The problem with gardening books is that they tell you WHAT to do, but not HOW to do it. And, every book has a different theory about how best to achieve a productive garden. If you are just starting, here’s one quick and easy plan – starting from a clean slate – to feed your family from your backyard – beginning this year.
What to Plant in Your Garden in The First Year
Internet search the “last frost date” for your area. Purchase 10 40-lb bags of potting soil. These bags are about 2’ wide by 3’ long – the perfect size for a planting bed.
Soon after your last frost, pick a sunny spot and lay bags end-to-end to form a planting bed your desired size. Cut out the top of the bag but leave the sides, forming something like a planter.
Poke holes in the bottom for drainage. Buy plant-starts at the garden center and plant directly into the bag. This is the easiest way to kill the grass and amend your soil without the labor and expense of tilling. Lay a soaker hose across the top to water. There! You’ve done it – in one afternoon. Don’t worry, Mother Nature knows what to do even if you don’t. Just plant something! You’ll harvest a full spectrum of healthy, tasty edibles in about three months.
Read more about it in Starter Vegetable Gardens by Barbara Pleasant
Most vegetables harvest in about 90 days. So, in July, do an Internet search to find how long your growing season is. You can probably plant a second crop and harvest food thru late fall.
In September, invest in a roll of plastic to build low tunnels thereby prolonging the growing season. If you do this, you don’t need a large plot to grow a lot of food. YouTube has several videos on building simple tunnels.
In October add a tumbling composter. Composting this year means you’ll have free, fertile soil next year. Invest in a good, used dehydrator (or create your own solar dehydrator), and learn to can. By preserving the harvest your family is able to save money and eat fresh thru the winter. Congratulations, you’ve learned a lot this year. Start a garden journal to help remember what tasks to do different next year.
What to Plant in Your 2nd Year
In January, start planning your garden. Request catalogues from heirloom seed companies like Baker Seed. Rather than purchasing plants from the nursery start heirloom veggies from seed. Watch YouTube videos, there are several good ones to learn how.
Plan to expand your garden. If your yard is small your might need to expand into the front yard. But don’t put the most recognizable ones – tomatoes, cucumbers or peppers in the front where they might disappear off the vine. Choose root crops like carrots, beets and potatoes and leafy crops like kale and celery for the front. Just blend them in with your ornamental shrubs. Review last year’s garden journal for things to do different this year.
Build a raised bed over last year’s growing area and add compost. Read all about it in Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. Buy new soil-bags and repeat last year’s method for the expanded planting area. .
Upgrade the watering system to drip irrigation made from ¾” PVC. You can buy a kit from most big box stores or online. Add a timer to make watering automatic. Add a large rain barrel to harvest water from a downspout. Instead of buying the standard 50-gal barrel, look to recycled IBC cubes that hold 270-330 gallons. The veggies prefer rain water over the chemically treated tap water, you’ll save on water utilities AND you’ll have a source of emergency water for your family.
In the fall, add berries – blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries. Berries don’t require any time – plant them and forget them until time to harvest or prune. Buy them in the fall for best prices.
In January, plan to expand the growing plot again. It’s probably too big to manage without the help of an online garden planner. As one example, search for the Mother Earth News Garden Planner. It’s around $25 per year – well worth the money in time and planning savings. With a garden planner you can view other people’s garden plots for inspiration. Some planners recommend where plants grow best, others send monthly emails with To-Do reminders. Most will recommend the needed square footage and number of plants, based on the number of people you feed.
If you have the average-size suburban yard, you’ll want to think “up” – growing vertical. You’ll need a few sturdy trellises. You could buy them or build them. Tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and melons are just a few plants that will grow up, saving valuable growing space in a small garden. This way you add herbs and flowers to attract bees and butterflies.
This is how I started and I grew a LOT of food with surprisingly little effort. Just start small and add something new each season.
Free How-To’s on YouTube:
- Lawns are Dumb, Grow Your Own Food http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=esTKFcTwxlI
- DIY Rainwater Collection System http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l4rJ4E3foa8
- DIY PVC Drip Irrigation System http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bwdQlANfwUo
- DIY Solar Powered Pump for Rain Barrel http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q48ReBDjLsA
- DIY Vertical Strawberry Tower http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVCTjfXY2iE
- Growing Vertically http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kMzjsCDJ7Hw
A garden planner allows you to see the garden layout and allows you to draw your planting areas on a grid.
The plant list tells you how many plants you’ll need, offers online resources for purchase, as well as a planting/growing/harvesting timeline. If you choose, you can get email reminders with a monthly To-Do list.