After the holiday glow fades, I can’t help but daydream about long sunny days, the smell of moist soil, and the delicious taste of a juicy ripe tomato. We’ve had a garden most years, delivering yummy snap peas, sauce tomatoes, and even strawberries. Gardens can be a great learning experience for your family, save you some money, and increase your own self-reliance skills.
Read on to learn more about the types of gardens and 8 Simple Steps to Start a Garden!
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Types of Gardens
There are a lot of types of gardens that you could start. With the possible exception of the food forest, most of these types can be managed within whatever size area you have. It is so easy to get overwhelmed and spend a ton of money on equipment and plants so you can always start small and work from there.
Here are a few ideas:
Fresh herbs can easily take your cooking to the next level and growing your own can save you a lot of money at the grocery store. They can serve medicinal, culinary, and aesthetic purposes! A lot of herbs even repel mosquitoes. This would be a great planting near your house or outdoor patio area.
A kitchen garden is usually located just a few steps away from your kitchen (hence the name) and is generally small. Most kitchen gardens have a mix of herbs, ready to eat veggies (e.g. cherry tomatoes, chives, peppers, snap peppers,etc.), and one or two statement items. The statement plants can/should be perennials, serving as visual appeal year-round. So, think about rose hip bushes, climbing grape vines, or blueberries.
Fresh flowers are the ultimate luxury. I absolutely love a big bouquet of flowers in a white ceramic pitchers on the shelf behind my sink. I go to the farmers’ market just to get a fresh bunch every week during the summer. Flowers are particularly hard as they can require different soils, be susceptible to long-term diseases, and can be very sensitive to heat and drought. But, they offer a lot in return. Just a few groupings can completely transform the character of your home and bring you daily joy. You can also share them with your loved ones if they’re sick, happy, or just because.
This is sort of the other end of the spectrum. A good forest is a long-term project that incorporates plants from every size, including runner plants like strawberries all the way up to large canopy trees. Each plant works together providing shade or “companionship” where necessary.
8 Simple Steps to Starting a Garden
1) Choose a location. Make sure it is:
- Close to where you store equipment and your home
- Near a water source
- Has enough sun most of the day
- In a place where it’s allowed. Some home associations and city ordinances limit garden areas to certain areas (especially away from the road-front). I could go on a whole rant about the waste of space a lawn is and how a simple food garden in the yard can improve your health. That’s for another day.
2) Choose fencing
This will depend on the types of pests you’re dealing with. Bears and deer are different than skunks and chipmunks. We have to deal with all of them. When you’re just starting, you can get away with some temporary fencing like deer fencing with some small diameter chicken wire at the bottom.
Fencing can get expensive very quickly so make your purchase proportionate to your endeavor. You might even be able to find some on Craigslist. Or ask some local farmers. They may be getting rid of older fencing that won’t serve their larger purposes but could work perfectly in your space. In our garden this year, I’m hoping to install some split rail fencing with the mix of deer fencing and chicken wire.
3) Decide on raised beds or regular rows
This is a perennial debate (haha!). Raised beds require initial physical investment and long-term maintenance. They also protect your soil from compaction, designate walking paths, and direct water. Regular rows are fast to set-up and require less maintenance and can be changed often. But they can easily look less ‘tidy’ and are harder to manage weeds.
Quick options to raised beds for your garden: Gardener’s Supply Raised Garden Bed 3’x4′ or for your patio: Elevated Garden Bed for Patio. Both of these are cedar, which is a little more expensive than pine boards but will resist rot and bugs. You could make your beds from planks at the lumberyard.
4) Choose plants and type of garden you want
Do you know which kind of garden you want/need? At our home, we love fresh herbs and vegetables and I love to can so we will plan around those. We’ll also be planting some plants to reduce mosquitoes and hopefully repel ticks.
Write down the plants you want before you go to the store to get seeds or the started plants. It can get overwhelming quickly when you’re faced with all of the options. (It can also get expensive to buy a ton of plants that you don’t want or can’t maintain yet.)
Beginners: Don’t be afraid to go to your local garden center and talk to the employees for some advice. You can use herb or vegetable starter kits like these:
Experienced: Start seeds based on planting dates. The Old Farmer’s Almanac calculator is super helpful. Seed planting will start based on the last frost date for your area.
5) Check soil and amend as necessary
Soil is the foundation to everything. For your garden, the most important aspects will be pH and porosity. There are easy pH testing implements at your local hardware store or garden center. Some plants like acidic soil (potatoes, blueberries, roses) and some like basic (lilies, iris, asparagus, spinach). Do not change your soils pH dramatically unless you are planting perennials there that will be there for a longer time.
The second element is the soil porosity. Take the soil in your hand, add a little water, and make a fist. If it clumps together, it has more clay and will make root growth and watering hard. An easy way to manage clay soils and generally keep your soil healthy is to add compost to the soil and to mulch above the soil.
6) Plant & Maintain
Plant your favorite plants, either the ones you grew from seed or picked up from the garden store. Be sure to water your plants regularly (more depending on the type of plant and the weather), feed with compost or plant food, and weed regularly. The weeds will compete with your plants for good and water so in this instance less competition is best. A mulch of non-dyed wood chips, shredded newspaper, or shredded straw will reduce weeds and maintain moisture.
7) Put the Garden to Bed
Almost as important as the start of the season, you should put the garden “to bed” at the end of the season. That means removing annual plants, turning the mulch into the soil to decompose, and covering the soil with compost/mulch, a thick landscape fabric, or a cover crop to restore nutrients. Here are some ideas on How to Clean Up Your Garden in the Fall.
8) ENJOY THE HARVEST!
After your hard work, make sure to share the bounty, savor the harvest, and can the rest.
I hope this post shows you that, no matter where or how big, you can get started growing your own garden! Let me know what you like to grow or if you have any specific questions about getting started!