WRAL SmartShopper

WRAL SmartShopper

Grow your own garden

Posted April 15, 2010

This article is for those of you who have never planted a garden but are ready to take the plunge. If you are tired of high produce prices but you like eating fresh veggies and fruits, a backyard garden is the perfect answer. Here in North Carolina we have fabulous gardening weather and it’s not too late to get your summer garden started right now. Whether you start with a container on the porch or a 10 X 10 plot, once you taste that first, fresh bite, you’ll be hooked!

We started growing a garden ten years ago and to me, there is nothing like a fresh tomato and cucumber sandwich! Although I usually eat them on whole wheat bread with light mayo, the first one of the season is always on white gooey bread. The good news is that tomatoes and cucmbers are two of the easiest plants to grow. Following are some tips to get you started with your own garden so you can enjoy fresh, frugal summer produce.

Don’t get in over your head: There is nothing like planting your first garden only to find out you planted more than you can handle. You will become frustrated, tired and overwhelmed. Start with a comfortable 10’ X 10’ area and remember that next year you can increase the size if you wish. For those with limited space, consider a container garden on the porch. For more information on container gardening see the links in the box above.

Location, location, location: Find a space for your garden that receives 6 or more hours of sun per day. Prep the soil by tilling it with a borrowed or rented tiller. Mixing the grass in with the soil adds organic material. You will need to determine what soil type you have so you know what soil amendments (topsoil, gypsum, lime, fertilizer, organic material) to add. Bring a sample of your soil to your local agricultural extension office to receive a pH and soil analysis. If you only have a small area available, consider container gardening. Many varieties of different vegetables grow well in large pots. A raised bed is also a good option. See the link in the box above for more information on raised beds. For a thorough guide to soil testing, see the link above from NC State University.

Planting time: Once your soil is tilled and prepared or your containers are ready, it is time to plant. There are many types of seeds that you can start growing indoors in small containers approximately 8 weeks before replanting into the outdoor garden. You can also buy transplants of many of the popular vegetables and fruits. These little plants work beautifully, are inexpensive, and are good for the beginning gardener who may only want one plant for each type of vegetable. Good starter crops include tomatoes, beans, peas, zucchini, summer squash and cucumbers. Make sure you plant after the last expected frost, which is usually in mid-April here in NC.

How does your garden grow?: Once you have planted, you can put down a layer of newspaper and then a layer of hay straw. This will keep weeds from growing too rapidly. If you see weeds emerge, get rid of them right away. Plant the seeds or transplants far enough apart, keep them weeded and fertilize regularly and you will cut down on pest issues. Seed packs and transplant labels will indicate how far apart you need to plant the seeds or plants.

You can also put up a short wire mesh gate around your garden to discourage children, rabbits and other creatures that may rummage through your hard work. When dealing with insects, you can choose an organic route, which we have done many years, or use an insecticide from your local garden supply store. For information on which route is best, see the extension office once again. They can tell you what types of pests are most common in your area and how to best prevent them. You will also want to know what critters are good to have around because they eat the pests that can destroy your beloved garden.

Enjoy the fruits of your labor: Pick your veggies and fruits when they are ripe and enjoy your wonderful produce during the winter by freezing or canning, as well.

Share the bounty: You will find that as your plants begin to bear fruit, you may harvest more than you and your family can possibly eat. Share, share share with everyone you know! The food banks are also very appreciative of your donations.

Not so sure about all of this?: If you are hesitant about produce gardening, begin with one container plant. Find a variety that is suitable for containers and get your feet wet with a single vegetable. We have grown tomatoes, especially cherry tomatoes and patio varieties, successfully in containers for years. We also have a larger tomato garden in-ground as well, but I like to have some tomatoes just outside the kitchen door in easy reach.

Herbs and kids: Growing an herb garden is another easy way to add fresh and frugal flavor to your meals. If you have children, herbs are a good introduction to gardening because the plants are smaller than most vegetable and fruit plants and are generally easy to grow in containers. Last summer my daughter grew and cared for some delicious basil that we cooked with every week!

For more information on all aspects of gardening, consult your agricultural extension office and speak with other people who garden in your neighborhood. Ask them what works well for them and what problems they have encountered with their soil and typical pests. Now is the perfect time to start your garden so head out to your yard and decide where you are going to grow the best veggies you have ever tasted!


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  • Faye Prosser - Smart Shopper Apr 17, 2010

    Thanks for all your comments and please send pictures of your gardens as they grow!

  • Faye Prosser - Smart Shopper Apr 17, 2010

    vlou - for some, starting a first garden from seed is more than they want to do. If you buy the smaller transplants they are less than $3 for one plant, as you pointed out. I actually got 14 FREE plants today at the Grow and Share veggie plant giveaway I posted about earlier in the week. They are going in the ground tomorrow! Love a FREE garden!

    We also use the deer spray and I can't stand to be anywhere around it when hubby sprays it. It smells worse than anything I have ever smelled. Horrid! But it does work pretty well.

  • DKNC Apr 17, 2010

    Best this I have found for deer deterrent is a product called "Not tonight deer". Basically is is a powder that you mix in water and put in a pump sprayer. Spray plants, and area with it. Fair warning, it spells like rotten eggs when mixed, but once dry you can't smell it, but they can and they don't seem to like the smell. Has saved a lot of my plants for years.

  • vlou Apr 16, 2010

    We've had gardens for years, some big, some small...I thought it funny when you said, "buy transplants, these little plants work beautifully, are "inexpensive".....are you kidding?? I was shocked when we went to Lowes' and Wal-mart to purchase plants and found them to be $3.00 or better...dumb me I thought it was for the container, but it was ONE plant. Don't buy from them..we bought plants at Piggly Wiggly for $1.67 for FOUR little centers also have them..things sure are getting expensive...but worth the squash are getting ready to bloom and cucumbers already starting to grow little cucumbers...can hardly wait!!!!

  • sgw Apr 16, 2010

    If you're worried you don't have the skills or perhaps you are sun-challenged (a key requirement for a successful vegetable garden), consider joining a community garden. It's a great way to learn from other people and to share the workload. One place to find local community gardens is but your favorite search engine will also turn up others.

  • little blue 2 Apr 16, 2010

    Around our house, that short wire mesh gate needs to be about six feet tall to keep out the deer! Last year I planted all sorts of stuff, and it was eaten in less than 24 hours. Did you know deer don't like zucchini plants? I am open to suggestions for deterring them, soap shavings didn't work.

  • bfcoupons1 Apr 15, 2010

    I can't wait to start my first garden ever!!! Thank you Faye!!!

  • 3stoogesfan Apr 15, 2010

    This is my favorite time of year. I love to work in a garden, watch it grow and enjoy the fruits (well vegetables) of my labor.

  • allysongreene84 Apr 15, 2010

    Thanks for all the helpful info Faye! I will be planting mine very very soon! One question I did have is what kind of luck have you had on growing peppers? I haven't tried those yet but have been wanting to try and wasn't sure if they were worth doing or not. Thanks!

  • KLW Apr 15, 2010

    How ironic...I just went to Lowes yesterday and bought tomato plants and pepper plants! I grew tomatoes in pots last year and it was fairly successful but we're putting in an actual GARDEN this year.