Growing a Green Thumb: Tips for Beginning Gardeners

by Wellness Editor – MH

When it comes to rewarding personal hobbies, it’s hard to top gardening. Working in a garden gets you off of the couch and into the sunlight, and the fruits of your labor are far more nutritious than most fare sold at the supermarket. Unfortunately, many people are discouraged from gardening due to their lack of knowledge and experience on the subject. While these feelings are certainly understandable, starting a garden is far from rocket science; by adhering to a sound blueprint, you could soon find yourself eating your own homegrown fruits and veggies.

Set Aside Enough Space – People new to gardening might have the idea that gardens take up a lot of real estate. In fact, only a small amount of space is needed for a productive garden. For novice gardeners, four square feet of yard space should be sufficient.

Used Raised Beds – To better organize your garden, surround its exterior with 6 inch high raised beds. Raised beds are simply bottomless wooden containers that prevent the garden’s soil from spilling out from its allotted area. As an added benefit, raised beds provide plants with sufficient room to spread their roots.

Pick a Prime Location – Before setting up shop, you should take into account the location of your future garden. Chances are, some areas of your yard receive much more sunlight than others. Of course, given that fruit and vegetable plants are powered by the sun’s rays, the location of your garden has a great deal of say as to how successful your efforts will be.

A good spot to pick would be alongside a wall or fence that gets a good amount of sunlight. The lone drawback to such a choice is that walls and fences tend to block rainwater from reaching your garden’s soil. To remedy this problem, gardeners often keep a compost heap near their gardens. When it comes time to once again plant their fruits and veggies, this compost is used to moisturize the garden’s soil.

Weed Out the Weeds – It’s unfortunate, but sadly true; all of your efforts to organize and manage a successful garden can be sabotaged by troublesome weeds. Weeds have long been the bane of existence for those seeking to maintain picture-perfect lawns; they spread like wildfire, are unappealing to the eye and are seemingly impossible to get rid of. Even if weeds are temporarily killed off by weed killers, they always seem to come back with a vengeance the following spring (if only fruit and vegetable plants were this common and resilient!).

As if their cosmetic impact weren’t bad enough, uncontrolled weeds can be the death knell of a budding garden. By their mere presence alone, weeds divert much needed nutrients, water and sunlight from your garden’s plants to themselves. They also serve as hideouts for plant-killing insects, and can act as launching pads for vegetable diseases.

To eliminate weeds before they become a problem, gardeners rely mostly on two gardening tools – the hoe and garden tiller. Before planting their veggies and fruits, a gardener will often rake their garden’s soil with the hoe, effectively crippling the root system of the targeted weeds.

If necessary, a gardener may also use a garden tiller to finish the job. Garden tillers work similar to plows, in that they are pushed through the soil with a pair of handles. Tillers use rotating blades to disturb the soil used by weeds, which in turn deprives weeds of the fuel they need to grow and survive. Unless you’re planning on starting a particularly large garden, use a miniature sized tiller to eliminate weeds. Weeding can also be performed the old-fashioned way – by hand (though rest assured that this is usually considered tiring and tedious chore).

Stock Up on the Proper Equipment – Gardening can be a very enjoyable activity, but it can easily lose its luster if you lack the tools for the job. To reap the best results possible from your hours of hard work, make sure to pick up a hoe, tiller, gardening spade, gardening fork, watering can, hose, gloves, rake and some boots.

Easy Veggies for Beginners to Grow

Once all of your preparations are set, you can then turn your attention to the most obvious issue – what veggies should you grow? While answering this question might appear challenging, there are actually several great-tasting vegetables that are fairly easy to grow.

Peas – Peas can be planted as soon as the ground thaws and is no longer frozen. Though this will usually occur 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost of the year, your pea plants should emerge unscathed. Since pea plants need about 6 hours of sunlight each day, position your peas in an area that receive ample sunlight. Peas are usually ready for harvest by the early summer, and pea plants can produce ripe pea pods up through the year’s first frost.

Lettuce – When it comes to growing lettuce, a gardener has plenty of options, including iceberg, romaine, red leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce, oak leaf and Boston lettuce. When the head of the lettuce becomes firm, the plant is usually ready to be harvested.

Carrots – It takes about 2 months for carrots to mature, although some farmers prefer to harvest them earlier. When the plant is nearing the end of its growth cycle, a small orange “head” or “crown” will emerge from the surface of the soil. If you are forced to work with rocky soil, then plant baby-sized versions of this popular veggie.

Spinach – Timing is important when growing spinach. This leafy green plant grows at a meteoric rate, but can quickly go bad once it encounters warm weather. Because of this, experienced gardeners typically plant their spinach in the opening weeks of spring, and proceed to harvest the plant 6 weeks later.

Tomatoes – This popular fruit (yup, tomatoes are technically a fruit, not a vegetable) can be planted right after the last frost of the year has passed. Plant your tomato seeds towards the center of your garden, since sunlight is especially crucial for the growth of tomato plants.

For optimal results, it is best for your garden’s soil to contain little to no acid. The acidity of soil can be determined by its pH measurement; to grow tomatoes, aim for a reading between 6 and 7 (soil pH is measured with pH meters, which can be bought cheaply at hardware stores). If your garden’s pH reading falls outside of this desired range, fear not; pH levels can be increased with lime and decreased with sulfur.

Radishes – Radishes and tomatoes don’t have much in common; in fact, they don’t even share the same food classification (radishes are root veggies). Both plants, however, tend to yield the best results when grown in soil with a pH level between 6 and 7. And just like tomatoes, radishes need a steady stream of sunlight in order to properly grow. A radish plant will also need to be lightly watered every couple of days.

In the plus column, radish plants grow like weeds. Radishes tend to be ripe for the picking only weeks after being planted. As with spinach, timing is important, since radishes can begin to rot if not harvested quickly enough.

Zucchini – Of all the veggies (and one fruit) on this list, zucchini has the most interesting back story by far. This oblong-shaped plant did not even exist until the late 19th century. Rather, the origins of zucchini can be traced back to the squash of South and Central America, which was introduced to European markets by none other than Christopher Columbus. During the late 1800s, some squash near the Italian city of Milan underwent a freak mutation. The result of this chance metamorphosis is what we call zucchini.

Planting zucchini take a bit of extra effort. Zucchini seeds are usually planted in small heaps of soil or compost. These piles should be roughly a foot high and a few feet in length, with several seeds mixed into each pile. Position each mound about three feet from each other, and shower them with water every other day.

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