There’s nothing quite like a fresh tomato off the vine. Vegetable gardening at home can be a way to save money while you get up close and personal with nature—and homegrown foods taste so much better knowing you’ve poured your time (and tears) into it. Just think of the wonderful homemade salad that you can create. While the thought of growing your own vegetable garden may seem daunting, here are a few tips to make the process as easy as possible!
Location, Location, Location!
Picking a good location for your garden is key. Aim for a sunny spot because most veggies require 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight per day. Make sure the area also drains well and won’t remain wet. If you have poorly drained soil where water pools, you’ll risk having rotted roots. Start small, a good size for a beginner’s vegetable garden is 6×6 feet.
Pick your Plants
Stick with easy vegetables that are also productive. Lettuce, green beans, radishes, and tomatoes are a few good options, but ultimately you should choose what you and your family like to eat. If the household isn’t big on peppers, then don’t worry about planting those, but if the kids chow down on carrots like its candy, then put more effort into them.
Sure, you can plant vegetables in neat, tidy rows, which make them easier to water and fertilize, but this is more often used in large gardens. Rows or not, it’s a good idea to group the vegetables according to their height, sun and water needs, and days to harvest. Plant shorter vegetables on the south side, so they are not shaded by taller plants. Adopt the companion planting method, which is simply placing plants that thrive together next to each other.
Fight off Weeds & Insects
Naturally, developing your first vegetable garden won’t be all sunshine and flowers (no pun intended). Put drought on your side by depriving weeds of water. Placing drip or soaker hoses beneath mulch efficiently irrigates plants while leaving nearby weeds thirsty. (In most climates, depriving weeds of water reduces weed-seed germination by 50 to 70 percent!) And to defend your territory against pesky pets, there are insecticidal sprays you can buy, but you can also do a DIY one at home. For example, add 1 tablespoon of dish soap with 1 quart of water and spray it on your plants to make them aphid-proof.
Harvest and Enjoy
Different vegetables need different harvesting methods and storage conditions. Use garden pruning shears or twist the tomato until it comes free from the vine. (Avoid pulling on it when picking, as this can break the tender tomato branches.) With green beans, you don’t have to be as delicate, but you do need to be mindful when they are ripe for picking. Look for firm stalks generally as thick as a pencil then snap or cut the beans off the plant. Kale and other leafy greens should be stored in the fridge as soon as possible, while potatoes and onions need curing before storage in a dark cool place.