Growing a garden is a fun family activity. I just want to let you know I may receive a commission if you purchase something mentioned in this post. See more details here.
Prepare Your Garden Spot
To begin your garden you first need to prepare a garden spot. You may need to kill the vegetation that is growing in the spot first. This can be done in a variety of ways. Through the use of chemicals weeds and grass can be killed, but if you choose this method you will need to amend the soil to restore the natural balance. Another method is to cover the area with cardboard for a few weeks until all the vegetation dies. A third method would be to dig or till the area. This works well if the area is only covered in weeds. If you have grass growing in your area you may need to do more than till, since many grasses propagate through rhizomes.
After you have chosen a spot it is a good idea to amend the soil with some compost to add nutrients to the soil. We add compost every spring to our garden.
Some other things you may choose to do are:
- Fence the area in order to keep out deer or other wild animals. We installed 6 foot tall horse fencing around our garden area.
- Put down a ground cover to keep weeds from coming up. We also put this down in some areas, leaving an 18 inch section between each sheet of ground cover for our row crops. We than cut holes in the ground cover for crops like squash, cucumbers, melons, cabbage, peppers, and more.
- install a watering system to make it easier to water your crop without dragging a hose. We water our garden from an irrigation canal that we have piped in so we don’t need to pump water. We use both rain birds and drip line.
- build a cold tunnel to extend the growing season. We have 2 cold tunnels that measure 8 ft by 30 ft. This is where we plant tomatoes, onions, and sweet potatoes. Our tomatoes often grow 6 plus feet tall in the cold tunnels during the summer. Many plants can be started in a cold tunnel as early as March or April in the mountain west.
- Add a mulch such as wood chips to protect against weeds and to increase the amount of time moisture is held close to the plant root. We have used this method for a few of our crops, like potatoes and carrots. It is a lot easier to dig in when harvesting root vegetables. We plan to try strawberries in the wood mulch next year. I have been told that if you cover them in the fall with more mulch then only the young strawberries come through the mulch the next year.
Decide What to Grow in Your Garden
Once you have an area ready the next step is to decide what you want to grow. Make a list of the foods your family will eat and decide if you have room for them in your garden. We grow a large garden and plant many varieties of vegetables to preserve for our family all year.
Some of the things we grow are:
- squash; zucchini, butternut, yellow squash, spaghetti squash. Squash is easy to grow and does well in our area.
- peppers; jalapeno, banana pepper, bells, cayenne, and chili peppers.
- sweet potatoes
- pumpkins; both sugar pie and some for Halloween
- herbs; lavender, mint, bee balm, chives, thyme, basil, dill, and many more
Some things you can plant once and they will produce for years, like the raspberries and most other fruits. We have two 100 foot long rows of raspberries and harvest all we can eat and share with our children and their families. Our freezers are filled with raspberries, and our storage shelves have lots of jam and syrup. It is so nice to have some crops that you don’t have to plant every year.
What plants will you start indoors before planting in the garden?
There are many plants that you can start indoors before the season to insure a more plentiful harvest. some of these include tomatoes, onions, peppers, cabbage, broccoli, celery, spinach, and squash.
It is a good idea to have a small fan running in the room where you are starting your plants because that will promote strength to the plant as it grows. You will also want to place the start in a sunny location: like a south or west window. Additionally you can add grow lights above the plants. I have had good success with using my south window and a florescent light above the plants.
Some of the plants that can be started indoors from seed and transplanted to the garden are:
vegetable Weeks to transplant min. sun required frost tolerance
- cabbage 6-8 weeks 5 hrs daily hardy
- Cauliflower/ broccoli 4-5 weeks 6 hrs daily hardy
- celery 10 weeks 5 hrs daily hardy
- corn, sweet 4 weeks full sun none
- cucumber 4 weeks 5 hrs daily none
- eggplant 6-10 weeks full sun none
- lettuce 4-6 weeks 5 hrs daily hardy
- Onion 16-20 weeks 5 hrs daily hardy
- peppers 6-8 weeks 6 hrs daily none
- pumpkin 4 weeks full sun none
- squash 4 weeks full sun none
- tomatoes 6-10 weeks 8 hr full sun none
- melons 3-4 weeks full sun none
When starting plants indoors always use a good commercial grade potting soil. I buy or reuse planting trays, but you could also use paper cups or egg cartons. put 1-2 seed per cup and thin if necessary as they mature. It is a good idea to wet the soil first, then use a spray bottle to water or water from the bottom until the seed is established, since pouring water on top of the seed can cause it to roll and disturb the germination. keep the soil moist and watch your plants grow. most other vegetables should be direct seeded into the garden.
Preparing Tomato Starts for the Garden
When starting tomatoes you will need to transplant them a few times before planting into the garden. I start in a 2 in pot and transplant into a larger container. Do this when the plants are about 6-8 in tall. I always place the plant at the bottom of the new pot. remove the lower leaves from the plant and cover with dirt leaving only about 2-3 inches sticking out. This promotes a better root for your plant and thereby gives you a stronger plant and a better production. This can be done using a deeper and bigger pot each time. I usually try to have them into a gallon size pot by the time I transplant into the garden.
Planting Seeds in the Garden
When direct seeding, start by wetting the soil in your row or area that you are planting in. You should plant the seed at a depth that is twice the thickness of the seed. The seed packets usually give spacing within the row, as well as between rows, but most rows can be a lot closer together if you have a small garden spot. for instance, when I plant peas I plant 3-4 rows side by side. When planting onions I place the starts or sets about 6 inches apart. Think about how big the plant gets and adjust spacing for the final size.
Some plants like lettuce and beets may need to be thinned as they grow. this gives you some baby greens to eat early on in the growing season.
View a Video of our gardening class here.