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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Embrace Vegetable Gardens For A Happier Life

I’m one of those kinds of gardeners, the kind who think that if you have a sunny spot with decent soil, you should grow some vegetables.

In every place I’ve gardened, the first order of gardening business has always been to determine where the vegetable garden will be. Then I figure out what to do in the rest of the space.

I won’t apologize for it, debate it, or shy way from it. I enjoy growing vegetables.

In fact, I think every person, whether they consider themselves a gardener or not, ought to find a little sunny spot and grow different kinds of vegetables like tomatoes, beans, squash, peppers, or whatever vegetable they like to eat that will grow in their climate.

I simply proclaim…

Embrace vegetable gardens for a happier life.


We gardeners who grow vegetables need to be ready to help others embrace this higher form of gardening because if polls and speculators are correct, it’s becoming more popular every year.

With that in mind, here are my top six tips for the first time vegetable gardener.

Start small. In a space as small as eight feet by four feet, you can grow a few tomato plants, some peppers, a row or two of beans and a hill of squash. That’s a good start, especially in a zone 5 garden here in the Midwestern United States.

Plant in raised beds. It is much easier to start and tend a raised bed garden than it is to till up a big space. You can build a simple frame out of any untreated lumber, place it on a fairly flat space, layer the ground with newspapers, dump in some top soil, and plant. While this is best done in the fall to give the grass time to die and decompose, it can also be done in the spring. I use 1 x 6 boards for the frames for my raised beds.

Start with plants and “big seeds’. Buy a few tomato and pepper plants for your first garden and the ‘big seeds” like beans and squash that can all be planted in the garden at the same time, once the danger of frost has passed.

Mulch around the plants. To keep weeds down, add a layer of mulch around the plants. This is optional and can be any cheap mulch, but if you don’t do this, be prepared to embrace weeding, because weeds will grow in your new garden.

Fertilize and water. The fast growing vegetable plants will do better with regular applications of a good organic fertilizer, which can be purchased at a local garden center. And if it doesn’t rain for a week or so, water the plants well, giving them a good, long drink, not just a sprinkle.

Harvest and enjoy. Even with a small a garden, you will be amazed at how many vegetables you will harvest and how good they will taste!

Then after you’ve embraced vegetable gardens with a small gardening plot, you can expand your garden and start the season sooner and end it later, adding more types and varieties of vegetables.

If you are now ready to embrace vegetable gardens, you might also check out a few books including some of the classics like Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholemew and Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long by Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch.

Embrace vegetable gardens for a happier life!

(Yes, growing vegetables is that easy, most of the time. But every once in a while you might encounter some insects that want your vegetables as much as you do, and maybe a rabbit might get in your garden and eat through a row of beans. But don’t get too worried about these possible pests, until you see which ones will be a problem in your garden. Then you can deal with them, one pest at a time.)

30 comments:

Nancy said...

I'm sneaking more veggies in the front bed again, under the noses of the HOA (I hope)

Karen said...

I know some gardeners who refuse to plant flowers, as they consider them a waste of otherwise-veggie-worthy space! I am going to plant a few more square feet this year, maybe a hill of squash for fun and excitement. Your patch is amazing! Love the tall stuff like corns and the bean (?) teepee. Does summer feel like it's every going to be here?

Yolanda Elizabet said...

Is it embracing time again? For me it's preaching to the choir, but hopefully you'll make a few converts. Growing your own veg and fruit is such a joy and you won't even need a special plot, just putting them in your flowerbed amidst the flowers will do just fine too.

shibaguyz said...

WOOHOO!! for veggie gardeners!! Sorry... just had to throw that in there. hehehe...

Lisa at Greenbow said...

I always get the urge to embrace vegetables growing in my garden this time of year. Then when I can actually get out there to work I get so caught up in the routine maintenance of what is already planted that I don't get the veggies properly embraced. Maybe one of these years I will actually get a veggie garden started. Ilove the idea of raised beds.

Jan said...

I think it is great that you grow vegetables. I don't grow many because there is so much shade in our garden, and places where there is abundant sun are inappropriate for vegetables. In the case of vegetables it is so satisfying to reap what you sow.

