Healthy Beginnings

Dare To Dig In: A Guide for Beginning Gardeners

From Mother Earth News magazine, by Miranda Smith
Growing your own food may seem daunting if you’ve never done it. But don’t let your lack of experience keep you from discovering the joys – and the ease – of a kitchen garden. The satisfaction of bringing in armloads of gorgeous food; the look of a lush, healthy garden; and being outside and active in the fresh air enlivens many gardeners’ spirits.
Children are drawn to gardens, too. They never lose interest in watching the plants progress from a pair of seed leaves to a fruit-bearing adult or watching all the creatures bound to happen along. Best of all, vegetables once considered frightening are suddenly greeted by name and gobbled right up.
What follows are the key guidelines for a successful new garden:
BUILD THE SOIL
The easiest way to start new garden beds is to cover an area with cardboard or newspapers topped by compost, soil or mulch. This will smother any grass and perennial weeds if you leave the covering in place for at least several weeks.
Another method to clear the land is to rent a tiller (or hire someone to do the tilling). If the area is covered with grass, you probably will need to till it several times to thoroughly break up the sod.
Most new garden soils will benefit from a liberal application of compost. Spread a one-half to 1-inch layer over your new beds.
If you apply compost, or if you use nutrient-rich grass clippings as mulch, additional fertilizers may not be necessary. In other locations, your soil may need specialized amendments. You can’t determine what’s needed without a soil test. For soil-testing contacts in each state, go to www.MotherEarthNews.com/soil_test.
An organic mulch of grass clippings, leaves, hay or straw does triple duty in the garden. In addition to feeding plants as it decomposes, the mulch also prevents weeds and reduces watering chores.
SAVE YOURSELF WORK
Concentrate on making your first garden easy to care for. A couple of simple tricks will help you achieve this:
Plant in dedicated beds, not rows. If you till your garden, rake loose soil from the pathways to form 4-foot-wide growing beds. Make the paths between them about 3 feet wide, which is a comfortable width for walking and working.
Check seed packets or garden books to learn how many rows to plant in each bed. With lettuce, for example, you would make four rows across each bed. Using this method, however, you only would plant two rows of larger plants such as potatoes or peppers.
The close spacing between plants in beds also helps with weeding – as the plants gain in size, the soil around them becomes too shady for good weed growth. Another big advantage of permanent beds is that you can avoid walking on the soil, so it stays looser to promote better growth.
START SMALL
When you think of your future garden, you may imagine a half acre of crops, all nicely laid out in beds, with trellises and tips interspersed for visual interest, and enough flowers to keep a small florist busy. That’s certainly a wonderful goal – but not for the first year!
The most common reason for abandoning a garden is too much ambition. In the spring, when the weather’s nice and you’re happy to work outside, it’s easy to open too much area and plant too many crops. Resist this temptation – make your garden smaller than you can easily care for so you never have trouble keeping up mulching, watering and harvesting. Add to it over time, increasing it just enough so that you can take care of it.
CROPS AND CULTIVARS
Good crops for beginning gardeners include lettuce, peas, carrots, radishes and onions in the spring; tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, corn, cucumbers and zucchini as the growing season progresses; beets and kale for fall harvest. Crop selection can make a difference to both your enjoyment and your success as a gardener. Begin by buying seed and plants from companies based in your region.
MIX IT UP
Grow a variety of crops adjacent to each other. This kind of garden plan gives you several advantages. It discourages flying pests because, rather than seeing a big area of their favorite host, they see a patchwork of plants scattered here and there throughout the garden.
Soil-dwelling pests and diseases tend to play favorites, too. If they have to travel only a few inches from the roots of one plant to the next, they have no trouble spreading through your garden. But if they have to travel through a labyrinth of roots from a variety of plants, they may not make it to the next host plant. This is the secret behind crop rotation, too – by changing the location of your crops every year, you move away from pests or diseases.
Diversity and crop rotation also help to manage the soil because different crops require different ratios of nutrients. If you always grow squash in the same place, for example, this nitrogen-hungry crop may deplete the soil’s natural supply.
You can add more area or design more complicated features to your garden once you’ve begun to feel confident about your gardening skills. Until then, stick with these principles to create an easy-care garden filled with a bounty of healthy crops.
Excerpted from Mother Earth News magazine, the original guide to living wisely. Read the full story at www.MotherEarthNews.com or call 800-234-3368 to subscribe. Copyright 2005 by Ogden Publications, Inc.

dare-to-dig-in-300Growing your own food may seem daunting if you’ve never done it. But don’t let your lack of experience keep you from discovering the joys – and the ease – of a kitchen garden. The satisfaction of bringing in armloads of gorgeous food; the look of a lush, healthy garden; and being outside and active in the fresh air enlivens many gardeners’ spirits.

