Popular humorist Dave Barry once opened one of his columns with, "I don't know about you, but for me, no activity in the world is quite as enjoyable as - this is a lie coming up here - gardening." A fear of parasites and grubs drives much of his aversion to gardening. Those of us less worried about the consequences of running across, "underground slime the color of spoiled mayonnaise," likely skew towards a more idyllic vision. Especially so when it comes to a vegetable garden. Though months removed from being able to enjoy the product of a vegetable garden, the cold of winter offers the perfect opportunity to plan.
Your Garden Area
If you plan to start your first vegetable garden in the spring, the best advice we can offer is to start small. Consider building a raised bed or growing vegetables in pots to get a feel for what works and what doesn't work. Better to start slow and grow into the right sized garden than it is to strategize over how best to get rid of the cucumber mountain on your kitchen counter.
Another important factor when considering where to put your garden: access to water.
Selecting Your Plants
The questions of What to Grow and When to Plant are largely governed by your geographical location. This news won't come as much of a shock to anyone but growing season in the north is longer than it is the south. You might have a shot at growing corn in Duluth, MN, but you sure won't be planting at the same time as your cousins in Houston. The web offers no shortage of colorful guides and maps on the topic. You would be well served to find the appropriate one for your state.
Know Your Conditions
Vegetables want full sunlight. As much of it as they can get. As often as they can get it.
Vegetables also like good air circulation, proper drainage, and healthy soil.
Most important of all, vegetables will also require proper watering. Best not to set your vegetable plot fifty feet away from the water spigot when you only have a forty foot hose.
Plan Your Materials
What you'll need to plant your upcoming vegetable garden depends on what you want to do. Plant pots or whiskey barrels would be necessary if you wanted to grow your garden in a container. A raised garden bed creates a need for the border - be it stone or wood (do not use railroad ties).
An existing garden could benefit from a soil test. Depending on the results, you may need to add organic matter such as compost or manure to bolster the health of the soil.
And fertilizer of course. Let's not forget fertilizer as a supplement to the nutrients in your soil. Different plants require different levels of fertilization. Before transferring your plants to the garden, make sure you understand their fertilization requirements. Your crop depends on it.
Prepare Your Area
Tilling is almost as much a part of agricultural history as the earth itself. Those who pass the long winter nights by mentally marking the days until a garden can be planted already know the benefits of the work.
For the uninitiated, the reason behind tilling is that hard soil needs to be loosened for it to absorb air and moisture necessary for plant roots to thrive, for landscaping to grow, and for gardens to produce a bounty of vegetables. The tools of choice for this activity are garden tillers and cultivators.
Tillers come in a wide variety of sizes and specifications. Some are better suited for light cultivation work in loose soil - a raised garden bed for example. Others are engineered to burrow deep into compacted earth. Choosing the right tiller isn't an exact science; the parameters include the size of the garden and the type of soil being tilled. Our experts offer the following insight into tiller selection:
- A cultivator is ideal for mixing potting and regular soil together or working fertilizer, manure, or compost into your soil mixture.
- A tiller is better suited for breaking up hard ground or loosening rocky soil.
For individuals with a garden tiller, you will need sharp tines once the time comes to start tilling. Make sure to check them before the start of the season - a replacement set may be in order if you can't recall the age of the tines or if they don't look to be in great shape for the work ahead. If your soil is particularly tough or rocky, consider upgrading to a set of hardened tines to help power through any challenge spring throws your way.
Eventually it will come time to turn the soil. For this task, we offer the following tips:
- Let the tines do the digging.
- Don't try to take too deep a cut in the first pass through sod or hard ground that has not been tilled for several months or years. It is very unlikely that you will achieve the desired tilling depth on the first pass; start shallow and continue to go deeper with each succeeding path.
- Always wait 1-2 days after heavy rains for the ground to dry before tilling. It is best not to work the soil when it is too soggy or wet. Doing so will generate clumps of dirt. Much like the last deviled egg on a deli tray, no one wants hard to break up clumps.
- Always be sure to avoid coming too close to obstacles (fences, rock walls, posts, buildings, etc.) that could be damaged by or cause damage to your tiller. Tilling close to an obstacle isn't worth potential and unexpected property damage.
- Avoid areas that have - or could have - underground cables, wires or gas lines.
- For garden tiller operation tips from MTD Genuine Parts, read, How to Use a Garden Tiller
Not everyone has a green thumb. Some may even agree with David Barry's assessment of gardening. However, with the proper amount of planning and no small amount of hard work we suspect most will agree with this Chinese proverb: life begins the day you start a garden.