This summer will be our third summer here at the farm. It will also be our third summer with a kitchen/vegetable garden. Though we are not experts by any means, there are a few things that we have learned each year and try to remember the following year. Here is a list of tips and suggestions when starting out with your own vegetable garden.
Tip 1: Location, location, location! Vegetables need a lot of sun. Make sure your location is in a sunny spot with as little shade as possible. Your yields will go down if the vegetables do not get adequate hours of sunlight per day. An exception may be lettuce and other heat intolerant plants that have problems in the high heat of summer. They may benefit from a little midday shading as long as they get some hours of early or late day sun.
Also, keep your vegetable garden as close to the house as possible. We have moved our garden around every year. The first year we insanely placed our first garden about 150 yards from the house. Why, you might ask. Well, with the placement of our poultry and other animals and the rental of our fields to a local farmer, that was the most logical place to put it as newbies. Wrong! The distance made it impossible to water adequately, protect it from deer, and in general tend it properly. We did get several harvests of half-runner beans; a couple of tomatoes, cabbage, and pumpkins; and several watermelon and cantaloupe.
Our second garden was moved to a location the was about 50-75 yards from the house. This made watering easier, however we had to still walk 50-75 yards and open 2 heavy farm gates to tend it. Though it was tended more, it was still to far to be convenient. We had a bumper crop of zucchini, cayenne pepper, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, snow peas, and snap peas.
This year we have moved our garden into our yard. It is only about 50 ft from our door. Up until this year we were unable to have it in the yard because of our border collie who loved to eat all kinds of vegetables, especially melons and cabbage. Joey passed away last fall due to old age, and Charlie the little Havanese does not bother the vegetable garden at all. He is not a digger and doesn’t eat his veggies.
Tip 2: Size matters! Make sure that when you are first starting out, that you don’t bite of more than you can chew. Our second year garden was massive! We planted it with canning and sharing in mind. Well, I quickly discovered that I didn’t like canning and that it does take finesse to do it well. After several batches of mushy pickles and a few batches of green beans, my canning days quickly came to an end. My husband trekked nearly a ton of produce to work with him throughout the growing season and quickly became the man in demand for fresh produce. The shear size of our massive garden was terribly time consuming for him and he did little else but work and tend that garden. While giving the produce away was rewarding, we ended up giving away 90% and keeping 10% for ourselves. Given the exhausting time investment for my husband, it was just a bit disproportionate.
This year we have put in a much smaller garden. We rented a sod cutter and removed the sod from (3) 36 ft by 3 ft plots. Here we have planted kitchen herbs and our favorites from the garden. I tried to restrain myself when planting and stagger planting times so that we do not have a crazy abundance of produce coming off at one time. There should still be enough to share but hopefully at a manageable level. Our favorites that made it into our garden this year are snow peas, snap peas, red cherry tomatoes, sun sweet orange cherry tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, better boy tomatoes, 45 day small cabbage, 75 day regular cabbage, zucchini, red onions, sweet yellow onions, garlic, sweet bell peppers (red, yellow, orange, and purple), jalapeno peppers, hot banana peppers, strawberries, basil, and other assorted kitchen herbs.
Tip 3: Plant what you like! If you are going to spend many back breaking hours in your vegetable garden, make sure its rewarding by tending the plants that you like to eat. This does not mean that you can’t try new things, but limit your experimentation to a couple of new things per year. You will only have so much garden real estate to go around. Its best to give the things you love the most and best space available. New in our garden this year are 2 spaghetti squash plants and about 16 leek seedlings. If either one stand out a new favorite, they will get more real estate next year.
Tip 4: Do your homework! Other gardeners and the internet are a great source of information about growth habits, planting guidelines, and recipes for your new garden. You can quickly Google the answers to questions like: how deep should you plant onion sets? How much space do zucchini need? What are some delicious recipes for Roma tomatoes? How do you cook with fresh herbs? Remember, everybody has an opinion so check out a few sites before taking it to the bank.
Tip 5: Tomato cages and trellises: It is best to plan ahead by buying and placing your trellises and tomato cages while the plants are still young. You will want them to have their support in place at the moment they need it instead of having to pick up weakened stalks from the ground and coaxing them to grow upright again.