The Beginner’s Ultimate Guide to Starting a Garden

Starting a vegetable garden is one of the greatest decisions you’ll ever make in your life. A garden’s purpose is not just to produce food but also to teach valuable life lessons such as patience, compassion, generosity, determination and a deep appreciation for nature.

A garden is also extremely favorable for one’s health, which is why so many gardeners often seem healthier and just happier in general.

But while vegetable gardening is a fun and rewarding hobby, it does require some commitment—something that most people can’t always give. You have to invest time and effort in planting, watering, fertilizing, weeding and generally maintaining the health of your plants. All these tasks involved can easily turn off the potential gardener, but what it’s possible to start a garden with minimal effort?

Now that would be the dream!

Fortunately, there is indeed a way to grow a garden that produces all your favorite veggies with less effort. Jen from Jen Reviews is sharing her best gardening tips with us today to help anyone who wants to get into gardening. Check out her comprehensive guide below on how to start your very own garden!

How to Start a Garden: The Ultimate Guide

1. Garden with Nature
The first rule is to garden with nature, not against it. What type of soil do you have? Is it sandy or is it clay or is it a mix? What is the acidic level? How long is your growing season? How hot does it get? How cold does it get? How much rain do you get? You will want to select plants that thrive in your soil in your climate.

It’s not hard to do. There are thousands of plants out there. It is nothing to be bemoaned if for, example your soil is clay and you cannot easily grow potatoes, which prefer sand. Well, then grow corn, cabbage, squash, echinacea, and black-eyed susans.

Most leafy greens prefer a good rich soil and the clay stays cooler longer than sand so it extends the growing season for this cool-weather crop.

There are many different purposes you can grow plants for apart from beauty and food. I have grown plants for natural dyes and fibers. I have grown plants for making gifts like sunflower wreaths, table centerpieces or raspberry liqueur filled chocolates. I have grown plants to make insect repellent, set broken bones, heal sprains and clear congestion.

So when you are considering the plants you can grow in your area, broaden your horizons.

2. Follow the Sun
Where are you going to place your site? And how large should it be? First, what are you hoping for?

My advice here is going to focus on the small home garden that includes herbs and vegetables for the kitchen. I say small because that is how you should start out. You can easily expand it once you know how much effort it is going to take and have identified what else you might like to grow in a single season.

Go out to your proposed site and take a look at where the sun is in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening. Bear in mind that if it is winter, the arc of the sun is going to be a bit different than in the summer.What you are trying to determine is where any trees might be in relation to the sun that might block your garden for periods of the day. You can use this to your advantage.

3. It’s All in the Soil
Healthy soil hosts a web of life from tiny one-celled bacteria, fungi and protozoa to the more complex nematodes and small arthropods to earthworms, insects, and small vertebrates. These organisms interact beneficially with plants.

By-products from growing roots and plant debris feed soil organisms. Soil organisms help plants by decomposing organic matter, cycling nutrients to make them more available to the plant, enhancing soil structure and porosity and controlling the populations of soil organisms, including crop pests.

Healthy soil means healthy plants.

The way to healthy soil is to add compost and not till the ecosystems, the webs of life, to shreds.

Buddhists, who do not believe in killing sentient creatures, manually crumble soil, so that earthworms are not killed. Farmers use tractors pulling tillers and most gardeners use rototillers to turn the soil. I use a shovel rather than till.

Compost is just earth that has been made from decayed organic matter. It is called black gold because it is a sure-fire medium for producing healthy plants. Nothing is more valuable to a gardener and it’s free. It solves the problems of what to do with dinner scraps and yard debris and it helps everything grow abundantly.

4. Buying Seeds, Starters, Bulbs and Seedlings
Shop around and buy a good variety of seeds. If seedlings don’t come up in the time it says they will on the back of the package and you haven’t had super crazy out-of-season weather, then just plant something else there.

