Last spring was our first year planting a garden. I have to say, I was so intimidated by the whole idea of growing our own food. I was petrified that I would put all this time, money, and effort into something that wouldn’t work out. We also made a lot of mistakes. I started my seeds indoors way too early and I bought cheap seeds. Some didn’t sprout and the ones that did, didn’t produce anything for us. In the end though, after we got all our kinks worked out, things came together. We ended up with 8 heads of cabbage, 8 green bean plants that produced every day, 4 green pepper plants that kept us in peppers until late October and about 12 tomato plants that produced so much I still have some in my freezer!
We could have avoided the early seed starting, having to go buy starter plants, all the weeds, the bout of blight that attacked four of our plants and the failed cucumbers, watermelons and carrots had we had a plan in place and did our research. This year, we plan on doing things a bit differently and we have already started putting our plan in place for our garden. We have high hopes that maybe this year, we can grow enough that we won’t have to purchase any of our most loved vegetables and fruit from the grocery store.
Planning Your First Family Garden
Don’t go too big
We decided to use the same spot my uncle had gardened in for over 50 years. Granted, he hadn’t gardened in about 10 years, but, we knew due to his past success that the soil had to be good. Once we got everything mapped out and tilled, we decided to double the garden’s size and extend it further out so we could plant more than just a few things. Looking back, I wish I would have just used the spot my uncle had used and then extended after I learned from all my mistakes. By doubling the size, I wasn’t prepared for the amount of weeds I was going to be dealing with. That really was my biggest issue with going bigger, but for many families, too big could mean more vegetables than you would actually use.
Pick out your spot
Once you know how big you want your garden to be, figuring out where you are going to put your garden is the next step. Try to find a location that has pretty good sunlight. Vegetables need approximately 6 hours worth of sun each day, so be sure that the spot you pick can accommodate you there.
Have your soil tested to be sure that the area you are planting in is good soil. You will want to add nutrients to your soil with compost from your kitchen, manure, rabbit droppings, chicken manure, bone meal, blood meal and any other organic material you can find. This will all feed our soil, help to make it healthy and encourage your plants to grow and produce. Your soil will need to have a pH balance of 6.0 to 6.8.
Also, be sure that your garden spot has good drainage. You definitely don’t want to be planting your garden in a spot that floods every time it rains.
Map it all out
You are first going to want to sketch out your garden on paper. Draw how big your garden is going to be and then put an x where each seed is going to be planted. You may also want to abbreviate it with what you are going to plant. T for tomato, GB for green beans, S for strawberries, and so on. You will want to keep this so you can refer back to it when you plant again in the future. Trust me, you will not remember what you planted where if you don’t keep a log of it and this is a great starting point. My husband did this last year and it is really helping me figure out what needs to go where this year.
Decide what you would like to plant
This can be so exciting! We sat down with our little people and asked everyone to request one thing that they’d like to grow in the garden. We made a list and placed our order based off of what everyone’s requests were. There are 9 of us and I expected a lot of variety and I wasn’t disappointed! Once you decide, be sure to do your research on what each plant needs in order to grow and produce for you.
Order only quality seeds
Last year I made the big mistake thinking I could just buy dollar store cheapy seeds. Boy was that a big mistake! Sure, they may be .25 a pack, but they are most likely GMO seeds and they aren’t good quality. None of them produced for me, not a single one. I ended up having to go buy starter plants just so I could have what I needed to feed my family through the summer. I didn’t even have enough to preserve to get me through the winter and I had to buy canned veggies to replace what I couldn’t can. That .25 cents just became a lot more and it didn’t turn out very healthy either. This year we bought our seeds from Baker Creek. They are non-GMO, heirloom seeds, which means I’m not getting the chemicals and I’ll be able to save seeds from the plants I grow forever, saving me money in the long run!
Shop Baker Creek
Stake your garden out
Once it’s a warmer day, the snow has begun to melt and the ground in a bit softer, take a walk out to your planned garden spot and begin the task of mapping out your garden.
Items you’ll need
- Tape measure
- String – lots of it
- 12 to 18 inch spikes
Stake out your four corners and then mark with a rock or some other kind of marker where you’d like each plant to be. Keep in mind that you will want your rows to run east to west and you will want to plant the tallest plants at the northern end of your garden. This will ensure that your plants receive enough sunlight.
You might also decide now is a good time to till your garden. You can do this by hand or with a rototiller. If your garden is big, you are going to want to use a rototiller. The amount of time it took to do our’s by hand was insane. We didn’t get too far in before we decided to invest in a rototiller. It saved us time and a lot of back-breaking work. Be sure to feed your soil with compost and organic fertilizer like chicken manure, horse/cow manure, blood meal, bone meal and/or compost tea.
Consider raised beds
Initially yes, they do cost more money. But….they can be made out of pallets if you’d like to save a few bucks. We didn’t do raised beds last year and this is one major improvement we are definitely making this Spring. There are so many benefits to having raised beds as opposed to just planting straight into the ground.
- Much better weed control
- Less chance of you, kids or animals from walking on your plants
- Your roots will spread out and grow better
- Better drainage
- Longer growing season – Raised beds warm up quicker, so you’ll be able to plant earlier than you expected. You can also turn them into mini-green houses and extend your season into the winter.
Know when to plant
Everyone around me started planting in April, which was a big mistake. They didn’t realize that we could get major frost right up until Mother’s Day weekend and frost is quite dangerous for seedlings. Had they waited until Mother’s Day weekend, they would have had better chances of producing what they wanted. But, the frost hit their seedlings hard and they lost most of they were trying to grow. Be sure to time it right and plant during the time that is safe for your zone. Find your zone out here: Plant Hardiness
You can also use this nifty tool to help you plan out your garden: Vegetable Garden Planner