How Do I Start a Garden? 1


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How Do I Start A Garden?

Three Steps to Start a Garden

I’ve been asked “How Do I Start a Garden?” several times and I always seem to fumble with my answer. I’ve planted a garden every year for the last 6 years… You would think I would have a good answer. I finally decided I needed to come up with a good clear answer.  That’s when I realized why I couldn’t come up with a good concise answer in the first place. You see, gardening is as easy or as hard as you want it to be. 

For example:
You can just grab a plant from the store, put it on your porch and water it every now and then. OR  You can plan a much more elaborate garden with several different types of vegetables, herbs & flowers, building garden beds, & starting everything yourself from seeds. 

I feel like gardening is a lot like cooking. Cooking can be as simple as wash & eat an apple OR as complicated as making an apple pie from scratch. It depends on what you want to put into it and get out of it. 

So, in order to answer the question, “How Do I Start a Garden?”, I think there are three steps you should take.  Hopefully, by the end of these steps you will feel confident in your ability to start a garden!

Step #1:  Ask Yourself: Should I Start a Garden?

The first step, is to consider if you should start a garden in the first place.  Seems silly, but just because you want to garden doesn’t mean you should. This fun flow chart can help you answer the question:

Should I Start A Garden www.simplysteep.com

You still with me? Did you make it through? Sweet! You can advance to Step #2!

Step #2: Assess Garden Fundamentals

Now that we’ve assessed you have the time, energy, ability, and desire to start a garden. Let’s look at what your potential garden will need. I feel like this is the point where things can get REALLY overwhelming, because there are so many variables to consider. So rather than trying to give you all the answers [I don’t have them anyways. 🙂 ], I’m going to give you some questions to consider. I want to try and keep this as simple as possible and stick to the essentials. Everything you need to consider will fall into one of these five categories:

1. SPACE/LOCATION

  • Where are you going to put your garden? In the ground, on a porch, in raised beds, flower beds, containers, pots? The closer to your home the better.  As it makes it easier to tend to it regularly. (Out of sight, out of mind!)
  • What is your hardiness zone? USDA Plant Hardiness Map This helps determine what plants you can and can’t grow.
  • What is your growing season? Enter your zip code here to find out your Frost Dates & Growing Season Length
  • How much space do you have? Tape measures are helpful. Draw a map if you can! Every square foot counts!
  • Do you need fencing? Deer, dogs, cats, children, etc. can all be hazardous to your garden 😉

2. SOIL

  • What type of soil do you have? Here is a link to help determine the basics. A silt loam [a mix of sand, silt & clay] soil is best. If your soil is clay/rocky you can always do raised beds and fill with them good soil. If you’re doing any type of container gardening you don’t really have to worry. You can just buy soil mix by the bag.
  • Do you need to add organic matter/fertilizer/compost? Pretty much always, Yes! You can buy a kit and test the nutrient levels in your soil. I never do. I just assume I need to add compost and fertilize my plants as needed. 
  • What can you use for mulch? Straw, hay, leaves, newspaper or cardboard are good options. [Warning on the newspapers- they do need to have a little soil on the edges to keep them from blowing away.]
  • Will you till the soil? or A no-till method like Sheet Mulching/ Lasagna Gardening?

3. WATER

  • How will you access and transport your water? You’ll need to water regularly at the beginning, until the plants get established. Then, depending on your rainfall, you will want to water as needed. You will definitely need a hose and/or watering can to make that happen.  The closer the water the easier it is.

4. SUNLIGHT

  • What is your sun exposure (hours of direct sun)? You can track this yourself by making a map of your yard/garden area and marking where the sun is every hour for a day. Or you can just use an app. 🙂 We use Sun Surveyor with Android.
  • What areas are shaded during the day, if any? Your hours of direct sunlight will also determine what types of plants you can grow. Typically, plants grown for their fruit (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants) need 6+ hours of direct sun. Plants grown for their leaves or roots can do well with partial shade.  If you find yourself in a partial shade situation here is a chart for the Best- Shade Tolerant Vegetables.
    • Just for quick reference when you’re looking your space & plant needs:
      • Full Sun: 6+ Hours of direct sunlight
      • Partial Sun: 4-6 Hours of direct sun (preferably evening)
      • Partial Shade: 4-6 Hours of direct sun (preferably morning)
      • Full Shade: Less than 4 hours of direct sun (preferably morning)

