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Vegetable Garden: Tips for Beginners

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I’ve learned a few things in my little gardening journey and thought I’d share a few tips that I wish I had known when I was starting out. But first, an update on my own plants:

Broccoli is getting bigger every day

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Onions are looking good!

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Red lettuce is …very red

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New plant alert!

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Baby Kale. Awww

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More babies: carrots this time

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Arugula is adorable

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and here’s my three beds now:

BED #1 {so far}  : Arugula, Kale, Spinach and Carrots

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BED #2 {so far} : Italian Basil, Lemon Basil, Thai Basil, Italian Parsley and Cilantro

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BED #3 {so far} : Yellow Onions, Italian Basil, Red Lettuce, Ice Leaf Lettuce, Poblano Pepper, Broccoli and Cilantro

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Now, here are the promised tips for those of you just getting started with gardening

a.k.a.  Things I Wish I Known When I Started A Vegetable Garden

  • If possible, buy local or heirloom plants from a Farmers’ Market or co-op. Those giant tomato plants that Walmart has in February? Yeah, chances are they were grown in a greenhouse thousands of miles away so they won’t adapt very well to your soil and climate.
  • Add mulch around base of plants *new for me this year!* Mulch helps keep water in the soil, moderates the soil temperature, and prevents weeds from sprouting.
  • Water early and often. Vegetable plants are not like house plants. They need almost constant watering in the beginning and sometimes twice a day in extreme heat. The best time to water is early morning, but I water just before sunset a lot as well.

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  • Plant tomatoes deep. Pinch off all but the top two sets of tomato leaves and bury the tomato all the way up to the (now) bottom set of leaves. Tomato plants get really heavy when full of ripe tomatoes, so they need a good, deeply rooted base.
  • Companion planting. Plant flowers (pollinators in garden lingo) to ward off pests. Good ones are marigolds and nasturtium and dill.

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Support

Many veggies need support to grow well. Peppers and eggplants (although I’ve never grown the latter) do well when individually staked. Tomatoes, cucumbers, and pole beans prefer to climb up and through trellises and cages.

Place stakes and cages around new vegetables right after you plant them. Once the roots begin to grow, it’s harder to maneuver around them. Tomatoes especially have brittle stems and are hard to wrangle after they start growing

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Harvesting

Pick vegetables when they’re ripe to keep the plants producing. Tomatoes and peppers turn colors when they’re ready. Pick zucchini when the flower on the end of the fruit starts to wither.

Lettuce, kale and other greens can be picked from the outside in, until they start to flower. Broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage should be picked when the heads swell and still look tight.

Pick herbs from the top and outside. With all herbs, you want to cut the herb just above a set of growing leaves. If you don’t trim basil aggressively, it will continue to grow straight up, and become too tall and top-heavy. Making your first trim approximately 3-4” above the soil gives you a nice sturdy plant.

“When you are just starting out it seems to make so much sense to pick off a few big leaves around the bottom of the plant, and let those tender little guys at the top keep growing. Wrong. Leave those large tough old guys at the bottom alone. They are the solar panels that power your herb’s growth. Once your plant is big enough to sustain a decent harvest, keep on taking from the top, as you have been when you were pruning. That way you get all those tender new herbs that are so tasty, and your plant gets to keep its well developed solar power system in place. Plus, if you pluck from the base and leave the top intact, you get a tall skinny plant that will flop over from its own weight (and yes, I know this from experience). When you pluck from the top, instead of clipping off just below a pair of leaves, you want to clip off just above a pair of leaves. It is a bit counter-intuitive as a novice, but trust me it works. The place where the leaf joins the stem is where new growth will occur when your plant sends off new stems in a V.” –source

Two of my favorite sources for tips and information:

this book:

Beginner’s Illustrated Guide to Gardening: Techniques to Help You Get Started

and Emily’s My Square Food Garden blog.

I hope this helps! Feel free to send any gardening questions my way. I’ m no expert, but I’ve picked up a few tricks along my raised bed gardening journey.

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Vegetable Garden: Expansion & Improvements

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Okay, where did we last leave off in the garden department?

Ahh, yes. I had weeded and cleaned up last year’s beds. Then I laid down weed fabric for the new beds. One of my biggest mistakes last year was not securing the weed fabric to the ground well enough. We had some flooding last April and it caused the fabric to shift, allowing for weeds to grow through the mulch.

This time, I secured the weed fabric every few feet with landscape pins.

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Once the fabric was all secured, I assembled my two new raised beds.

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Several trips to the store later, I had enough dirt and compost to fill the beds.

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Like last year, I used a mix of roughly 1/2 compost, 1/4 potting soil and 1/4 peat moss. I added a little to last year’s beds and mixed it thoroughly with the old soil. I also spread more red mulch around the entire area.

 

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Remember that nice color coded plan I made for this year? Well, I don’t know about where you live, but it was 80 degrees in Northwest Arkansas for almost all of March and part of February. So let’s just say my frost timeline was thrown off just a tad.

Despite the unseasonably warm temps, I tried to stick to the schedule as much as possible. With the help of my wonderful assistant/neighbor, I planted broccoli, onion sets, spinach and carrot seeds and Italian parsley about two weeks ago.

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Oh, and I can’t forget about my canine assistant. She was oh so helpful  jumping around in weeding the beds.

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Another thing I did differently this year was the addition of compostable pine bark mulch to the beds and around the established plants.

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The mulch will break down by next year and will become compost for the soil. It protects the plants from wind/rain damage and keeps moisture in the ground.

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Pretty soon the garden looked like this.

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Quite the improvement from this, yes?

Since these photos, I’ve actually planted lettuce, dill, basil and kale as well. More photos and updates coming soon. Obviously.

Anyone else started their spring garden yet?

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