesn’t hurt to add a bit of fertilizer from time to time. The best time is when the plants are beginning to put on their “fruit." This is when they are using most of their energy. If you have some remaining fertilizer that was recommended for your soil, that would be the best to use. However, if you have used it all when you started your garden, the same fertilizer that you use on your lawn will work fairly well, such as a 10-20-10 fertilizer. However you apply your fertilizer, using a fertilizer spreader or by hand, be sure that you don't leave any fertilizer on the leaves of the plant as it will burn them. Over-fertilizing can burn the roots, so spread your fertilizer sparingly and water thoroughly. I will fertilize again after their production has slowed down or the leaves of the plants start to turn a little pale in color.
Grow Your Own Treasures
A successful vegetable garden is basically easy to grow, but you are going to have some trial and error periods. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t have the best looking garden around right away. It’s always a learning process but the fresh vegetables you will enjoy will always be worth it. I can't wait to go out to my garden each morning! Picking in my garden is like treasure hunting to me. I can't wait to see what new little treasure I will find each day!