Starting a vegetable garden
The first and probably the most important step is deciding what crops you want to grow and where you will be growing them. A 16×20 foot plot is a sufficient size for a family of three or four.
Since you are new to this type of gardening, however, you might be better off starting out with something smaller. Consider growing your garden in small beds or even containers. These alternatives work especially well if your space is quite limited. When you have a general idea about what you want, plan accordingly.
Draw it out on paper and list the vegetables you would like to incorporate into your garden. It’s usually better to grow only the vegetables in which you enjoy and those that are easier to grow. Beets, carrots, lettuce, radishes, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, and beans are all good choices for beginners.
Research these crops beforehand to make sure they are suitable for your particular area. Catalogs, gardening books, and plant guides are helpful resources for any information you will need.
Choosing a location for your beginner’s vegetable garden
Once you have established the layout, scan the surrounding landscape to make sure it will fit in. For example, make note of sun and wind patterns.
Successful gardens need at least eight hours of full sun. Do you have a lot of trees in your yard that will make this impossible? Try to find an alternative site.
Wind can both damage crops and dry them out. Is there adequate protection such as a building, fence, or other structure nearby? If not, adjust your plans appropriately. Vegetable gardens need plenty of water to thrive as well. Is your garden going to be placed near an ample water source?
Improving your soil in a beginner vegetable garden
Another very important consideration before you begin is the condition of your soil. Without proper soil preparations, your garden will have difficulty thriving. Fall is typically the best time to prepare for your vegetable garden. Clear the area of weeds and other debris, such as rocks, sticks, etc., and rake the surface smooth. Work the soil with a tiller or other appropriate garden tool. For more than one bed, work one bed at a time.
Organic matter within the soil is vital for healthy vegetable gardens. If your soil does not contain sufficient amounts of organic material, then you will have to work some into it using compost or manure. Compost helps improve texture, fertility, and drainage of the soil. There are resources widely available with more information about composting.
After the soil in your desired location has been properly worked, you are ready to begin planting your vegetable garden. You’ll want to set the tallest crops at the furthest point back and gradually work others towards the front. Plant rows north to south and allow approximately 2-3 feet of spacing between your rows, if possible. Place each crop into the garden at its appropriate planting time-check seed packets or other resource.
Enjoying your vegetable gardening for beginners
All that is left now is the general maintenance of the garden, which in itself is just as important to achieve success. Water your garden often, at least once a week, with a good soaking. You may need to water more frequently during heat spells, however. Keep weeds down and help retain moisture in the garden by adding mulch. Doing so also will mean less work for those gardeners with busier schedules.
Once harvesting season begins, pick ripened crops frequently to encourage more production. Depending on the types and amounts of crops you have chosen, they can be easily preserved by freezing or canning. Nonetheless, eat up and enjoy your newfound success as a vegetable gardener!
View some seasonal ideas for The Tropical South
Coastal and Tropical South
Get Crape Myrtles Pruned
Forget what your father told you, ignore how the neighbors do it, and prune crape myrtles gently. Those who prune severely are dedicated to the process, but young trees that have not been chopped never need to be cut back hard. Even older trees that have been whacked into stumps can be coaxed to a more natural form if you let them. Clip off old flowers that have turned into seed heads and take off several inches of their stem. Remove twiggy growth and any branches that shoot sideways instead of gracefully upward.
Finish Planting Fruit Trees
Whether you want to enjoy figs, pineapple guava, loquat, plums, or other fruit trees, January is the preferred month to plant. In part, this is because the trees are at their growth nadir in winter and can most easily be transplanted. But it is also because the plants are most readily available now and will respond to the necessary pruning with new growth almost immediately. Yes, you can plant fruit trees at other times of the year but they will need much more attention and may not respond as well to pruning.
Some gardening questions are seasonal. Each winter someone wants to know if sod planted in the dormant state will actually root and grow. The answer is “Probably yes,” depending in large part on the source and condition of turf grass sod. Dormant sod squares and rolls should still be damp and flexible. Reputable dealers keep it that way by protecting pallets of sod from strong winds and direct sun. Inspect the sod yourself and plant now to give the grass time to root before it must green up in a few weeks.
Fertilize Indoor Plants
There are plenty of classic tropical plants that we grow indoors for their beauty and to protect them from inclement weather. Some gardeners drop a teaspoon of slow release fertilizer pellets into each container plant that they bring indoors. It is a wise practice, but most formulations last about twelve weeks. By then, regular watering that releases a bit of nutrient with each application has used it up the added fertilizer. Reapply now or add a soluble formula the next time you water plants like peace lily, rhizomatous begonias, and kalanchoes to nurture their February flowers.
Plant Cabbage and Other Cool Season Veggies
If you want to plant cool season vegetables like cabbage, lettuce, and chard, the time is now. In the Tropics zone this planting window closes very shortly in order to be harvesting before hot weather returns. Along the Southern Coasts there are a precious few weeks left to plant these crops, as well as potatoes and English peas to enjoy late in the spring. To figure out when to plant in this transition time, check the seed pack to know how many weeks the crop needs to mature, then count backwards to learn if there is enough time to plant. If not, it may be time to consider warm season edibles.