Although I’ve been gardening for almost 40 years, I’ve never really been a vegetable gardener. I played with a few tomato plants in pots on my deck but never anything more serious than that. Maybe it’s because I spent my teenage years helping my parents in the huge vegetable garden they planted every year. I personally would have preferred to use that field to house a horse, but that’s a whole other story!
Or perhaps it’s because I never really had to grow my own vegetables to enjoy locally grown produce. I live very close to lots of Amish and Mennonite farms who sell their produce as roadside stands. I’ve had my pick of the best our area has to offer.
But this year, I decided to give vegetable gardening a try. Last year we sold our house in the woods where we really did not have enough sun to grow vegetables. And while my space is limited, I definitely have enough sun to grow veggies at our new digs. It’s been a really fun journey despite the heat this summer offered and in this article I’m going to share the steps I took. If you’ve never grown vegetables before I hope I can inspire you to give it a try.
Find a Sunny Spot
As I said before, vegetables require lots of sun 6-8 hours per day or more. So before you even think about what you want to plant, take a look around your yard and make sure the spot you want to use is getting this much sun. Even if you don’t have a big yard, you can grow veggies on a deck or patio as long as you get enough sun.
Start Small and Use Containers or Do a Raised Bed
Let’s face it, tilling a new bed is hard work. Before going all in with a big vegetable garden, purchase or build a raised bed that you fill with really good soil. I can really go off the deep end when I start something new, so I’ve learned over the years to start small, make sure I really like whatever, I’m doing and then expand from there.
As I was planning my bed, I looked at lots of the raised bed options that are available today. At first we were going to put the new bed at my partner’s warehouse where we have lots of space. Here is photo of the type I was considering.
This was not tall enough to keep out the bunnies and groundhogs that visit this property. So we would have needed to add some type of netting or covering to keep them away from our vegetables. When I thought about it this size would require a lot of topsoil and other amendments to fill and was more than I wanted to do as a first effort.
So in the end, I decided on this taller but smaller raised bed that we keep at our home. When looking at these types of containers, make sure that you can move them around and that they have a drainage hole so that your plants don’t get waterlogged when it rains.
If your space is limited you can also look at using large pots. Pick ones that are made of plastic or resin materials so they are easier to move around. You can also buy a pot dolly so you can easily wheel the pots around. And again, be sure any pot you choose has a drainage hole.
The unit I chose can be moved easily when not full of soil. When it’s filled I can’t move it – my partner needs to do it and I would not want to do this too much. If you decide on this unit be sure to place it before filling it with your soil.
Enlist the Help of an Experienced Vegetable Gardener
In the spring, before I planted my plants, I asked one of my friends who is an avid vegetable gardener for some advice. I wanted to make sure that I planted plants that would not overwhelm other plants in the bed and that were easy to grow. She recommended tomatoes that were determinant which means that they only grew to a limited height, peppers, cucumbers and zucchini. For the cucumbers and zucchini, she recommended plants that would be more bushy so they would work well in my limited space.
Buy Your Plants and Enlist the Help of the Folks at the Greenhouse
Unless you are experienced at started seeds, I would not tackle that as part of setting up your first vegetable garden. Visit your local greenhouse and/or garden center and buy your plants from them. This will give you a jump on having happy healthy plants. Enlist their help to find varieties that will work well for what you are trying to do. The woman who runs one of the local greenhouses where I buy my flowers was very helpful and recommended plants that would work well in my limited space.
Fill Your Container
Be sure to use potting soil or garden soil ( not potting mix) for growing your vegetables. I purchased my soil at a local home improvement store and added a bag of composted manure to be sure my plants had good nutrients.
It’s Time To Plant!
Next add your plants. I put my vining plants like the cucumbers and zucchini at the back of this bed. This way I had enough room to add the trellises they would need to grow upwards and take up less space.
Then I put in the tomatoes and peppers. As the tomatoes started to get taller, I added the plastic support stakes and used these soft ties to secure the plants to the stakes.
All in all, I don’t think I did too badly. The first veggies to make their appearance were the cucumbers.
They were very tasty. But then the weather got hot and humid and something fuzzy appeared on the flowers. Many people in the gardening group I am in reported the same thing. This was probably a fungus. It went away when the weather got drier and I do see that now I have more flowers that look like they might bear more fruit.
The zucchinis were a really disappointment. I had lots of flowers in early summer but no zucchinis. The flowers would just die and I would be left with stems like in the photo below. My friend said that maybe all of the flowers were male as they just fall off and do not bear fruit. I kept looking for female flowers so I could manually pollinate them but it was tough because there were not open when I went to work and were closed again by the time I got home. In the end I got 2 zucchinis. The weather was very hot in August, so I kind of gave up on them. But now we have had some cooler nights and there are more flowers, I am hoping that we will still get a few more zucchinis.
The tomatoes were slow to appear and even slower to ripen. My friend told me to add bone meal to help them along, which I did. But eventually they did get ripe and we're still enjoying them with fresh mozzarella and basil.
The pepper was also a disappointment with only one pepper appearing. It may have been too shaded by the tomatoes. The jalapeno is doing great and we’ve been enjoying those in fajitas. It looks like we are getting a second crop that will be ready in the next week or two.
All in all, I’m happy with my first effort. I am definitely glad that I started small. That is my top piece of advice for you. Gardening is always trial and error and I’ve learned a lot from my small effort.It’s given me the confidence to look at doing that larger raised bed next year and trying things like peas and green beds.
Have you tried vegetable gardening? What have been your greatest successes and failures? Comment below and let us know! We’d love to hear from you.