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Tips For Beginning Vegetable Gardeners

By Judy Brinkerhoff

Perhaps, for various reasons, you've been procrastinating on starting a vegetable garden. Maybe you just don't know where to begin. You might have seen a friend's huge, organic garden, beautifully mulched, weed-free, and brimming with vegetables, with a drip irrigation system laid out on timers. How intimidating!

You can reap both enjoyment and tasty crops from the smallest of gardens. First analyze how much time and how much energy you have to devote to a garden. If your plans are too ambitious, you'll sink before you can swim. The weeds, pests, soil, weather, and general maintenance chores will overwhelm you, it won't be enjoyable, and you may ultimately abandon the project.

So, best to start small, and ensure success on that level before moving on to a bigger garden.

Choose only the vegetables you really want to grow. Start with your favorites, the ones that taste really great fresh (like tomatoes). Chard, radishes, lettuce, and beans are easy for beginners. Read and learn everything you can before proceeding. Cons ult friends, neighbors, specialists, or search out old-time gardeners for advice and helpful hints.

Decide whether you'll put in seeds or transplants. Transplants are so much easier...someone else has done the patience-trying part! However, some vegetables, such as carrots, beets, and radishes, need to be direct-seeded. Most vegetables can be gotten as transplants. These include tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, cucumbers, onions, chard, spinach, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, peas, beans, corn, and squash. If you decide to start your own transplants by seeding in trays, you'll need to do some a dditional research. It's fun, but I recommend starting with transplants.

Choose a well-drained site close to your house and to a water source. Make it easy on yourself. Vegetable gardening is a high-maintenance project, so you need to minimize the trips back and forth. If it's not conveniently close, you probably won't main tain it and the crops may go to waste.

Fencing... if your neighborhood is overrun with dogs, cats, or kids, you will need to protect your garden. For many of us in outlying areas, deer are a concern, as are raccoons, squirrels, possoms, or skunks. For those of you with yards already fenced, or with enclosed patios, you have a jump-start on a pest-free garden. Fencing, however, won't help with the ubiquitous gophers and moles. If they make a minefield of your property, you might consider several raised beds underlaid with wire mesh.

The tools you'll need are simple enough. A good gardening fork, shovel, metal rake, trowel, and gloves will get you going. A wheelbarrow is helpful for moving compost or amendments. Some kind of irrigation equipment is, or course, essential. A hose and sprinklers will work just fine, especially for your first garden. Deep-rooted crops, such as tomatoes, can be hand-irrigated. Wait to invest in a drip irrigation system (or even a wheelbarrow) until such time as you know that vegetable gardening is for y ou.

As do experienced gardeners, you'll never cease marveling that from a little seed or the tiniest of plants, can be coaxed a golden pumpkin, crisp green peas, a crunchy orange carrot, or a juicy tomato.

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