5. PLANTS- This is the best part!!

  • What do you want to grow? I find it helpful to look at what we already eat, what we can use LOTS of, and what is easy to grow.
  • What can you grow? This is based on your growing season, sunlight, & the plants days to maturity.
  • How much produce do you need? Here is a list of crop yields to give you an idea.
  • How many plants do you have room for?  Each plant requires a certain amount of space to grow. The above link will give you an idea about this too. Or click here.
  • Will you start it from seed? Will you buy it from a garden center? Both?  Some plants require direct seeding in the soil (i.e. lettuce, beans, corn, carrots, peas, spinach). Others benefit from starting the seed indoors and then transplanting into the garden (tomatoes, peppers, melons). Starting transplants from seeds is cheaper, but it does add 6-8 weeks and requires indoor space.

**Keep in mind gardening can be as easy or difficult as you want.  It’s totally okay to grow 1-3 things your first year and grow  from there.

Now you can graduate to Step #3! You’re almost there! 😉

Step #3: Make a Garden Plan

This is the final step and I think it’s a lot of fun! Making a garden plan can help ensure the garden season goes smoothly. [No plants left behind!] It requires further research and some work, but once you lay the foundation you can easily update it each year.  Here’s what you need in a garden plan:

Map detailing each plant type, number, variety & spacing.

I love having a garden map. I don’t forget what I planted, where I planted it, or how many I planted. You can draw one by hand or use an online garden planner. More on that below!

Schedule/Calendar of important events.

These can be really helpful if you’re doing more than a handful of plants. You don’t want to miss your window of opportunity to start seeds, thin seedlings, transplant, add trellising, harvest time, etc. Here are two options to help:

  • PAPER I’ve used several things to help organize over the years. Mostly excel spreadsheets and good old pencil & paper, but the internet has made all this so much easier. 
    • Here’s the best downloadable spreadsheet I’ve found for a Seed Starting & Planting Schedule from Better Hens & Gardens
    • I adapted the Better Hens & Garden schedule for my plants & frost dates:
    • Vegetable Spreadsheet pic
  • DIGITAL This year, I’m venturing into something new. I’m starting to use an online garden planner called Zukeeni.  It does all my thinking for me. [YAY!] I used to have to read books and seed packets to compile all the information.  Now all that work is done for me. All I have to do is create my garden space, insert my planting beds, select my plants by variety and then lay it all out. It has a weekly calendar that tells me exactly what needs done in my garden. It will also send me a reminder email with the weeks “To Do List”. This year I’m doubling my garden space, so I am very thankful to have something to help me!
    • Here’s some of the awesome features:
      • It’s FREE!
      • It will recommend how many plants you need to grow based on your family size
      • It tells you the amount of space each plant needs
      • It gives you the entire season schedule for each plant (When to  start seeds, transplant, harvest, etc.)
      • You can create multiple gardens [Which is great because I have 5 garden spaces this year!]

Here are some screen shots to give you an idea.

Garden Layout:

Zukeeni screen shot

To Do List:

Zukeeni to do

Plant Schedule:

Zukeeni

Cool, Huh? I love that Zukeeni does a lot of the thinking for me and that I can change things SO EASILY.

Well that was the last step. You made it! Lots to consider. 🙂 Hope it’s not too overwhelming. Gardening can be lots of fun! But it can also bring you lots of stress and heart back ache.  It can take some time and intentional thought, but in the end you get yummy food! If you’re not still interested in gardening after this, it’s okay! No hard feelings! I just wanted to get you started on the right foot. Good Luck Gardener!


What’s Next?

This post only covered the first part of the gardening process [Plan & Prepare].  Here is an overview of what the rest of the garden season will look like for you:

The Garden Process


How About You?

Will You Be Starting A Garden This Year?


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One thought on “How Do I Start a Garden?

  • Pmlexington

    WOW…This is excellent! I loved the start a garden flow chart. Cute comments and so true!
    All I could think of when I was reading it was that WVU Ext should get ahold of this and use it. Seriously. The content was well organized and the graphics very pleasing to the eye and not boring or too complicated. It left you wanting more. I’m very impressed and can see how you are getting better and better at this blogging thing. I’ll be passing this along. GREAT JOB!