Earth Girl said...

Carol, you outlined my personal veggie history: a few tomato and pepper plants, a raised bed, a large fenced garden, and then last fall I created a new bed so I could expand my vining crops. And I thank you for an excellent outline for the talk I agreed to give in March.

Here's a question, though: In a small garden, how do you handle rotation of tomatoes, peppers and potatoes to prevent disease? Unfortunately, my word verification on this comment is faileral!

Darla said...

We are trying another area to plant veggies, have not had much luck.

Dee/reddirtramblings said...

My garden started out as just a veggie garden. Now, it is a mixture of both. I always grow some here and there. You advice is wonderful, and this is an important post.~~Dee

Daphne said...

My vegetable garden is my real love. I couldn't imagine having a house without having a place to grow vegetables. I do surround my garden with flowers to make it pretty. It is in full view of anyone walking by. I don't do the raised beds. I have terraced beds, which means it is raised on one side (about 8") and level with the paths on the other side.

Theresa Loe/GardenFreshLiving said...

Right on Carol! We are with you all the way. Lets get more people to grow veggies.

For years, I have tucked veggies into my front flowerbeds. I get such a kick out of it when someone notices and says "Is THAT celery growing next to your roses?!" or "What is that plant?" and I watch the look on their face when I say carrots or potatoes.

So funny. It is like I have broken some rule and could be hauled away at any second!!! Then they always smile and decide to pop a few veggies into their own front yard. Yippee!

Dave said...

Good post! I think everyone should at least try to grow a few things for eating. You get such a sense of satisfaction when you eat a vegetable you've grown yourself!

Anne (in Reno) said...

I can't wait for the last frost so I can plant my veggies! Unfortunately, that looks like about four more months. So I guess I am seed starting indoors for a while, sigh. For the first time I have two nice raised beds in the sunny spot in my garden, the only veggies I have succeeded with so far are a couple of bean teepees in my part-sun perennial border, and they were awesome! I am trying to prioritize my raised beds and not get in over my head, but I got on somebody's mailing list so I am getting gorgeous seed catalogs left and right!

I'm thinking reasonably, start with tomatoes, peppers and zucchini, but the catalogs are tempting me with carrots and radishes and a whole slew of lettuces. I just worry about overcrowding my beds! Can you give any hints on how much space I should give my veggies?

Cindy, My Corner of Katy said...

Carol, this is just the post a non-veggie grower like me needs! As you know, I'm more of a flower gardener and I'm reluctant to give up that much of a sunny area to veggies. Before you start fussing at me, hear me out: I recently realized that there's a large open space in the front where I could put some planter boxes/raised beds. Done right, they'll still look ornamental enough to fool, I mean satisfy, the yard police.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

Good advice! I wish my mom & I had known about the benefits of mulch when she rented part of a farm field for our huge veggie garden back when I was in high school. Speaking from painful personal experience, I strongly recommend mulching, as one can only embrace weeding for so long before tiring of it.

Gail said...

Excellent points Carol...I am adding Chard and I think asparagus to the mix. I already spread herbs around the sunny bed. I wish I could recruit Mr I to garden...he would be good with vegetables. gail

Annie in Austin said...

Attempts at Embracing Vegetable Gardening here in Austin sometimes resemble the Widow Douglas trying to hug Huck Finn...you can chase him but you can't make him hug back!

It does sound pleasant to starting a vegetable garden on an empty plot in Indiana. On our shaded lots choked with tree roots, with shallow soil, rocks, heat, drought, critters and no real winter to kill off disease and pests, we Austin gardeners may be embracing vegetable gardening for the challenge and the risk rather than the reward.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Daffodil Planter said...

Carol, You are very persuasive! My mind put on the brakes at the words "raised beds" because I know we would never even buy the lumber, let alone do the rest of it--but I now have the firm intention of tucking veggies in amongst the flowers.

Anonymous said...

That's funny, I actually started my first veggie garden in just that...an 8'x4' plot behind the apartment my (now) husband and I rented when we first lived together. Now I have 7 raised beds for veggies which year by year gets surrounded by more perennials and annuals...it's addictive. I'm branching out with corn this year, and with our dogs in the fenced-in portion right next to the veggie garden, I'm hoping they keep the raccoons away by scent or something. I can dream, can't I???

