Thinking of growing your own vegetable garden? Get ready because, like a pet, or even like a child (though it won’t cry at you when it’s hungry) a vegetable garden needs much care and devotion in order to grow healthily. Attempting to grow your own personal Garden of Eden is quite the task to undertake but, when done right, it can hold breathtaking results. As you’re getting started, there are a few essentials to live by:
If you are like most people, your basic essentials are vegetables like carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes and the like. If you are attempting to grow a multitude of plants like these all at once, the key is space. Like many humans, vegetables need space to be comfortable, spreading their roots in the soil and getting an ample amount of sunlight; two essentials for any plant. When configuring your garden plot it is better to overestimate then to underestimate, so be generous with the amount of space you use. This is especially important in planting vegetables that grow in rows such as carrots, radishes and beets. Plant the seeds and/or bulbs of an underground vegetable at a bare minimum of eight inches apart so that your vegetables are not competing for their vital resources and nutrients. This is especially important for underground vegetables as they rely heavily on the ability of their roots to drink in as many nutrients as the can get. Also this will give you better results for your vegetables in the end where they will be more nutritious and more substantial in size. Tomato, cucumber and squash plants all grow in significant size above ground whether it be tall or wide, so they need much space to spread out and attain the maximum amount of sunlight. Each of these plants should initially be given a minimum of 1 ½ feet between each plant as, like with underground plants, this will help to provide bigger and better vegetables in the end.
Probably the most crucial element to the health of your so-called vegetative soul is the physical and chemical composition of your soil. Choose the location of your garden carefully as having good soil to work with right from the beginning will make your life so much easier. I would recommend starting by testing the pH of your soil. If a specific plot of soil is too base or too acidic your plants will simply not survive. A good pH for almost all vegetable plants is 6.0; not too base and not too acidic. Adjusting the pH balance of your soil is quite easy and there are many different methods through which you can do this. Ideally your location will have a consistent type of soil considerably deep into the ground. With this the roots will be able to grow deeper and reach an even amount of nutrients. Avoid areas that are either too sandy or ridden with a lot of clay. Soil that is extremely sandy cannot hold moisture for very long and clay soil, although somewhat rich in nutrients, is very compact and holds too much water, which can be just as detrimental to your plants as very dry soil. Find a happy medium where there is enough space between the particles of the soil so that water can filter easily throughout the soil, but at the same time is not so loose that the moisture will quickly evaporate.
When tending to the soil get rid of all rocks in the plot and weed your garden (I kid you not) daily. Weeds are a gigantic deterrent for the healthy growth of those succulent vegetables, which you are presumably striving for. If you plan on adding fertilizer (highly recommended) never, never, neverover fertilize. This is a common mistake that first-time gardeners can easily make so when applying your fertilizer be extremely conscious of the amount that you are using. Also, when applying said fertilizer of your choice, whether it be manure, composted organic material or any other form, you must know that all fertilizers are different and therefore must be applied to your garden in a specific manner. For instance, some must be applied before planting anything and some can be applied after you have planted everything. Make sure you read the package in which your fertilizer came, or ask the provider of the fertilizer about the fertilization process, as the wrong method of application can completely jeopardize your entire garden.
I cannot place enough emphasis on giving a lot of attention to your plants once they have grown. The more you tend to them the more they will show you some love back. Regularly prune off dead/dying leaves as taking those leaves off acts as haircut would for a human; it promotes faster leaf growth and that will eventually result in better reception of sunlight for the plant. Also, regularly take any vegetables that seem rotted or abnormal off of your above ground plants as this will help the health of up-and-coming vegetables. For underground vegetables such as carrots or beets check the leaves of the plant that are seen above ground. Chances are that if the leaves are abnormally colored or that the actual vegetable will be abnormal as well. This applies to lettuce as well where if the leaves are yellowed or brown then the head is not good. Uproot any abnormal vegetables, as this will allow for more space and nutrients for the others. Do not be discouraged by the duds that you find in your garden; vegetable gardening is one big process of trial and error. When your vegetables are ready to be pulled off of the vine or out of the ground you will most definitely know.
When harvesting tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, etc. the first sign to look for is color. If the color of the vegetable is starting to look vibrant, gently pull on the vegetable itself and slightly twist. If it does not easily pop off then it is not ready. Give it a day or so and then try it again. If you are pulling up vegetables from the ground, first dig down a few inches to reach the head of the vegetable and check for size and color. Once again, if it holds the standard vibrancy of color and is of regular size feel free to pull it up.
The roots of each vegetable will be firmly grown into the soil, so slowly pull the vegetable up by the base of the leaves as this will assure that you do not detach the leaves from the actual vegetable itself. If this happens it will be more difficult to unearth the vegetables and in doing so you could potentially endanger other vegetables that are still growing. If any of your vegetables are misshapen they are not necessarily bad. It is fairly common for a brand new garden to have numerous funny looking vegetables, so once again do not be discouraged if your vegetables look like big blobs or just straight aliens.
One of the most important things that any beginner garden can learn is to not be a hero. That is, do not try and take on an enormous garden with 20 tomato plants, 20 cucumber plants, 100 carrots and beets and 30 heads of lettuce. Do not underestimate these plants as like I continuously say, each individual plant requires a large amount of care. A large garden can become overwhelming quickly, especially when there is a diverse configuration of vegetables in the garden, and especially when an inexperienced grower is tending to all of them. It is a much better experience to start small and have fun with it then to be stressed out by your garden. It is not meant to be a grueling process, but rather should be enjoyable. Once you get into the rhythm of growing and become intimately acquainted with each individual plant then it is a good idea to expand. This way you will get the results you are looking for and you may even have a little fun along the way. Spending time on/in a vegetable garden can be rewarding and surprisingly therapeutic, if you start off the right way.