Children are drawn to gardens, too. They never lose interest in watching the plants progress from a pair of seed leaves to a fruit-bearing adult or watching all the creatures bound to happen along. Best of all, vegetables once considered frightening are suddenly greeted by name and gobbled right up.

What follows are the key guidelines for a successful new garden:

BUILD THE SOIL

The easiest way to start new garden beds is to cover an area with cardboard or newspapers topped by compost, soil or mulch. This will smother any grass and perennial weeds if you leave the covering in place for at least several weeks.

Another method to clear the land is to rent a tiller (or hire someone to do the tilling). If the area is covered with grass, you probably will need to till it several times to thoroughly break up the sod.

Most new garden soils will benefit from a liberal application of compost. Spread a one-half to 1-inch layer over your new beds.

If you apply compost, or if you use nutrient-rich grass clippings as mulch, additional fertilizers may not be necessary. In other locations, your soil may need specialized amendments. You can’t determine what’s needed without a soil test. For soil-testing contacts in each state, go to www.MotherEarthNews.com/soil_test.

An organic mulch of grass clippings, leaves, hay or straw does triple duty in the garden. In addition to feeding plants as it decomposes, the mulch also prevents weeds and reduces watering chores.

SAVE YOURSELF WORK

Concentrate on making your first garden easy to care for. A couple of simple tricks will help you achieve this:

Plant in dedicated beds, not rows. If you till your garden, rake loose soil from the pathways to form 4-foot-wide growing beds. Make the paths between them about 3 feet wide, which is a comfortable width for walking and working.

Check seed packets or garden books to learn how many rows to plant in each bed. With lettuce, for example, you would make four rows across each bed. Using this method, however, you only would plant two rows of larger plants such as potatoes or peppers.

The close spacing between plants in beds also helps with weeding – as the plants gain in size, the soil around them becomes too shady for good weed growth. Another big advantage of permanent beds is that you can avoid walking on the soil, so it stays looser to promote better growth.

START SMALL

When you think of your future garden, you may imagine a half acre of crops, all nicely laid out in beds, with trellises and tips interspersed for visual interest, and enough flowers to keep a small florist busy. That’s certainly a wonderful goal – but not for the first year!

The most common reason for abandoning a garden is too much ambition. In the spring, when the weather’s nice and you’re happy to work outside, it’s easy to open too much area and plant too many crops. Resist this temptation – make your garden smaller than you can easily care for so you never have trouble keeping up mulching, watering and harvesting. Add to it over time, increasing it just enough so that you can take care of it.

CROPS AND CULTIVARS

Good crops for beginning gardeners include lettuce, peas, carrots, radishes and onions in the spring; tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, corn, cucumbers and zucchini as the growing season progresses; beets and kale for fall harvest. Crop selection can make a difference to both your enjoyment and your success as a gardener. Begin by buying seed and plants from companies based in your region.

MIX IT UP

Grow a variety of crops adjacent to each other. This kind of garden plan gives you several advantages. It discourages flying pests because, rather than seeing a big area of their favorite host, they see a patchwork of plants scattered here and there throughout the garden.

Soil-dwelling pests and diseases tend to play favorites, too. If they have to travel only a few inches from the roots of one plant to the next, they have no trouble spreading through your garden. But if they have to travel through a labyrinth of roots from a variety of plants, they may not make it to the next host plant. This is the secret behind crop rotation, too – by changing the location of your crops every year, you move away from pests or diseases.

Diversity and crop rotation also help to manage the soil because different crops require different ratios of nutrients. If you always grow squash in the same place, for example, this nitrogen-hungry crop may deplete the soil’s natural supply.

You can add more area or design more complicated features to your garden once you’ve begun to feel confident about your gardening skills. Until then, stick with these principles to create an easy-care garden filled with a bounty of healthy crops.

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Excerpted from Mother Earth News magazine, the original guide to living wisely. Read the full story at www.MotherEarthNews.com or call 800-234-3368 to subscribe. Copyright 2005 by Ogden Publications, Inc.

From Mother Earth News magazine, by Miranda Smith |