by Rainy from 2002
Sometimes cooking frozen or canned vegetables can become repetitive. They just don’t taste as fresh as ones direct from a farm garden. Somehow eating garden vegetables is more satisfying to eat than those grown by companies halfway across the states. Have you ever wanted your own fresh vegetables in a meal but do not live near a farming community? It is not as hard as most people would think to maintain a small vegetable garden. Every spring, I go out to the small site of my garden and begin a process of caring for the soil, planting seeds and creating an environment for vegetables to grow. Vegetable gardens require dedication but the resulting produce is worth the work.
First, when deciding to grow your own vegetable garden, you must pick a site in your yard for the garden. It could be a small bed in your yard or several pots on a porch. I chose a place on the side yard of my house that is 12 by 20 feet. After finding a site for your garden, you must consider the types of plants and vegetables that you want to grow. It is important to pick the right spot for a particular plant. To choose the correct types of plants, the type of soil in your new garden site must be evaluated. Is the soil sandy? Is it full of bark from a previous garden? Often the best soil is compost that has high nitrogen content. A spot that has clover plants growing in it will often have high levels of nitrogen. Clover has bacteria on its roots, called nitrogen fixing bacteria, that give off nitrogen into the soil. To make up for this loss in nutrients, I have allowed weeds, like clover, to grow in my garden during the fall and winter to try to get nitrogen back into the soil. Natural fertilizers, like compost, can be bought at a nursery or hardware store if you suspect your soil to be low in nutrients. I uses compost that I make with uses guinea pig waste. The best soil should be easy to dig in, free of most rocks and hold moisture well.
After choosing a place for your garden, you need to look at the sun direction and quality to decide what type of plants to grow. I have a tall hedge on the border of my garden. This means that half of my garden is shaded in the morning. This allows me to put only plants that require less sunlight in the half of my garden that is shaded in the morning. Some vegetable plants that I noticed surviving with less light are small plants like lettuce, carrots, cabbage or green onions. Vegetables that require a large amount of light include, corn, tomatoes and types of squash. Some plants that can grow in difficult places that have half sun, half shade may be radishes and strawberries. Researching specific types of plants will help you know how much light is needed.
The next decision that you need to make is whether to start your plants with seeds or from greenhouse seedlings. I usually get seedlings for plants that are harder to grow in the conditions in my garden or plants that take longer to mature. Seedlings are young plants normally grown in a greenhouse prior to the last frost. I like to start seedlings with tomatoes and tall plants like corn. This way, I can have a head start and yield more vegetables out of the plants before the frost in the autumn. Some plants, such as artichokes and potatoes, are better if you get a start. Potatoes are grown from buds in a potato from the previous year. Artichokes are grown from smaller sections split off of the plant. The rest of the vegetables I grow, I use seeds because they are not as expensive to buy, and I get greater satisfaction from growing plants from seed.
Then depending on the type of plant, you plant in rows, mounds or with braces. Squashes and gourds need to grow on top of short mounds. Beans and tomatoes need support, such as dowels and twine, so they do not fall over. Some years, I have tried to grow peas but did not have the proper support for the plants. I was disappointed to find that since the plants were growing mostly on the ground, that slugs found them easy pray. Most plants can just be grown in rows with trenches on either side for water to collect so the young seedlings don’t drown.
It is important that after arranging your garden and planting your seeds and seedlings to water thoroughly. Some plants need more water than others but you need to keep the soil damp most of the day. For example, I noticed that corn needs much more water than any of the other plants. Watering in the early evening and then later in the late evening has worked well for me. Watering when there is less sun gives the water a chance to soak into the soil instead of evaporating quickly. You have to make sure that you don’t over water and wash away young seedlings or necessary nutrients in the soil. Water is one of the most important element in your garden.
Soon after planting, invaders begin to discover your garden. Weeds are going to be a constant problem. I often find myself turning the dirt in my garden to kill weeds. I would not recommend using herbicides or weed killer, in a vegetable garden. Many commercial poisons can contaminate your produce and could possibly make you sick. It is better to be on the safe side and think about the effects of chemicals if you decide to use them. If I use chemical fertilizers, I like to use ones in pellet form instead of spray, because they are easer to control. I am always battling slugs who eat the leaves of my lettuce. Sometimes the slug bait works. Other times you have to hunt them down. The best time to find slugs is early morning or immediately after it rains. Now I have my ducks and they like to eat the slugs. This usually keeps the population under control. You can have one or the other not both. My ducks eat the slugs well but they also can eat the slug bait. When I allow the ducks to eat in my garden, I do not use slug bait.
Other animals that may plague your garden may be bugs or small mammals. Where you live will determine the types of animals that feast on your vegetables. If you live in wooded areas nocturnal animals such as raccoons and moles may be a problem. Remember that some animals cannot be controlled. I have yet to have a problem with nocturnal animals eating all my vegetables. This last summer I did have a problem with my ducks eating the cherry tomatoes off the plants though. Insects are usually not a problem but have been plagued by aphids. For some odd reason, the aphids like living on my artichoke plants that are next to an ant colony. Ants like the sweet tasting droppings that the aphids produce so they keep them safe and amazingly, almost grow the green insects as a crop themselves. I tried to control this problem by brining in lady bugs that I bought at a nursery. Well, lets just say it didn’t work too well. The lady bugs when to were the aphids were, only to be attacked by several vicious ants. The lady bugs became discouraged and flew away all 1,500 of them! Next year, I am just going to have to give up on artichokes. Keeping weeds from crowding out your plants and animals from eating your vegetables is the hardest part of keeping a garden because it takes a lot of time and effort to protect your garden.
The best part of growing a vegetable garden is picking your produce when it is ripe. The type of plant and its specific maturing age will change the correct time to pick your vegetables. Tomatoes are picked when they are a healthy red color, and they are easily pulled from the plant. If you wait too long, the tomato’s skin will split from cold weather around autumn. Potatoes are dug out of the earth after the plant has died. Squashes are clipped off the plant usually when they are still young and have reached an appropriate size. Harvesting is often done in late august until the first frost of autumn. With all these vegetables, you can try new recipes that include fresh produce. If you grow strawberries, you can learn to make a pie. I like slicing summer squash into small pieces, then sautéing them in butter and spices. I produce too many vegetables out of my small garden that my family can’t keep up eating all of it. I give the tomatoes and squash away as gifts and I have received complements about how fresh and sweet they taste. Gardening has brought me joys that I wouldn’t even have imagined. Sometimes you have to try something new to see if you like it.
Steps to making a new vegetable garden include: choosing a spot, looking at the quality of sunlight, determining soil type, choosing plants to grow, watering constantly, protecting from weeds and wildlife and picking the vegetables when they are ripe. The benefits of gardening are worth the effort. As well, It is always nice to have fresh vegetables on the dinner table to vary our industry produced meals.
Note: I wrote this essay for an English class in college in 2002. I was just staring to learn about gardening and DIY tactics. It is good to look back and see what I use to do in the past and how I have learned from successes and failures. Mid- summer and Autumn is when all the produce from gardens are collected but it is never too early to start creating a plan of action for next spring!