June 2022 Garden

How to Start a Garden

Decide What to Grow in Your Garden

It’s time. You’ve had enough of paying high prices for food and getting very little. You are taking matter into your own hands because you’ve decided to start a garden. Let’s get you started in growing your own food.

There are a few things you’ll need to start thinking about in conjunction with one another to get started.

Map Out Your Garden Bed Area

Select a location. Measure the area of the garden. How much area you have will be very important in deciding what plants you can grow and how many. Square footage is an important part of garden planning.

Each plant will need enough space in your garden to feed from the soil without having to compete with other plants for soil nutrients.

Also, you’ll want to consider it’s location in regards to sunlight. Some plants need a lot of sun and other plants need to be in a little bit of shade. For plants like tomatoes and kale, you’ll need “full sun” – that is about 6 to 8 hours of daylight. Just try to find a spot that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight every day during the growing season.

If your proposed garden bed has less than that, then you will either only be able to grow low light plants there (such as herbs) or find a new location where this 6 to 8 hours of sunlight can be achieved.

Important: dig your dirt to make sure it’s not full of rocks. Rocky soil cannot be used for a garden and you’ll have to default to raised garden beds to garden.

Some sand and clay soils can be amended to be made wonderful soil for your garden. (See more here.)

Make a List of Vegetables Your Family Loves

What do you eat multiple times a week? What vegetables do you eat the most of? List it out. Write down the vegetables you enjoy the most. Note how often you eat these vegetables. This will be where you begin your seed list.

Additionally, consider whether you will be only enjoying the fruits of your garden during the growing season or are you planning to do long term storage through freezing, dehydrating, or canning?

If you only plan on eating the produce while in season, then you won’t need more than one cucumber plant for yourself. However, if you want to make pickles, you may want to have at least two and maybe even three cucumber plants.

Remember to think about herbs you may want to grow. Additionally, consider investigating companion plantings of these herbs and some flowers in your garden as natural pest deterrents.

Research Your Varieties for Your Garden

Most of us are used to eating the varieties of tomatoes they have at the store (Roma, Beefsteak, cherry, etc). The same can be said of things like onions, cabbage, lettuce, cucumbers, etc. Since you know how they taste, you should look to grow at least the varieties you know you enjoy to start.

If there is space after you have planned out your “loved” vegetables, you can plant varieties you’ve not had yet. For us, we tried the Purple Cherokee tomato one year and fell in love.

Even more importantly, know how many days are in your growing season. Some places up North have one growing season, while places down South have two, maybe even three growing seasons. You do this by researching your last frost date and your first frost date.

The period in between these two dates is your growing season. You have to know when to plant a seed in order for it to reach maturation. Any of the seed catalogs or online seed sellers will have this information.

A lot of full size tomatoes have about a 90 day “date to maturity” growth rate. This means that it will take 90 days from germination to ripe fruit. Remember. This does not count the days it takes for the seed to germinate and poke it’s little first leaves out of the soil. Add that on to the days you need to figure to make sure it’s within the range of the growing season.

This could mean that you start peppers and tomatoes in your house under a grow light before last frost to give them a head start in the growing season. If you do this, you will also need to plan on hardening them off before planting them outside. What this means is that you have to train those new plants how to exist outside. To do this, place them out side each day for a few hours. Increase the time outside with each day and within 4 or 5 days, you can put them outside and they will have adapted!

Lastly, while doing research, you want to note how much room each plant will need to grow. This is important for the next step. For example, my tomato plants need at least 18″ between them. They grow very large! Radishes only need 3″.

Cucumbers to eat, make pickles, and share.

Don’t Forget to ‘Companion Plant’

As you choose your seeds, research what plants do well together and are actually beneficial to each other. These work together as companion plants. An example of this would be basil and tomato. Basil helps to fend off unwanted tomato plant pests and in turn the tomato plant can provide partial shade that herbs love. You can start here for some ideas of common plants to plant together.

Also important to note are plants that do NOT go well together. You want to stay away from planting too close together. This would be something like a cucumber and a melon. They will cross pollinate and your melons and cucumbers will taste differently.

Sketch Out Your Garden to Scale

You can grab a piece of graph paper, or even just regular paper with pencil and ruler. Make a rectangle that represents your garden. Then section this off into equal boxes so that one box within the triangle will represent one square foot of your garden.

Take that research information about space needed for each plant, as well as companion planting, and plot out your garden. This is the most satisfying part of planning your garden.

So, if you have a plant that needs 12″ of space, this means that it needs 6″ of space on either side of the seed. The first seed will only be 6″ from the edge of the first box on your graph. Plant it in the middle of your box that represents 1′ x 1′.

If you have radishes, you can fit 16 radishes in one square foot (four rows of four). You get the idea. You need to play around with the spaces to optimize companion planting and spacing.

Order Seeds for Your Garden

Now that you know what you want to grow, get your seeds from a trusted seed source. I recommend MIGardener and Baker Creek Seeds. They have organic and heirloom seeds. These companies have a great reputation and we have always had great success with seeds from these two companies. Both have a reputation for quality, non-GMO seeds.

If you have a regular sized garden, you will only need one packet of seeds per garden. Any seeds you have remaining, hold on to for next growing season. Just because the package says “packed for 2023” doesn’t mean it’s going to “go bad” next year. Seeds can be kept in a cool dry place and will last a few years. Keep in mind that their germination success rate may go down with each year.

June 2022 tomatoes
July 2022 tomatoes (on right side of picture)

Prepare Your Garden Bed

While you are waiting on your seeds, prepare the garden bed. Set aside time when the soil is warming up. You can actually even do this before last frost. Go ahead and start your garden bed.

Make sure you have the amendments on hand as recommended in the article noted to make your soil in optimum condition to grow your food.

Plant Your Seeds/Seedlings

Now your bed is ready and you have received your seeds in the mail or prepared your seedlings. Time to plant!

This is the fun and easy part. Note on the seed package the depth to bury the seed. Use this as your guide to how deep and how far apart to plant the seeds. Also, if you intend to use natural fertilizer, such as crushed egg shells for your tomatoes, add them to your hole if you are planting in seedlings or plants.

Water them thoroughly after you plant them to give them a good kickstart.

If you chose to use mulch, leave the area uncovered by the mulch until they have grown their first true leaves. Then you can pull the mulch closer to the stem.

Congratulations! Your garden is started!

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