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How To Start a Vegetable Garden - The Plants



The plants:
Remember this simple rule with your garden plants: GROW WHAT YOU EAT. I had a neighbor who grew a very nice crop of beets in her new raised bed only to find her family didn’t like beets. Don’t do this in your garden.

Aside from growing what you eat, remember this is just a garden. Get out there and put your hands in the soil. Play. Learn. You’ll make mistakes, and this is ok. You’ll learn more from the mistake than from web articles, videos, and magazines.

Starting Seeds or Buying Plants:
Both starting your own seeds and buying already-started plants offer pros and cons.

Starting your own seedlings will offer a far wider selection of cultivars and save money. But starting your own seeds comes with much work and requires building a special skill set.

Some plants don’t transplant well and will require starting from seeds directly in the garden. These generally include:
  • Carrots and parsnips
  • Squash
  • Root vegetables
  • Beets
  • Turnips
  • Beans
  • Peas
Buying already-started seedlings limits you to common varieties and one plant often costs more than a pack of seeds. But you start with a plant ready to go into the hole in the ground.

Some plants readily available as seedlings at the start of garden season include:
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Eggplant
  • Onions
  • Herbs
  • Basil

Some plants are just a toss up whether you should start from seeds or buy as seedlings. Lettuce, kale, and cabbage are becoming available but are easily started from seed in the garden.

Reading the Seed Pack:
Most seed packs and seedling ID tags list some key points of information.
  • Spacing between plants - this is the distance to leave between plants within the row or within a raised bed or container.
  • Spacing between rows - just as it sounds, space rows this far apart so you could walk down them when doing an old fashioned in-ground garden. If you’re growing in containers or raised beds, you don’t need to pay attention to this number.
  • Light requirement - how much light or time each day someone decided the plant should get. I’ve learned to take this as merely a suggestion. Some things, like greens, can easily be grown in the shade of taller tomato plants and may be better off for it by not being baked in the afternoon sun. Less sun won’t mean the plant dies tomorrow but will reduce its growth and vigor. Full sun is generally accepted as at least 6 hours of unshaded sunlight daily.
  • When to start the seed indoors, start the seed directly in the ground, or transplant outside. This number is usually a number of weeks before or after last frost.

What Are Last Frost Or First Frost Dates?
Vegetable planting dates are usually given in reference to the “last frost” date or the “first frost” date. These are the days which bookend where a hard frost or freeze will historically happen for your area, and between them, your frost-sensitive plants like tomatoes and peppers are safe outside. A simple search will let you know these dates or ask anyone at your local garden center.

You can gamble and plant before your “last frost” date, but one hard frost will irreparably damage a new tomato seedling. I always play it safe and plant seedlings out after the frost free date for my area (May 15th for me).

Laying Out My Garden:
Deciding where to plant things within a garden bed is not as complicated as some people want to make it. Here are a few suggestions:
  • Generally plant the tall crops to the north and the short crops to the south to reduce the tall things shading the short things.
  • Plant the high maintenance things close to the edge of a raised bed and the easy things in the harder to reach center. Bush beans require picking every few days once they are produced, and this task is made easier when you don’t have to reach over or through the kale.
  • Leave some space between the crops you need to dig out and those you don’t. The decision whether to dig out and harvest carrots is much harder if doing so will harm something like tomatoes or beans.
  • Put large vining crops like squash or cucumbers in the corner of a raised bed where they can run outside of the bed. Some of these plants are space hogs and will act like a python and take over the garden.
Take pictures of your garden weekly and save them for next year. The pictures will provide you with something to compare against and make for easier notes than trying to write things down as you see them.