Starting an Outdoor Vegetable Garden

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“I grow plants for many reasons: to please my eye or to please my soul, to challenge the elements or to challenge my patience, for novelty or for nostalgia, but mostly for the joy in seeing them grow.” –  David Hobson

Are you already a gardener, or thinking about delving into the gardening world? It’s actually pretty easy, and you can scale it to your lifestyle. Here are some tips for starting an outdoor vegetable garden and next week I’ll send tips for patio or indoor gardening.

Decide what kind of garden you would like.
Want to try vegetables? Herbs? Flowers? A mixture?

If you like flowers, you can choose between annuals, which will last through summer but need to be replaced the next year, or perennials, which will live through the winter and keep growing the next year. Vegetables? Some are easier than others. Some do better in the spring and fall, and some love the summer heat. Instructions are usually on seed packets or plant tags if you buy a starter plant. Ms. Google knows a lot and so do other gardeners, who are usually excited to share their favorite tips.

Pick the perfect spot.
Most vegetables and flowers need about six hours of full sun each day. Keep an eye on the area you have in mind and notice how much sun it gets over the course of the day. If it’s not a super sunny spot, look for plants that like a little shade. Most importantly, put it where you will see it and where you can easily water it.

Clear the space.
You can dig up grass, weeds and stones if you want it ready quickly. If you have more time you can layer the area with about five sheets of newspaper, cover it with a 3 inch layer of compost and wait about four months for the compost and paper to decompose and the grass below it to die down.

Improve the soil.
Newly tilled soil usually needs a boost. Again, this is pretty easy. Bags of compost can be purchased at garden centers or hardware stores (or you can make your own!) You can also add decayed leaves, dry grass clippings, or old manure. A soil test kit can be purchased at some larger hardware stores, bought online or a sample can be sent to a local cooperative extension office to give you more information on your soil with recommendations for improvement.

Loosen the soil so roots can penetrate more easily by gently digging and turning over the top 8-12 inches of soil. Try to do this when the soil is moist enough to form a loose ball in your hands. It will be harder on you and the soil if it is too wet or too dry. While doing this, you can mix in the compost or other organic matter.

Pick some plants.
In the spring and summer plants and starter vegetables can be found in garden centers, grocery stores, farmers markets or neighbor gardens. Some plants and veggies grow easily from the seed. Some folks start their seedling indoors. Some people love seed catalogs for more exotic, specialty or heirloom seeds. Choose what interests you and seems suitable to your climate, soil, available sunlight and how much time you want to invest.

Put them in the ground.
Now it gets real. Some plants, including lettuce, pansies and kale like it a little cold and can get started in late spring. Don’t be tempted to rush the other ones. Wait until all possibility of frost has passed, or they might not survive. Read up on how deep to plant and how far apart. Remember…they will grow!

Add water.
Seedlings need water daily. Starter plants need water at least every other day until they are established. Once they all get bigger, you can ease off, depending on the temperatures and natural rainfall. It’s best to water in the early morning, slowly and deeply.

Mulch. 
You can apply straw and/or grass clippings to help keep weeds come out and to help water get in. Cover the soil with a couple of inches of mulch. All sorts of mulch are available, from pine needles to cocoa hulls to bark chips. For a vegetable garden or bed of annuals, choose mulch that decomposes in a few months. For perennials, use longer-lasting mulch, such as bark chips.

Keep it up. 
Your garden is on its way. Keep watering when needed, and pull weeds before they get big. Fertilize with a dry fertilizer about halfway through the season. If you use a liquid fertilizer, fertilize every month or so. And remember to stop and smell the—well, whatever you grow.