What you need to know when starting your first garden
Take command of your land and grow your own food. The process can be tedious, but the rewards are worth it
Our shared experiences have all have us wondering if we need to worry about the food supply. I doubt if we will run into anything more than nuisance issues, but you never know. If you find yourself with more time on your hands right now, why not try your hand at gardening?
If you have a desire to start your first garden, what do you need to know? Not as much as you might think. With a little bit of moxy and a couple nickels to rub together, you can do this. I am not an expert – and after you read this, you'll understand you don't need to be either to grow your own small summer garden.
Choose your site and become a dirt enthusiast
There is this big burning orb in the sky called the sun. You need it. Your garden needs a minimum of six hours of sunlight per day to be productive. There are vegetables that will tolerate some shade, but you're best served by getting as much sun into the site as possible.
Unless you live in an area with excellent, class one river bottom loam (high class dirt), you will need to supplement the dirt you have, or bring in the good stuff from a soil company. I happen to live in an area with red dirt. The weeds here complain about our soil. I opted for raised beds filled with $25/yard garden soil from a local company.
Using soil purchased from a landscaping company means you should be getting high quality dirt to start your first garden. Each year you'll notice the 'energy' in the soil will dissipate, which will require you to add more new soil, compost, and other supplements. I added new soil each year – with consistent results.
I also went with raised wood beds, as opposed to tilling the good soil into my worthless red dirt. By constructing raised beds, there is an additional cost. In my case it cost $260 for (10) 2x10x20 Douglas fir boards. Tilling in the soil will be cheaper (if you have the equipment), or even cheaper if you don't need to buy any soil. Each bed was lined with chicken wire to prevent gophers and moles from finding the roots of my tender veggies too.
Pick your vegetables wisely; you'll have to eat them
What you want to grow might be different than what you can grow. I happen to be in an area where hot crops such as citrus and avocados won't grow, but on the other hand cold winter crops such as Brussels sprouts and broccoli were a disaster when I attempted them. The broccoli flowered with a head the size of a quarter, and the Brussels sprouts became mostly aphids.
The most common crops to grow are tomato, zucchini/squash, peppers, lettuce, carrots, and various beans. I've had excellent luck with mainly tomatoes, zucchini, and squash. Once they're established and properly watered, they grow like crazy.
I'd recommend getting in touch with your local nursery, or USDA extension for details about crops that grow well in your area. Just knowing your climate will help narrow down the crops you can grow. I've had a 'Reader's Digest' on gardening for years that's helped me when I have questions.
I'd consider buying your vegetables as starters from a nursery. Planting from seed is fun, but those few precious weeks make a big difference when starting a garden. I've always started from small, inexpensive plants from a nursery with excellent results. If you want to nerd out about some particular vegetable, go right ahead; not every nursery will have 'tomacco' plants so you'll have to get them from seed.
Water and wait for the earth to provide its bounty
Watering by hand will be a chore. Get an automatic timer. They're about $25, and with some drip irrigation, you'll be out about another $50. Water the plants thoroughly and keep an eye on them. The bigger they get, the more water will be required.
My first year of gardening wasn't cheap. Between the wood for the raised beds, soil, plants, and irrigation, it cost me about $500. You can buy a lot of vegetables for that amount of money. The first year will not pencil out. The second year is far cheaper. You'll need more soil or supplements, and some plants. Each year after the first you'll spend less than $100 even if you're being careless with your money.
Is gardening worth it? Absolutely. The satisfaction of growing your own food goes deep. You'll be eating and giving away vegetables to the point of it becoming bothersome at times. Family and friends will come to you to get the produce you can't or won't eat anymore. We had so much squash one year that I swear I'd start turning yellow. New recipes will be found, and the kids love seeing things grow. Plus, you never know when or if this skill will be a godsend.