Robin Wedewer said...

You're quite right about how much food a small garden can produce. Especially if it's zucchini.

Looking at your garden photo reminds me again how much food you produce. I'm still baffled about what you do with it all!

Robin Wedewer

gardenerprogress/Catherine said...

I've also found that growing your own veges make them much more appealing to kids. My daughters will snack on snap peas and carrots while playing in the yard.

Naturegirl said...

Carol: I must admit that I have planted a few tomatoes here and there but not seriously planned a veggie garden. I think the raised garden patch suits my garden and will give it a go this Spring. Happy planting..soon I hope! NG =^.^=

Sue said...

When I first started, I was a veggie and fruit gardener with flowers and herbs thrown in here and there. Now, I have more flowers, and they seem to do better than some of my vegetables. I have troubles with insects and diseases, and don't like to use chemicals.

My original reason for wanting to make the flower beds in the rest of the yard larger was to try some tomato and other plants in them. I did it more when I first started, and then ended up filling the spaces with flowers. I'm thinking about putting some tomatoes and cucumbers in the new bed in the front, but don't tell my husband. ;o)

I enjoyed your post, and the info was great. I also recommend leaf lettuce early in the spring, for those who like fresh salads.

mss @ Zanthan Gardens said...

As my yard has gotten shadier and shadier over the last 15 years, I've devoted less and less time to growing vegetables. But last fall I decided to embrace veggies again and I'm so glad I did.

I'm absolutely sold on the idea of raised beds. I have only one so far but not only does it make it easier to tend the veggies, it makes it easier to maintain the soil. After years of fruitlessly amending my soil (amendments break down very quickly in our hot, humid weather), I lined the raised bed and filled it with garden soil/compost from the Natural Gardener (our organic nursery here in Austin).

So far I've enjoyed arugula, peas, broccoli, chard and parsley. I won't be able to use this garden in the summer because it's in the shade then...but I'll use it for seed starting.

I hope your post encourages other people to try veggies.

Pat Leuchtman said...

Weeds will grow in ANY garden! I mulch and weed. But with limited weeds it can be a nice meditative task and not very far removed from just playing in the dirt. I definitely agree that it is very encouraging for a new gardener to start with plants and big seeds. The plant strategy works for anyone who found the season got away from them, too.

Lancashire rose said...

There is nothing to beat the taste of a home grown tomato or strawberries. I agree raised beds is the way to go. I'm not sure there is a saving but who cares about that.

trishia said...

I am SO happy to have found your blog! My husband and I just moved our five children to the country, after 8 years of being in a city with pretty much no yard. I'm already dreaming of the garden we'll have, and I believe your blog will come in super handy! looking forward to all the insight you'll be sharing in the months to come, and I'll be reading the archives as time allows.

Robbie said...

You forgot to add that onions are very, very easy to grow. They are practically fool-proof! Simply add some onion sets from your local garden shop, plant, water every now and then, and they do the rest.

garden girl said...

Carol, I'm delightfully embracing veggie gardening once again after my husband (finally, albiet anxiously(!) agreed to give up some of his precious lawn in our small but sunny side yard.

This is the first house I've ever lived in without a veggie garden, and I'm glad my patient but insistent efforts have finally prevailed!

Watch My Food Grow said...

I'm hooked on my home vegetable garden. So hooked, in fact, I setup a live streaming webcam so I could watch my food grow no matter where I happened to be. (Heck, you can watch my garden, too, if you have nothing better to do.)

Strange, too, is that I just got into gardening a few weeks ago on a whim. The local nursery has just added a huge 'grow your own' section and the rows and rows of wonderful vegetables (12 types of tomatoes!) was too much to resist.

Within a matter of days, I had built a box and loaded it with half a ton of good soil. I know backyard gardens are cyclical and my mood will change in a couple years. However, in the meantime, I'm eating food from my own garden!

Seeing a garden the size of yours makes me want to expand my little four by eight foot plot.

—Farmer matt