How to Succeed with Your First Garden

Want to garden but don’t know where to start?

The Snarky Gardener is here to help!

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A nice sunny spot with just a little afternoon shade and lots of leaf mulch

1.  Chose a nice sunny spot

Spend some time to observe your chosen spot.   You are going to want at least 3 hours of direct sunlight a day with more than 6 preferred.  If you can’t get the minimum 6, then look for plants that will be OK with a little shade, like lettuce, herbs, Swiss chard, kale, spinach, turnips, and mustard greens.  Another option is to plant in containers and move them to the sunny spots throughout the day.

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Next to the house, a small shade herb garden (mint, chives, etc)  which only receives a few hours of direct sunlight a day.

2.  Start small

Don’t go hog wild with a giant garden first thing out.  Keeping it small will allow you to learn what grows best in your area without a lot of investment of time, money, and effort.  Containers or a 4 foot by 4 foot raised bed would be a good place to start.

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Zucchini, corn, and beans (around the corn) – three of my favorites to eat
3.  Grow what you like to eat

Sounds straight forward, but I’ve known a few snarky gardeners to grow things before they know how they taste (like me with my sunchokes).  If you think you want to grow it, buy it from the store first.

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Easy peasy peas

4.  Grow easy stuff

Some vegetables are easier to grow than others, by a significant margin.  Talk to people in your area to learn what grows well in your area.  For instance, in Northeastern Ohio (my neck of the woods), cherry tomatoes, beans, peas, onions, zucchini, potatoes, and turnips do well with little trouble.  Broccoli, watermelons, Brussels sprouts, peppers, and eggplants are much harder to grow, to the point I’ve given up on some.

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The lawn sweeper makes gathering leaf mulch simple

5.  Mulch a bunch

Mulch is anything that covers the ground around your plants.  Straw, grass clippings, newspapers, wood chips, and leaves (my favorite) all make good mulch.  You can also use plastic mulch, but it won’t make your soil better over time like organic materials will.  Covering the ground is important as it will keep weeds from overtaking your edible plants plus it holds in moisture which will keep you from having to water as much (or at all!)

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Snarky Acres in the fall

6.  Visit often

Gardens are probably ruined by neglect more than anything else.  Visit a few times a week to keep up with the weeds, watering, and ready to pick food.  Think of it as that exercise your doctor keeps telling you need to do.  I find the garden as a quiet place to get away from it all.  Also, try to plan around the weather (early or late on hot summer days, etc).

7.  Learn about food seasons

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Turnips love the cold.
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Turnips at Christmas in Northeastern Ohio

Some plants can tolerate and sometimes prefer cold (like spinach, turnips, onions, peas, potatoes) but don’t like heat and others can’t handle frost (tomatoes, peppers, corn, beans, squash, pumpkins, okra) and love warm weather.  It still surprises me that this isn’t common knowledge (it wasn’t for me when I started).  Your frost dates (last frost in the spring and first frost in the fall) are the most important gardening times.  They tell you when you can plant certain vegetables and when they need to be reaped.  Too early or too late and you’ll be sad, sad gardener.

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The wild and allusive Toy Fox Terrier digging up my garden
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Groundhog making a run for it.

8.  Watch out for critters

If you notice animals in your neighborhood, know that they may think of your garden as a free meal.  A small fence (2 or 3 feet tall) will keep out rabbits, but you will need a taller fence (6 feet or more) to deter groundhogs, raccoon, and deer from invading your space.  There are also garlicky sprays and fence clips that will deter them some.  Most animals don’t like strong smells, so planting herbs and garlic/onions on the outside of your garden is not a bad idea.  Also, keep an eye on your plants for damage, as even the best fencing can be leaped over or dug under.

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Cherry tomatoes inside the house – 12/22/2013

9.  Think outside the box

There are a lot of different ways to garden besides the standard “till up the backyard and plant in rows”.   Indoor gardening can be done with systems like the AeroGarden. Containers or individual planters work well for situations where you can’t plant into the ground (apartments, limited sun, etc).  If you don’t have a tiller or want to go to the trouble of tilling, you can build gardens on top of your grass, whether it be raised beds, straw bale gardening, or lasagna mulching.  And don’t be limited to your backyard.  Front yard gardens, if done tastefully, are a possibility as long as there are no prohibitions where you live (like city ordinances or home owner association rules).

Good luck and happy gardening!

Have any questions about your first garden? Please leave a reply.

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