Friday, April 10, 2009

Starting a vegetable garden

Ed, from Slow Cook, asked bloggers to post about starting a vegetable garden recently, in a post forwarded to me by a gardening friend (CEN).

This is a topic I'm totally keen on. At the Garden where I work, we're having an event next weekend to promote vegetable gardening, with the tagline of 'Building Community, Growing Vegetables.' Those of us who enjoy growing vegetables know the joy of harvesting and eating from the garden, whether it's a couple of tomato plants or a series of raised beds or an expansive 'kitchen garden' -- and we're keen on promoting it to others.

The first season in my 'main' vegetable garden
My first vegetable garden as an 'adult' was modest. We'd just put in a fence (for our old boy, our dog Chessie), who wasn't prone to roam, anyway, but we sprung for picket fence in the most visible areas.

I planted snow peas -- and this was just the beginning.

My previous forays involved trying to plant onions in the caliche soil of the Texas Hill Country as a teenager, taking on WAY too much space as a young researcher in a field station community garden (and being overwhelmed by weeds), and planting apple, peach, and nectarine trees in a shady Southeast Georgia backyard (I harvested some tasty Golden Delicious apples in the last summer we spent there).

But, our soil here is clayey, but our older house has many years' worth of thatch-rich soil below the scruffy lawn, so it's not too bad, with continuous amending.

I started small and used Square-Foot gardening and intensive gardening methods as my inspiration. Some years later, I'm talking about vegetable gardening to groups.

So, what's my advice about starting a vegetable garden?

First: Start small.

Second: Make it close to the house.

Third: Place your beds close to a water source (within reasonable hose length).

Fourth: Grow what you (and your family) like to eat (and don't plant too much).

Fifth: Garden through the year (as much as you can). Spring, summer, fall (and winter) work for us in the SE US.

Sixth: Remember vegetables are pampered annuals (nutrient and water hogs) and need both rich soil with added (preferably) organic fertilizer and water to be optimally productive.

Seventh: Harvest frequently (daily in prime season for beans, tomatoes, etc.).

Eighth: Keep it fun!

Here are a few kitchen gardening tips from a short video clip (where I somehow was the featured weekly blogger on a local TV station recently).

4 comments:

  1. Teenager in the Hill Country? The Hill Country is pretty this time of year! My mom talks of having to take a pick axe to the caliche to plant anything when they lived in Texas (before I was born).
    Good advice on the garden plots. Big can be overwhelming.

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  2. Congratulations on your TV debut!

    One of my first gardens as an adult was in North Texas in our yard which had been a worn out cotton field. We were surrounded by farmers who farmed on a large scale. One of them had offered to come and plow the yard where I wanted my garden and was very disappointed to find out that he didn't need a full section of his three part plow to do the job. He was used to plowing most of an acre at one pass. Our yard was an acre with a house in the middle. His tractor was as big as our house.

    The only thing I remember about that garden ( it was years ago) was that it produced the sweetest cantaloupes ever. I think they were Athena variety.

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  3. I know you are supposed to grow what you love to eat, but I always seem to put in a couple of plants I've never grown before and sometimes never tasted. I just love to experiment with things. It's in my nature, so I go with it.

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  4. Janet and LHR, It's nice to have better vegetable-growing soil than in much of Texas! Our heavy clay subsoil can be nicely improved with organic matter.

    And Daphne, you're absolutely right; it's great fun to experiment and try new things -- yard-long beans and tromboncino squash are my favorite examples of things I've tried that have become annual choices. It's just hard to make room for everything and still keep it manageable! I cheated by adding my satellite garden for just those experiments, and now it's in my regular rotations.....

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