Preparing the Plot: You will need to dig up the sod from a 4 x 4 foot plot of yard or larger. Make sure the area has plenty of sun. Don’t just turn the sod over (upside down). You really need to remove it or weeds and grass will start sprouting up in your garden, unless you can borrow, rent or purchase a rototiller, which chops it up beyond recognition. OR you could use the no-digging method described in my other ehow article: “How to plant a garden without digging”. You don’t need to surround the area with a fence unless you think that deer or pets will pose a problem. If you do feel like you need a fence, metal posts that you can pound into the dirt can be put up and then you can put some mesh up to surround the area. This is movable and expandable.
The Soil: In many places, the soil is full of rocks and not very rich. You will probably want to enrich it some by adding some composted grass clippings or other material, cow or horse manure, and top soil. You may be able to get these things free from your local landfill, however, you don’t know what types of chemicals were applied to the grass and other things that were placed in their compost pile. You could also probably get horse/cow manure free if you are willing to travel and haul it yourself. Rabbit manure is also good for the garden, but use it sparingly.
If you have enriched the soil as mentioned above, you probably won’t need to fertilize in order to grow some basic vegetables.
I recommend buying plants that are already a few inches tall from WalMart or Lowe’s instead of trying to plant anything from seed, if you are a beginner. Planting seeds requires room in the house as well as a lot of planning ahead. If you buy them already started, you’ll pay more, but you can do your planting when it is a good time for you without waiting for days or weeks.
Plants: If you are a beginner, some really prolific and simple plants to grow are zuchinni and yellow “crook neck” squash. Even if you only have a couple of plants, you will likely have more squash than you know what to do with. It is important to harvest them before they get too big. The smaller ones taste so much better! Cucumbers are also easy to grow, too and again, pick them before they get very large. Large cucumbers tend to take on a bitter taste. All of these plants get quite large. They will probably extend themselves out into your lawn. The cucumbers will climb if give an opportunity. Don’t worry, all the roots will remain right where you planted them so when the season is over, they are very easy to remove. All of these plants have very large, hairy leaves. Cucumbers can also be quite prickly.
Other good plants for beginners include tomatoes and basil. They grow great together and taste great together. You can even grow them in a planter on your patio if you have no place to dig up the yard. Parsley is also an easy and useful option.
The plants mentioned previously can be grown nearly anywhere in the lower 48 in the US. You might have favorite local plants that you want to try or pay attention to the planting season zones for your area.
tomato cage When planting, leave about 18 inches between tomato plants and more between squash plants. They may be small when you start, but shortly they won’t be! Tomato plants don’t have very strong stems and sometimes need some support. You might consider using some sticks as a steak to hold them up or using tomato cages. You will need to put tomato cages around the plant when they are still small so you don’t risk breaking off stems trying to put them around large plants. Be sure to read the instructions and guidelines on the plants that you have purchased.
Butternut squash and pumpkins are also easy to grow and with these, you can allow them to get big without worrying about them developing a tough texture or bitter taste. Every year, we seem to get something growing out of our compost pile from discarded seeds from the previous summer/fall.
You absolutely will need to water your plants. Depending on how much rain you get, this is something you really need to pay attention to. Take a walk outside to look at your garden every day. Leaves will look wilted if they have become very dry. It is best to water at night to avoid losing the water to evaporation, or you could snuggle the hose right up to the roots of the plant and turn it on very low so it will just dribble. Leave it there for a couple of hours and then move it on to the next plant. Soaker hoses are also a good option, but again, watering in the heat of the day isn’t a good idea. Water on the leaves can actually BURN the leaves due to the reflective properties of the water.
tomato horn worm You will also need to look out for bugs. If it is your first year gardening you probably won’t have many bugs in your yard to worry about as they haven’t found you yet. Grubs, cabbage moths, and horn worm caterpillars as well as others can really ruin your harvest. I have not had any trouble personally with bugs on squash, pumpkins, peppers, basil or cucumbers, but tomatoes are a favorite of the horn worms and you will also likely compete with squirrels. You can cover your tomato plants with fabric netting (used to keep birds off blueberry bushes also) if that is a problem for you. I don’t recommend growing cabbage. They are easy to grow, but the cabbage worms are so prolific that you hardly stand a chance of getting something to eat out of the effort.
When it is harvest time, give away some of your vegetables to your family and neighbors. Maybe they will return the favor later with something else that you didn’t happen to grow, or providing cuttings for your perennial beds or whatever. At my house, we provide squash and tomatoes, and our neighbor returns the favor by giving us wine and coffee (available as a perk from their jobs).
You’ll find that fresh vegetables taste SOOO much better than the ones from the store that you might never go back. There is nothing like picking a fresh tomato from your own garden, still warm from the sun, and cutting it up for a salad or BLT. The Farmer’s Market is a good alternative, if you’re looking for organic and local produce.