How to Start a Vegetable & Herb Garden
There is nothing better than being able to walk outside and pick fresh vegetables and herbs from the garden. It is so easy to take care of and healthier for you. Why is it healthier for you? Because you do not have to use pesticides to keep your plants healthy. In fact, there are natural ways to avoid common pests, which I will discuss later.
Another benefit of having a garden is you can preserve the veggies or dry the herbs to have fresh garden flavors well into the winter. If you are really ambitious and have the space, you can even garden in the winter. I don't have a large backyard so I do not have a winter garden. But my dream is to be able to garden in the winter one day.
This year, I decided to expand the vegetable and herb garden. The gardens I had last year were primarily flowers and I grew peppers, eggplant and basil. The peppers just kept growing and growing, well into October. It was so nice to walk outside to grab a couple of peppers and make stuffed peppers for dinner or use them in sautes.
I bought raised beds from Costco to create my gardens. But if you have concrete blocks, bricks or even want to build the garden using wood, there are all sorts of solutions for how to build a raised garden bed. I liked the Costco raised beds because they are lightweight, portable and lasted during a tough Northeast winter! I didn't cover them or protect them. Also, they are modular so you can create the design you want or just have two square beds as shown below.
I highly recommend creating a raised bed so you can control the soil and add manure to help the soil have rich nutrients for the plants. If you simply dig into the ground, there is no telling what type of condition the soil is in, unless you send it for testing. Manure is the key!
If you compost, then that is another great source of nutrients for the garden. Gardens really need a good foundation to be successful. Think about your garden as another living person in the house. You make sure you cook good food for everyone in the household, including yourself, to make sure you are living your best. The garden is no different. It needs to be nurtured so it is successful.
Oh and don't think you need a big backyard to have a garden! There are plenty of smaller, enclosed planters that can grow veggies and herbs even if you only have a patio to work with. Also, if you don't have the outdoor space, community gardens are really popular. You may be able to find space in a community garden to claim as your own. The benefit of the community garden is if you have a bumper crop, you may be able to swap for someone else's big yield!
For the above raised garden bed configuration, I recommend 1 bag of manure per square. I found a really good article from Rodela's Organic Life that discusses using compost and fresh manure. If you buy manure from a garden center, it will be ready for use. Fresh manure, just like compost, needs to be treated to avoid microorganisms found in the manure growing among your plants. Make sure to use cow manure if you are buying it!
Another key to a successful garden is starting seeds or planting purchased plants from a garden store (or online) at the right time for your zone. While this sounds scary, there are resources online to help you identify your zone and the type of plants that will thrive in your area. The Bonnie Plants website asks for your zip code and will tell you what zone you are in.
I've tried to grow plants from seed but have not been successful. I think it is because I do not have the right space in the house and warmth to get the seeds to grow into hardy plants. I really don't like hot temperatures, so I keep the house in the winter at about 65 degrees. When we sleep, the heat goes down to 62 degrees. While this is great for the heating bill, the converse is I blast the air-conditioning in the summer. So the electricity bill is not so fun in the summer! But I like to be comfortable in my house!
Anyway, when purchasing plants, websites will send you the plants when they are appropriate to plant in your zone. That makes it so easy! But if you are going to buy them local, you have to make sure you don't plant them too early. Frost should be over by the time you plant. This can be challenging given we can't control mother nature. But if you plant and have a frost warning pop up, you can always buy burlap to cover the plants to help protect them against freezing.
I recall last fall, we had an unexpected frost warning and cold weather for several days and I had to wrap the rose bush and hydrangea bush with burlap. I was so afraid I was going to lose them! The hydrangea bush has special meaning to me because it was given to my mom while she was dying from my step-brother. It has grown into a beautiful bush over the past 9 years.
Anyway, once you plant the garden, maintenance is key. You may need cage supports for tomatoes and peppers so the plants grow straight and don't flop over. You may need a climbing support for cucumbers and beans. The climbing supports are great not only for support the plants but they help get more vertical use for a small garden. Plus, it helps wandering plants produce more effectively since the vegetables aren't laying in the dirt where they could be challenged with mold and mildew.
Watering tends to be a challenge when you first start gardening. You may think you have to water frequently. But it really is all about keeping soil moist not saturated. The Creative Vegetable Gardener even states in hot weather it is not necessary to water the garden everyday or even every other day. Instead, after the plants are established, watering should happen infrequently and deep.
Worried about the cost of watering the garden? Or maybe you live in an area where water restrictions are usually a part of life? Try using a rain barrel. If the water is coming from a gutter, then you have to be careful not to touch the vegetables you'll be harvesting with the water. The gutter may have microbes that are not healthy for you if ingested.
There are gutterless solutions as well. Using a rain chain attached to the roof and emptying into a barrel can be used. You just need to observe where there is heavy rain run off around your roof in order to get the most out of the chain. I've even seen plastic saucers used to funnel rain into empty milk jugs. This would be a great activity for kids to be involved in the garden!
I hope you found this post useful and inspiring to start your garden. I will be posting images of my garden progress on social media channels. So follow me on instagram @heatherleehurst or twitter @hlhurst. Also, let me know your experiences starting and maintaining your garden. I'd love to hear about it! Follow my blog on Bloglovin.