My husband and I aren't naturally gifted with green thumbs, but we are interested in growing some of our own food. We don't have any grand intentions of planting rows upon rows of beans or corn, but it would be nice to harvest the occasional head of broccoli or handful of herbs. Once we had a yard to call our own, the challenge became how, exactly, to plant our first garden.
Though my husband has put far more sweat into this project than I have, I've learned a few things about how to select seeds and prepare the land for successful growing. Our dirt, sunlight and environmental conditions may be different from yours, but a few basic principles still apply:
1. Research first.
Before we started planting, we found a book on how to plant a garden in the desert southwest. We read up on soil conditions and which plants best flourished in our environment and landscape, and you should do the same. Beyond books, look for podcasts or scan the local newspaper listings for workshops on gardening in your community.
Doing research helped us focus our efforts. We learned how to care for our soil before planting anything, and we knew which seeds had the best chance of germinating in our garden. Not everything grows in every environment, and sometimes your dream crop just isn't going to flourish where you want.
2. Be patient and gentle.
It takes the right combination of conditions for plants to grow. To increase your success rate, you need to care for the seeds and soil. Don't neglect to water your plants, but don't water them too much. If you're growing vines, make sure there is something for them to climb. Keep your garden clear of debris and trash. Don't let your kids or pets play in it. Depending on your stance regarding organic growing, you might consider using fertilizers to encourage growth.
Realize that garden vegetables are imperfect. Chances are they won't be as large or symmetrical as those found in the grocery store, but they've grown under your care. Enjoy the fruits (or vegetables) of your success.
3. Plant throughout the year.
In areas where there is sunshine and decent weather for all twelve months out of the year, there is an opportunity to plant several cycles of fruits and vegetables. Not all plants grow during all parts of the year, though, so cycle back to step one and do some research before dropping seeds into the ground.
If you'd like to take advantage of year-round gardening, note that you'll need plenty of time to plant before the growing season. You'll want to prep your garden before the growing season to ensure the soil is tilled and conditions are right for planting. Depending on your specific gardening conditions, you may need to plant spring plants in the fall.
4. Apply what you've learned before you replant.
Some things will grow where you live, and others will not. Your neighbor might have a healthy crop of carrots while your garden excels in melons. Not all gardens are created equal, and that's okay, but the important thing to note is what is successful. Once you've pinpointed those crops that grow best with your garden's personal equation of soil, sunlight, temperature and other conditions, then stick with them. What has grown once will likely grow again.
As you continue to plant and replant your garden, you'll get to know the ground better too. Are there places in the soil that linger in the shade and stay wetter than others? Perhaps you've got patches exposed to the sun for longer periods of time. Is so, use them to your advantage.
But regardless of what you plant, chances are one thing is certain: You'll have the satisfaction of knowing that your first garden started out with an idea, a handful of seeds and the desire to grow your very own salad.