• By Julie Stefanski
  • In 2020
  • June 2, 2020

Four Steps to Planting a Beginner’s Garden

 By Katie Dwyer

June is National Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Month! Though we should all be aiming to eat several servings of fruit and veg per day, fewer than 1 in 10 Americans reach the recommended daily 2 cups of fruits and 3 cups of vegetables. One way to encourage higher veggie intake, if you’re willing to do a bit of work, is to grow your own.

If you’ve ever thought about starting your own garden, now’s the time to do it. The early Spring frosts have passed, but it’s generally still cool enough for plants to thrive.

Growing your own produce means you have a steady supply of fresh fruits and veggies on hand, minimizing trips to the grocery store (an especially important benefit in the middle of a pandemic) and saving some cash. And, for those that value eating organic, you have control over what goes into your soil.

Not to mention, gardening a great way to get some physical activity and a little Vitamin D.

Your garden can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. Here’s what you need to get started:

  • Gardening gloves
  • Small shovel
  • Water
  • Soil
  • Seeds
  • Containers or a garden bed
  • Stakes
  • Chicken wire

Step 1: Choose your plot

You don’t need a ton of space to start a garden, but you do need plenty of sunlight. Choose a spot that gets at least 6 hours of rays per day.

Rather than tilling the ground (a LOT of hard work) investing in a raised garden bed is the easiest way to go for beginners. These are filled with store-bought potting soil and are far easier to maintain. The size of your bed will depend on how many plants you intend to grow, but 50 square feet is usually suitable for a beginner plot. Scale up or down depending on how many veggies you want to plant.

You could also opt for containers if you’d like to experiment with just a few plants. Most herbs and some veggies — like tomatoes, lettuce, summer squash and cucumbers — can grow in a small amount of space. This is also a great option if you don’t have a ton of yard space to work with.

Step 2: Prepare your soil

If you’re digging a plot the old-fashioned way, you’ll want to test the pH balance of your soil. Plants need a pH between 6 and 7 to thrive. A simple test kit from Home Depot or Lowe’s will tell you whether your soil is too alkaline or acidic. Add garden lime to alkaline soil or sulfur to acidic soil until you’re close to a neutral pH.

There are also several brands of organic soil suitable for garden beds and containers, already formulated to have a neutral pH and a good mix of organic matter to continuously feed plants. Go for one with “moisture control,” which reduces the risk you’ll damage your plants from over- or under-watering.

Step 3: Get Planting

Summer squash, snap peas, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries and blueberries are easy to grow and tend to do well in the summer. If using containers, stick with one plant per pot. Go for a wider pot and stick in a trellis to help the vines grow upward.

If you have a raised garden bed or traditional plot, the way you space out your seeds depends on the plant. Some only need a few inches of space to grow, others require a foot or more. For most of the easy-growing summer veggies, about 10 inches of space between each plant should suffice. In a 10’ by 4’ raised bed, leaving two feet between rows so you have room to work, you should be able to fit 20 to 25 plants

Step 4: Watering and Maintenance

For those of us lacking a green thumb, the questions of how often and how much to water your plants are the most difficult to answer.

In general, your soil should be continuously damp, not saturated. Push your finger about an inch into your soil. If it’s dry below the surface, it’s time to water. Just enough to get moisture down a few inches. In the hot summer months, plants need to be watered regularly. Set a daily alarm on your phone as a reminder not to let this task slide.

Plants need to be fed as well as hydrated, so remember to add nutrient-rich potting mix or compost into your soil every once in a while.

Maintenance also includes protecting your plants from hungry animals. Larger pots are generally safe since they’re harder to reach, but traditional plots or low-lying garden beds may need an additional layer of protection. The easiest way to go is to drive stakes into the four corners of your plot and wrap chicken wire around the perimeter. You may still get some squirrels and birds picking in your dirt, but it’ll act as a deterrent for larger foragers.

Step 5: Eat!

Sit back and wait for your seedlings to grow, and enjoy the fruits of your labor!

Katie Dwyer recently completed her Master’s degree in nutrition education and will begin her dietetic internship this Fall. She is also a personal trainer and freelance health and fitness writer. See more of her work at https://sites.google.com/view/katiedwyer/home.