The Garden's First Steps

Starting a garden feels like entering an adventure. It's a new project and it will bring you much pleasure, but it requires hard work and to begin with, you are full of excitement and determination.  But now what?! There's nothing more mood bumming than not knowing where to start and that can sometimes make some to-be-gardeners to feel discouraged. At this point, have no fear for I am here! 

Me looking all professional in the garden

In this post I am going to give you the most important points to consider when starting a garden. Since planning is the most important step, it can be time consuming so you better do this a few months before getting your hands dirty (got it? because of the dirt?) 

January is when I usually start my planning, mostly because it gives me the illusion that Spring is near, but also it gives me lots of time, since I never do anything in one sit. 

So let's do it step by step and together we will grow an awesome and productive garden for next Spring! 

1. Decide on the location

I definitely recommend raised beds for the first timers because they are easy to care for, and your plants are all together making the maintenance much easier. However, if you want to start right in the soil, just make sure you add A LOT of compost to it. Compost basically fixes most of the problems your soil might have, like poor drainage and nutrient deficiency. 

Raised beds are great to the beginner gardener

If you are going to start your garden in a specific location, like in a raised bed, or a vegetable patch, it's important that you select the ideal location for it. You should consider a place that's bright, protected from strong wind and with good drainage. Preferably close to a water source.

If you don't find the perfect conditions anywhere in your back or front yard, don't feel discouraged, simply select plant varieties that will thrive on the conditions you already have.

2. Decide on the structure where you are going to plant it in

When using a garden bed, make sure it's made out a material that is not toxic for you; because the soil absorbs substances of whatever it's touching, it's better to use natural materials like untreated wood for example. However, you don't have to limit yourself, you can get creative and use pretty much anything that holds soil, just do some research to certify that's safe and proper to whatever you will grow in it. 

You can use use pretty much anything as a planter as long as it's safe

For example, I wouldn't use tires to grow food because I know its rubber can release toxins to my veggies. However, if I'm using the tires to grow some ornamental flowers, I wouldn't worry about that. Besides, using of unusual planters means you are reusing something that otherwise would be sent to the dumpster. Using of creativity is always a win win!  

3. Decide on your plants

GO SMALL! Don't plant everything your heart ever wished for in your first garden. I know we can get very excited and we want to see a lush landscape full of veggies and berries, and leaves and life, but that will only frustrate you in your first attempts. All of that is great but it demands a lot of time and resources. Since it's your first time, go for baby steps. Next year you go bigger! 

I've made a list of plants I consider easy to grow, perfect for beginners. Select 5 or 6 of those, (less if you have a very small garden and a little more if you can handle), and order your seeds. I also do that in January because I want to make sure they will be here for Spring, even though my favorite seed company "Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company" is usually really good with shipping within a few weeks. 

List of crops that are easy to grow for the beginner gardener

Some plants should be direct sown in the garden and some have a longer growing season so you either buy the seedling in the nursery or attempt to start the seed indoors.

Alternatively you can buy seedlings from your local nursery. It's defenitelly more expensive than buying the seed but they are also easier to succeed. Next week I'll talk about deciding on starting your crops as seedlings or as seeds. In my plant list above I've marked each plant with a seed bean or a seedling as a recommendation as how to start that crop. 

4. Make your garden plan

Late night planning

Draw a map of where your plants are going to go. You can use any method you'd like. I use the square foot gardening technique by Mel Bartholomew, because it get's the most of my space. Besides, it's easy to apply the companion planting technique and make a mix and match of which plant goes well with which plant and which one doesn't.  I'll write posts about square foot gardening and companion planting in the future to explain a bit more about it.  

I sometimes use online garden planners to make my plans, but they can get a little annoying because it isn't as practical as I wish so I go ahead and draw a map. 

5. Prepare the ground or make your planting mix

Before planting, either in a garden bed or directly in the ground you must prepare the area

Make a thick layer of wet newspaper or one single layer of plain cardboard to stop the weeds from growing from underneath your garden area. Besides, worms really love news papers and cardboard and we will always want them in our garden. Make sure the news papers or cardboard were not printed with colorful ink printed, because some of them can be toxic.

If planting directly in the ground I wouldn't use cardboard for it's too tick, so on top of the newspaper layer you should add 3" of compost and it's ready to plant, assuming your soil doesn't have any major problems. To know for sure you should have your soil tested. Many universities will test the soil for you, but you can also get it done in some garden centers, botanical gardens, gardens cooperatives and even some community gardens will do it as well. If you live in a area that's very urban you should definitely have your soil tested for contaminants. The price usually range from $10 to $30. 

When using a garden bed you don't have to worry too much about testing the soil. Just make a mixture 1/3 compost, 1/3 top soil and 1/3 coconut fiber (or similar) to fill up your bed. I don't use peat moss because it's an endangered specie of moss and it should be preserved.