Life Is A Garden: Do you dig it?
EvoOutdoors Team Member
So you’ve gone out and harvested yourself some wild game. What pairs well with the fresh, “free” food you just harvested? That’s right…. fresh, “free” vegetables from your own vegetable garden in your back yard! What could be better than a meal prepared by yourself, from items you harvested yourself?
Growing up, I had the benefit of watching my parents and grandparents, year after year, grow a fairly large, successful garden. When it came time to do mine own, I began to do my research and realized there is a lot more to it than just throwing seeds into dirt.
A backyard garden can be the most rewarding or the most painful process, depending on the amount of effort and forethought put into it.
It takes the realization that gardening is more of a long term process than a weekend project to be successful. I compiled a list of a few things you may want to research on your own before starting your first garden.
What are you planting? This part should be fairly simple right?
- First take into consideration what do you like to eat. Think of the recipes you most commonly eat and what fresh produce it takes to prepare that meal. Does your family consume more venison spaghetti than the law allows? Plan on planting some tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, and possibly fresh herbs.
- If you produce too many, will you have a way to preserve it such as canning, freezing, donate to more than happy to accept neighbors, sell at a local farmers market, etc?
- Do you plan on getting small plants from a local nursery or starting from seeds? If getting seeds please read the seed packet carefully for planting instructions. Some seeds need to be sewn indoors before being planted outside, while others prefer to be planted directly into the garden.
- Keep in mind there are hundreds of varieties of the most basic vegetable. Look at your local agricultral publications to find varieties that have proven to work best in your area.
- Some plants benefit from being grown next to certain plants while others when planted close by will cause problems for each other through disease, bugs, etc. This is called companion planting. Think its just by chance that basil pairs well with tomatoes in many dishes? Nope! Basil is often grown in the garden next to tomatoes. This pairing helps with repelling pests while attracting bees for pollination. In addition, it improves the flavorings of your tomatoes.
Where to plant?
- What kind of garden do you want to have? Old fashion rows in the dirt, raised bed, vertical gardening, flower pots, etc. I’ve also seen people plant directly into a bag of potting soil.
- How much of a space are you are willing to sacrifice from your yard? How much do you plan on planting? Are you feeding yourself, your family, or the whole neighborhood? Keep in mind a larger garden is a larger time spent tending to the garden. Also remember bigger plants (tomatoes, eggplants, squash, etc) need more space per plant
- Take into consideration you will need a spot that gets at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight. Also think about water drainage; you don’t want a spot that water collects in your yard. Most importantly you will need access to a water source near by unless you want to haul pails of water.
Get into your “zone”!
- What is a zone you ask? The USDA has established a map called the Plant Hardiness zone map. This map helps to determine minimum temperature ranges of your local area. When choosing your plants, look closely on the plant tag or seed pack and they will often tell you planting schedules based on this or similar zones.
- Each plant has a specific “growing season” in which they thrive. For example, tomatoes love warm weather and aren’t very cold hardy. Because I live in Louisiana where it warm for most of the year, I have a larger “growing season” for tomatoes compared to my friends further north who may only get warm enough weather for only a few weeks a year. All this information on the plants you chose can be found with very little effort online.
- Soil types, minerals, and pH vary from place to place. You should send off a sample of your soil to your local Ag center for soil testing. They should be able to tell you what needs to be added to your soil prior to planting. Either amend your soil according to their suggestions or chose plants to fit with your soil type.
- Warmer areas tend to have a larger bug problem. Have a pesticide plan in your mind. If you are choosing to go a more natural route with pesticides, research more organic options and ideas on companion planting to help reduce the bugs.
Use some common sense:
- Don’t “Go Big or Go Home”! Start off small and manageable. It’s easy to get overwhelmed at first and you can always expand next season. Also, you won’t need the fanciest of tools to get started. A simple, rake, spade, trowel, and pruners will get you far.
- Ask plenty of questions. Online resources are there by the millions (just be sure to look up more area specific information) or go to a local nursery. Use local Ag center publications. They are often free and full on great information. Youtube is also a great tool to see other’s techniques.
- Recognize symptoms before they become a major problem and fix it before the problem turns into a disaster. For example, if you see a couple of bugs on your lettuce, look into a way to get rid of them before you come back to a half chewed up plant or they spread to others.
- Don’t forget some plants require a little extra support from trellises, stakes, cages, etc. Some require special pruning, fertilization, etc. Want free, easy, fertilizer? start your own compost pile from uncooked kitchen scraps. Anything from paper products, uncooked fruits and veggies, the fish you filleted for dinner, shellfish peelings, egg shells, etc. can be collected and made into a compost pile while cutting back on your waste.
To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow. -Audrey Hepburn
Now that I’ve given you enough to get you a good starting point to begin your research, I will tell you how I started my garden last spring. I first decided I wanted a raised bed. This would help decrease my weeds, give me good soil drainage when we get our crazy spring monsoons, and I could personally keep better control of my soil type. I simply picked a spot, laid out my timber, and got to work. I first took my shovel and removed the top layer of grass (not a required step but it will definitely cut back on the weeds). I then screwed together my timber and I drove some heavy duty angle iron into the ground and screwed it into my timber for support. The angle iron step is not a necessity, but the weight of the soil can easily cause your boards to bow outwards. I then laid out a layer of flattened card board boxes and news papers as an additional weed barrier before adding my soil. I personally used a 25:75 mix of bagged topsoil and garden soil to promote good drainage and aeration. I also chose to go the “difficult route” and start all my plants from seeds. Yes, over the course of the growing season, I struggled with bugs and plant disease, but as i previously mentioned, it is important to make these observations early and correct them. After long weeks of drawn out anticipation but very little effort, I began to see my little seeds grow and turn into huge plants which then turned into vegetables that we were able to eat.
A few things that I learned along the way in my first year:
- Do not lose your cool when one plant seems not to be growing as hearty as the others, it may just need a little more TLC but will soon catch up with the others.
- Checking the buds every twenty minutes will not help them grow faster.
- Bees love the garden. They will pay little to no attention to you working in the garden and are not there to attack. Lizards are also a necessity to keep some of the bugs at bay.
- I needed stronger stakes for my tomato plants that got carried away and had the tiny metals ones nearly bent in half.
- Try growing something you’ve never tried before and it’ll force you to get creative with recipes.
- I just love my garden. Growing and hunting my own food gives me a true appreciation for what I’m putting in my mouth and how it affects the way my body functions compared to junk food.