The planting season is in full swing here on the farm. Despite, the unseasonably cool spring we have had so far here in New Jersey, we have many crops in the ground already including, sweet corn, radishes, beets, lettuces, peas, tomatoes and cabbage. While maintaining our very large 500 acre garden is our livelihood, planning and growing your own backyard garden can be fun and a cost-effective way to save money at the grocery store. It is also a great way to spend time together as a family.
Many of customers who shop at our farm market and greenhouses often ask, “I want to plant a garden but don’t know where to start.” My answer to them is simple….start small so you can successfully maintain the your garden. Just a small amount of plants can yield a lot of vegetables if properly cared for. If you are a beginner gardener, you don’t want to get in over your head by planting more than you need.
So first, take a look at how much your family will eat when planning your vegetable garden. Keep in mind that vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, and squash keep providing throughout the season — so you may not need many plants to serve your needs. Other vegetables, such as carrots, radishes, and corn, produce only once. You may need to plant more of these.
The next step is to figure out a simple space plan. How much room do you have? A 10x 10 plot is an excellent start. Your garden can be planted in rows or raised beds. In raised bed garden, plants are planted closer together.You don’t even necessarily need a yard if you choose to grow your veggies in containers on a deck or balcony.
Here are three important tips to get your garden growing:
1. Your garden should be planted in full sun or at least an area of your yard that gets 6-8 hours of full sun a day. Trust me, your plants will do much better in a full sun environment. If your area does not have a lot of sun, they will not be able to yield a lot of vegetables.
2. Make sure you have a hose or sprinkler that can reach your area. You need a water source so you can water your garden AS NEEDED. I say this with caution because, I find a lot of people over water their plants. The soil should not be saturated. In fact some plants, especially tomatoes, like a dry soil.
3. Good soil is key. I always recommend incorporating peat moss or compost into your garden soil so it drains well and lightens it up. It’s best to test the soil before you begin planting a garden with vegetables. Check drainage by soaking the soil with a hose, wait a day, then digging up a handful of soil. Squeeze the soil hard. If water streams out, you’ll probably want to add peat moss or compost to improve the drainage.
What’s Next? Start planting!
If you decided to plant your garden in rows, make sure you leave 18-24″ space between each row so you have enough room to walk in between. Be sure to leave sufficient amount of space in between each plant as well. Each type of vegetable requires a different amount of space. For example, tomatoes should be planted 24″ apart, peppers should be planted 18″ apart and cantaloupes and watermelon should be planted 3 feet apart. You can refer to the instruction tag that is usually included in the cell pack or the back of the seed packet if you are growing from seed.
Caring For Your Garden
In addition to making sure your garden has the right amount of water, your garden should also be fed, or fertilized, every couple of weeks. Make sure you read the fertilizer packaging instructions for the recommended application frequency and amount. Properly fertilizing your garden will help produce high yields for vegetables. Weed…weed…weed! Weeds compete with your garden for moisture and nutrients so it is important to keep on top of them. Also keep an eye out for pesky critters. If you live in a highly populated deer area like I do, you may need to fence in your garden to keep deer and rabbits away.
No matter what you decide to plant just have fun with it! Make it a family event. It’s a great educational experience for kids to learn how to plant and care for a garden. It not only teaches them responsibility but is also a great accomplishment for them once your plants are ready to harvest. It will allow them to say “Hey, I grew that!” Happy planting!