I’ll start by summarizing the most important things to think about and move into details of each in a post later in the season. As I started writing this, I found an article already written similar to what I’m stating here, so you can also refer to the Better Homes and Garden site. There are hundreds of articles on the web too. Trusted sites I’ve used through the years are Mother Earth News and Rodale Organic Gardening. Organic Gardening is where I learned everything I know, but they recently changed to Organic Life and the gardening sections are not as extensive as in the past. I still refer to my first “bible” of gardening, “A Garden Primer” by Barbara Damrosch. Barbara and her husband, Eliot Coleman, run a Four-Season Farm in Maine.
Picking the spot - You’ll need a minimum of 8 hours of sunlight for most vegetables. The more full sun the better. There are a handful of crops that can take less sun and shade such as spinach, lettuces and other greens, but full sun is preferable. Fruiting crops need sun. Some root crops can take some shade also.
Prepping the soil – I started with a barren field, so my experience has been with a rototiller, a shovel, and my two hands to remove the sod and weeds. It takes time. Obviously the smaller plot you have, the easier it will be. Mother Earth News suggests cutting the grass super-short, then covering with newspaper and a thick layer of compost. I’ve done this method also (minus the newspaper and used pure horse manure) and it works. Raised beds are popular too and here’s a good article on those. Do you need a soil test? To be honest, in 24 years, I’ve never once tested my soil (contrary to my master gardening experience that tells you to do so). My philosophy has always been if the plants are growing and producing, why test (but the experts will say differently). My harvests have gotten better and better through the years. And the secret is….
Amending the Soil – Plants need more than dirt. They need organic matter mixed in to aerate the soil and also help with water retention. There are numerous ways to amend the soil – with compost, manure, peat, and other methods. This article will help you. I’ll post on composting which is my preferred method.
What to grow – Grow what you like and will eat. It’s easy to get carried away and dump a whole pack of lettuce seeds in a row, only to have SO much lettuce in a couple months you’ll be knocking on neighbor’s doors trying to give it away. Here’s a great guide on plants. There are some plants that take a lot of space and this will guide you.
My recommendations for a first-time garden: spinach, lettuce, radishes, carrots, kale, onions (to plant now); tomatoes, peppers, green beans, zucchini or summer squash (to plant later this spring). Early crops can be grown from seed; late spring crops can be purchased at a nursery. Be sure to buy organic seedlings so you aren’t getting GMOs. You can start your seeds too. I’ll try to post on starting your own seeds.
Keep the weeds down – If you don’t they’ll zap the moisture from the soil and your vegetables. Weeds will quickly crowd out your hard work, so keep them under control. I use a thick compost which serves double duty: keeping the weeds down AND amending the soil at the same time. The plants love me for it.
Water when dry – super important if you want good harvests. Stick your finger in the soil and if it’s not damp underneath, water. Make sure it’s a decent soaking too as the sun will dry the top quickly.
It’s warm enough now to plant early spring crops like lettuces, greens, onions, carrots, red beets, peas, sugar peas and if you have the room broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. So start thinking about what you want to do and do it! You’ll be so glad you did.