Friday, March 1, 2013

5 Essential Things to Know About Vegetable Gardening for Beginners

Everyone starts somewhere with a vegetable garden.  You can't instantly have the garden of your dreams. That dream garden has to come together bit by bit, a little each day.  That goes for experienced gardeners as well as those just starting their first vegetable garden.  It's just the nature of gardening.  You don't receive instant gratification but each day you will see something that keeps you growing that garden. When you look back it feels pretty good. If you are just beginning your first vegetable garden you may not know where to start.  You may not know what you need to learn. here are a few things you need to know to grow your garden to its maximum potential.


The Soil
Learn what kind of soil you have in your vegetable garden.  The soil can make a huge difference in having a successful garden or not.  Rich compost-like soil is what you want for your garden.  Soil filled with organic life, microbes and earthworms.  You can fix the soil if it is less than ideal.  The number one thing you can do is add compost and organic matter.


If you can't work the soil then consider building raised beds, raised bed mounds, or even gardening in pots.


The Plants
You need to learn about the plants you intend to grow.  Each plant has its own specific characteristics.  Many plants need the same growing conditions but there are cultural techniques specific to each plant that greatly benefit the gardener to know.  This isn't difficult to stuff to learn even though it sounds like there is a lot of material to cover.  When you plant something new - research it.  Free online resources about vegetable growing are all over the internet these days!  Or you could find yourself a good resource book like Barbara Damrosche's Garden Primer (link to my review) or the Rodale's Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening.  You need to know when to plant the plant, what kinds of amendments it requires, common issues to the plant, and how to harvest it!



The Pests
Black blister Beetle - not a good bug!
When you see a new insect - learn about it!  Some of the scariest looking insects are the best thing for your garden.  Often they are predators of the really bad bugs that eat and spread diseases in your garden.  Before you kill that big bad bug learn about what it is and if it really is a bad bug or not!  Also learn how to treat those insects in a safe way that doesn't harm the beneficial insects that also live in your garden.  Your garden is a habitat for many creatures both good and bad and when you alter that habitat with chemicals you create imbalances that can through the whole garden out of whack.  Target what needs targeted.  Use a scalpel to cut it out not an atomic bomb!

The Diseases
At some point your plants will get infected with a disease.  It could be the result of many things.  Contamination from other plants, chewing insects that spread diseases from plant to plant, diseases lurking in the soil, or even bad cultural practices at a nursery.  Use a three step process to figure out what to do.

  1. Identify the disease.  Use local university extension services or websites for very reliable information.
  2. Treat the disease. Remove the plant or treat the disease as needed.
  3. Prevent the disease.  Find out how the disease is transmitted and what steps you can take to prevent it from reoccurring.

The Gardener
You need to know about yourself, your capabilities, your goals, and your time.  A successful garden isn't something that is done on the side like a casual game of golf when you have the time.  To be successful with your vegetable garden it has to be integrated into your daily life.  A ten minute walk through the garden before you go to work is both relaxing and beneficial.  It will help you determine how things are growing and what work needs done later when you get home.  A 20 minute after work session in the garden done on a daily basis keeps a garden maintained.  However you fit it in gardening has to be done in a way that is a part of your routine.  

Think of it this way.  You probably visit the grocery store once a week or so, maybe more.  If your garden is producing the food you need do you still need to go to the store every week?  Would then your time be better spent maintaining the garden then spending a couple hours each week shopping for food?  Could you then adjust your shopping to go less often?  Wouldn't being in the garden be more enjoyable than visiting the grocery store?  Before you can get to this point you need to make sure that the garden is part of the gardener's day.  

Putting all of these ideas together at once could seem overwhelming but it shouldn't be.  All of this and much of gardening can be learned as you go.  Keep a few good reference books available, a few good websites bookmarked, and write down a few notes every now and then in a journal of some kind for future reference and you WILL do fine!

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