Heirloom Gardener Blogs > Lettuce's Urban Homestead

How to Start a Garden When You Don't Know Anything: Step 1

A friend recently told me that she wants a garden, but she doesn’t know where to start so (once again) she’s just going to wait until next year. She thought that maybe by next year, she would (magically) have an idea what to do with her yard.  It made me chuckle a bit because I know all too well what she’s going through.  I am guilty of the exact same thing.

This feeling is not new to me.  In 2012, I was going to school while I homeschooled my son.  That was the year I decided to turn our entire backyard into a vegetable garden.  I figured if I didn’t start it then, I never would.  Besides, as I was not working, why not save some money by growing our own food?  It was a lot of work.  To say the previous owners of our house had not taken care of the place was an understatement.  The entire property was riddled with car parts, broken glass, pieces of siding and insulation, buried garbage, chunks of cement and more.  If you can name it, we probably dug it out of our backyard that year.  We sifted through three rows of dirt - each 5 feet wide by 20 feet long and 4 feet deep.  We filled approximately one 30 gallon garbage can (overflowing) per row that we dug out.  

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One of the garbage cans we filled.

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A shot of the chunks of cement we removed with one bed almost finished.

Once I felt the dirt was clean enough that I would be comfortable eating plants from it, I dove right in.  I planted a lot knowing that I had no idea what I was doing and there was a good chance that half of what I planted was not going to survive.

I was right.  Well, sort of right.  My tomatoes and sunflowers did amazingly well.  In fact, they did so well, for the next three years I had volunteer tomatoes and sunflowers popping up all over the back yard.  And the zucchini?  Ever few days, I was harvesting HUGE zucchini from the garden.  As much as we tried, we could not keep up with the amount of zucchini these two plants were producing.

 

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One day's harvest. Every day we had more tomatoes, and every 2-3 days we had more zucchini.

However, the carrots never made it much larger than 2 or 3 inches long.  The beets and radishes were equally as small - about 1 inch wide.  The corn I planted got to about 6 feet tall, however, the corn cobs were only a few inches long and really weren't good enough for eating. I had planted a kale but that was taken over by aphids.  

At the end of the year, I honestly didn’t care what had failed, though.  I had grown very successful tomatoes, sunflower seeds, and zucchini.  That’s what mattered when I started planning for the next year.  I knew then that those would do well and I could focus on other things.  The next year I planted more tomatoes and zucchini.  I decided to forgo the corn, but I did include other varieties of squash, peas, beans and even a very small watermelon.  I realized that gardening is a lot of trial and error since everything changes from year to year.  What might grow beautifully this year won't grow at all next year.

This year, however, I am back to feeling like I did in 2012.  I want to start gardening again but I really don't know where to start.  We moved into our rental home a few months ago and were fortunate enough to receive carte blanche when it comes to the garden.

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Our current yard.  So much potential!

However, this is a new city for us with new dirt and a new climate.  I have no idea what plants will work, and what will fail.   I have never had to work with as much shade as we have here, so that will be new for me as well.  Not to mention the yard is smaller so we are looking at vertical gardening options, which I never used in the past.  I too have been putting off doing any work outside.  So this weekend, providing the rain/snow stops for a few minutes, I am going to go outside, take some measurements and start planning my garden layout.

For all my fellow procrastinators, I am giving you the same task this weekend.  Take 15 minutes to walk around your yard and pick out a spot for your first garden bed. It doesn’t have to be very big.  Just make sure you find a place that is fairly level and gets a lot of sun in the spring and summer.  If possible, it is best to place the garden where you will walk past it every day.  This way, as you are walking to or from your house, you will see the garden and remember to water it.  That’s it.  Once you have that done, pour yourself your favorite drink.  We will work on step two next time.

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Coffee anyone?