WRAL SmartShopper

WRAL SmartShopper

Starting a basic backyard fruit & vegetable garden

Posted March 3, 2014

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, 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.  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 (which we have had to do every once in a while). For information on which route is best, see your local ag extension office. 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?


Here are some helpful comments from blog readers who posted gardening information in the Share the Deals section on the blog last weekend:

From raesmom1612 : I think you all were talking about ordering seeds from is showing if you use code FS60 you get free shipping on any order until March 3rd at 11:59 pm on burpees website. I've never had a garden of any kind (the hubby has the green thumb in this family) but I think I'm going to give some of these herbs a try.  I found a free gardening idea book:

From jdouglas13:  I'd be glad to share whatever knowledge and info I have with both of you (and anyone else as well). It would be great if we had someone local to chime in as well, because much of my gardening experience is in very different climates than NC.  Generally, fruit usually come from trees or shrubs except for strawberries which are from shin-high plants. Trees take several years to mature enough to produce, and sadly, NC is not warm enough for citrus, although I have heard of people who grow miniature lemon trees inside in like a sunroom. Way beyond my expertise.  Step 1 is to find an area for your garden that gets at least 6-8 hours of full sun per day and is close to a hose faucet for watering. Next is soil prep, then plant selection. I would suggest herbs to start with. They are really easy. Maybe we should have an offline conversation?? Raesmom, let's talk more when we meet for the juice. RFB, please email me at cbenedict111 AT gmail DOT com. :)

From twinredheads: We have used the following resource for our gardening since we started 8 years ago:    Practicully everything you need to know about gardening in NC can be found here. You can even send them a sample of your soil and they will provide you with the information necessary to make your soil ready for planting. We have successfully grown broccoli, lettuce, beans, onions, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, kohlrabi, radishes, zuchini, and other squash in our small plot. Unfortunately, we have never been very good at growing fruits and have given up :)

From scoutmomof2: I have had a peach tree here in Raleigh before and got fruit for several years off it. I currently have an apple and a plum tree in the back yard. If you have limited area I would recommend dwarf trees and find a variety that is self fertile (that doesn't require two or more trees to cross pollinate). The plum tree is getting ready to bloom now. I got two peaches off the peach tree the first year I planted it. The apple tree took a couple years but the deer have managed to get all that fruit. The plum tree has done the best although last year we got a late frost/ice and it didn't produce anything. I have grown strawberries before but they take a lot of room and it is easier to just go to a local farm and pick them. The boys and I are thinking about adding some grape vines this year. I would like to add some raspberry or blueberries but you have to net them so the birds don't get them. I picked up every fruit tree I had from either Lowe's or Home Depot.

From losltp: For the Gardeners - Your county extension office use to be a great source of help & information. You can get your soil tested and buy plants and trees at very low prices ( strawberry plants, blackberry briers, apple trees , peach trees & pecan trees are some I remember ).

From: FlyingUnderTheRadar:  A gardening thread...can I say...YAYYY! I am *SO* ready for this winter to be outta will be a pruning/grooming day in the yard for sure!  In addition to all of the other great ideas, I enjoy getting herbs and plants from the Farmer's Market. I do a combination of lettuce by seed and 4 pack annual (to extend harvest time), also do tomatoes and herbs in containers. I've had easy success w/ parsley, basil, and cilantro from seed.  If someone wants to do a gardening picnic, I'm in!


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

Oldest First
View all
  • FlyingUnderTheRadar Mar 4, 2014

    THANK YOU for the article & links, Faye!!

    Now, if we can only get rid of this Hoth-like winter!

  • emily15 Mar 4, 2014

    Faye, there was a typo on our website! The class at AAOG is $25 this Saturday - still a great deal! The fee covers the cost of the veggie plants and the bag of composted manure. Our instructor, Chris, is a long time vegetable gardener and can give anyone the know how to grow your own - even in limited space!

  • gkappel Mar 4, 2014

    Important! A fence... a tall fence! If you do not... the deer and other critters will enjoy your produce.

  • kastagg Mar 4, 2014

    We live in a town home and HOA prohibits, so we got creative and joined a community garden. Garner Grows. This is a great opportunity for outside family time and to supplement fruits and veggies.

  • nakabi Mar 3, 2014

    I love gardening and look forward to spring each year when we can start on ours. I agree with everyone who suggests starting small if it is your first time. We've had a garden for the last 4 years and like Faye said, there is nothing better than that first vine-ripened tomato straight from the garden! We don't even buy tomatoes during the winter since they taste so terrible after you have had a homegrown one. We always grow yellow and red tomatoes with a few varieties, green beans, cucumbers, cantaloupes, vidalia onions, green/red/yellow capsicum, okra, corn, yellow & green squash, lettuce, eggplants, carrots. Of course we always have an herb garden year round with rosemary, parsley, basil, cilantro, mint, oregano.
    Faye-I'd love to plant a blueberry bush as well this year!

  • grafted Mar 3, 2014

    We're gardeners too and have lived in NC a loooonnngg time. =) Good advice to start with things that are pretty much tried-and-true: in the spring/cool weather-lettuces, peas, onions, some potatoes, beets (esp if you like beet greens). Later you can go with summer squash, cukes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, easy herbs like parsley & basil, & beans if you don't mind battling the bugs. We live in the country and have several blueberry bushes, a pear tree, cherry tree, wild plum trees and wild blackberries (yum). Blueberries aren't that hard to grow but it takes a few years before they bear. Incidentally, most herbs will grow WAY more than what you will use so be sure to freeze or dry them for later. Logan's (downtown Raleigh) has an extensive seed selection including many heirloom varieties of veggies, if you're up for something a little different. The fresh factor is well worth the time, money and effort you'll put into it!

  • lovetherascals Mar 3, 2014

    Last summer, I made a pallet garden as I didn't have a tiller and ammtoo lazy to dig it up by hand. Very easy, I stapled landscape fabric to the back of the pallets to keep the soil in. Filled the rows with dirt and planted away. My mint and basil grew enormous! I also had tomatos and green peppers all summer. I didn't have any luck with cucumbers and zucchini though, so I'm not sure what I did wrong, but I'm planning to try again this summer.

  • Faye Prosser -WRAL Smart Shopper Mar 3, 2014

    meredith88 - how well do your berry bushes produce? That is my goal for this year - to get some blueberry bushes planted. We have also had better success with veggies than fruit (other than tomatoes, which grow so wonderfully here in NC).

  • meredith88 Mar 3, 2014

    We are starting our seeds tonight :) We have a blackberry bush and a blueberry bush that are in the ground all year so we only have to prune them each Fall and otherwise they take care of themselves. Otherwise we've never been good with fruit so we stick to vegetables. This year we'll plant 4-6 types of tomatoes, yellow squash, zucchini, cucumbers, and 4 different types of peppers. We've planted a lot more in the past but these are the things we use the most and over the past few years we've decided to grow the plants we use the most and buy the items that we only need on occasion.

  • Faye Prosser -WRAL Smart Shopper Mar 3, 2014

    Your helpful gardening posts from this weekend are now added to the bottom of the article. Thanks again to everyone for stepping in to offer advice.

    We moved into a house 2 years ago that has a limited area that gets enough sun each day for veggie gardening. We have moved the garden around the yard multiple times and plan to move it again this year to find a little more sun. Hoping to have a better garden this year than last. I am also planning to step up my herb growing this year!