WRAL SmartShopper

WRAL SmartShopper

Thursday thoughts 3/17: Starting a basic vegetable garden

Posted March 17, 2011

Now is the time to start thinking about your summer garden so you can enjoy fabulous, frugal produce all summer long! Here are some tips on starting a backyard garden for anyone hoping to pick fresh tomatoes, cukes and more right off the vine!

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 (which are expected to skyrocket in summer 2011), 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 now is the time to start planning your garden. 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 14 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 cucumbers 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 click HERE and HERE.

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.  Click HERE for the NCSU Guide to Soil Testing. A raised bed is also a good option. Click HERE for more information on raised beds.

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. Now is the time to start those seeds if you are going that route. Click HERE for a thorough article on Home Vegetable Gardening from NCSU including when to start specific vegetables from seed and general information about growing plants from seed. 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. Click HERE for more information about canning and freezing produce from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

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. Feel free to share your favorite gardening tips here. 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!

How many of you are planning to grow a garden this year and what are you planning to grow?


Please with your account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all
  • goatfarmergal Mar 22, 2011

    What a great article for the beginner! I'm not a beginner, but I'm also not an expert, so many of these suggestions and tips will be put to good use. I actually had very good luck with container tomato plants and really like the fact that I could step right out on my patio while preparing dinner to pick fresh tomatoes for a salad. Kudos on this great article!

  • KLW Mar 20, 2011

    About the deer, my inlaws chop bars of Irish Spring soap (or is it Ivory?) into big chunks and deposit them around their plants and that seems to help. I've also heard that if you put clumps of human hair on the plants, that works.

  • KLW Mar 20, 2011

    Thanks for the suggestions about the pests. I did try the soap and water spray, to no avail, last year and we did already have a LOT of those parasitic wasps, raleighcitizenshipclasses. But those hornworms just took over the garden anyway! I was crushed as it was my first real garden and I had worked like a dog on it. But this year I'm going to try planting marigolds around the perimeter of the garden patch and also keep suet hanging all summer right by the garden for the birds since they'll be nice natural predators. We have several seed feeders up year round and a birdbath so the birds are all over the yard all the time anyway but never bothered my tomatoes as far as taking a bite, so hopefully they'll keep the pests down but leave the fruit alone if I pay them with suet.

  • Oxymoron02 Mar 18, 2011

    LOL @ Faye. I told you, I know a thing or two about gardening, though I am not a font of knowledge.

    I actually first heard of coir when we got our first lizard back in ... '06? Then when I started hearing about it in gardening forums and on the net, and couldn't find it at my garden center, I knew where else to get it. :)

  • Oxymoron02 Mar 18, 2011

    OK, last comment for a while, I promise.

    Every year I promise myself I'm going to find a group that does this locally, every year I forget. I've found them. Maybe some of you can help me out.

    The above link is to the Garden Writers Association, talking about their Plant A Row for the hungry program.

    This is the facebook page for the Raleigh Plant A Row.

    The idea is that you plant a little extra, and donate the crop.

    My garden was a fail last year due to baby brain, but this year I'm getting involved. Maybe I can talk some of you into sharing a little of your extra harvest to help out the needy?

  • Faye Prosser - Smart Shopper Mar 18, 2011

    You pulled the coir info out of a hat just like magic - I never could have come up with that one! I do like coconut though. :-)

  • Oxymoron02 Mar 18, 2011

    Also, Faye, your post mentions kids, so I'd like to add that on top of an herb garden you should consider letting your little ones plant radishes. They're small and grow quickly. In a month or so you have a harvestable crop your kid can pull out of the ground, rinse off and eat. That's about as close to instant gratification as it gets with gardening.

  • Oxymoron02 Mar 18, 2011

    A word on square foot gardening: In the decades since he first published it, Mel Bartholomew has decided that peat is NOT the way to go as it once was. Peat is not terribly sustainable. He now advocates the use of coir. Coir is a coconut product, and is sustainable. If you can't find coir at your garden center, go to the pet store. It's sold in bricks (add water to make it fluffy) in the reptile aisle.

    On deer: Deer and squirrels are difficult to foil. Past a high fence, I got nothing, sorry. :/

  • Faye Prosser - Smart Shopper Mar 18, 2011

    A very high fence.....not inexpensive. We have also used the unbelievably disgusting smelling deer repellent spray. It's so bad I can't be around it when sprayed. That's hubby's job. But it did help some. Now we plant closer to the house and they don't tend to come up that close.

  • figuluspuella Mar 18, 2011

    Anyone have any good inexpensive ways for keeping deer out of a garden. I know deer are a problem in the area and I don't want to put a bunch of effort into a garden just to have the deer eat everything.