Epictetus, a Greek Stoic philosopher born in A.D. 55, said, “Neither should a ship rely on one small anchor, nor should life rest on a single hope.”

True now as it was then. Have back-up seeds.

Some plants, like lilies and rhubarb, grow from bulbs. You can get these, as well as seedlings, at the farmers’ co-op or a nursery.

You will want to buy seedlings for crops that require a longer growing season than you have or for crops you want a head-start on. Seedlings can grow in a greenhouse before the ground outside warms up enough to allow anything to sprout.

When you buy your seedlings, you will need to “harden them off,” which means to help them acclimate to the cold world so they don’t just freeze to death.

Plants by their nature need to be planted in the ground and do not like a lot of change. They easily die of transplant shock, so it is important to try to keep as much of the old soil on them as you can and introduce a similar environment if possible, added by a bit of fish emulsion or liquid B-12.

Keep them watered and out of the wind at first. Hardening off involves setting them outside for progressively more hours each day until they have been able to weather a few of the coldest nights you are getting.

Once they have proven strong enough to endure that, you can plant them in the garden.

Ask around and check customer reviews to learn about your local nurseries for buying seedlings. Once you have been gardening awhile, you will learn to recognize an unhealthy plant and to look for certain types of pests hiding on them, but until then, you’ll just have to go to a reputable place and ask the person near you.

It’s not exactly easy to find organically grown seedlings. You can of course grow your own seedlings indoors. But unless you are around 24/7 or have greenhouse conditions in your home, it is a ridiculous amount of work. I buy what I can get and hope the soil and sun detoxifies whatever the plant’s previous owner has done.

5. Companion Planting
Plants can be compromised from temperature and humidity or arid extremes. Disease comes looking then. A good companion plant can bolster strength in troubled times, so it’s a no-brainer to follow these principles and a lot of fun.

That’s how I recommend beginning your plantings. After a few seasons, you will formulate your own conclusions about invisible interactions happening. You may find that chickweed likes lavender. Or you may feel a little splash of color would be delightful between the meadows of basil you have planted and the garlic.

You will appreciate that you have cast dahlia seeds when you are mesmerized by the swan-like curvatures of the garlic, with their long needle-noses, astounded to find they are having dancing parties behind your back. They freeze in their new graceful positions when you turn to look.

Many gardeners subscribe to companion planting principles.

When do you plant? Look in your farmer’s almanac. It will tell you what you can plant in your area and when. Cold weather crops that can be planted early include onions, potatoes, radishes and beets. You can follow up with planting seeds for hardy greens and then the more delicate greens.

About then, the soil will have warmed up enough for the rest of the seeds to germinate and to accept your transplant of seedlings. That’s not to say a late killing frost doesn’t come along and undo what you’ve done. Measures can be taken to save plants if you have warning. This might be something you want to research in advance. Recommendations range from spraying a preparation with valerian to warm the plants to erecting a row cover.

6. Supplies
You need very little, apart from a composter and seeds or plants to garden. A good shovel, possibly a hoe, a trowel and good pruners are essential.

Take good care of your tools and make sure they are always clean. Be sensitive to what you are doing. If you cut off a diseased leaf, clean the shears with soap before you use them on another plant or you are likely to spread the disease. Keep them sharp so that your cuts are clean, not sloppy and tearing, thus weakening the plant.

It is important to be comfortable. I once only wore Japanese farmer pants, which were loose and made of light but durable cotton and had pockets in the knees where you could slide knee-pads, but I can’t find them for sale anymore. If you find some, buy enough for the rest of your life.

Dirty as you are going to get it, I highly recommend the full coverage of a long-sleeve shirt. Not only does it protect you from the sun, but it will spare you the nasty sting of sweat bees if you dally in the garden a little too late in the morning.

So now that you look awesome and have a cool compost tumbler in your back yard, grab your shovel and trowel, maybe find a straw hat and head out to create a magical garden.

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