1. Pick a sunny spot. In general, the more sun the better. Most vegetables need at least six hours of direct sunlight to thrive. If that sunny spot is near your kitchen window… great! You can easily keep an eye on things.
2. Build your base. Your garden will only be as good as your soil. It should have good texture (break apart easily), have good structure (be crumbly), be pH balanced (not too acidic or alkaline), be “nutritious” (have enough organic matter to support helpful microorganisms), be fertile (provide the nutrients your plants need) and be welldraining. Many garden centers can help you correct specific issues so your soil can be healthy and ready for planting.
3. Avoid the big chill. Don’t rush things. Cold soil can be as damaging as frost. Your soil temperature needs to be warm enough for germination. Ideal soil temperatures vary, so do a little research before you plant. Pick up an inexpensive soil thermometer. Hint: Raised beds can help raise soil temps, too.
4. Go small. Gardening is fun, but it’s a real time commitment between weeding, watering, fertilizing and harvesting. Plan a garden that’s do-able for you. Once you get started, you’ll be amazed at the amount of veggies you can grow even in a small space.
5. Prepare for pests. For animals like rabbits and small rodents, deep fencing surrounding the garden, individual beds or wire cages around plantings may do the trick. Mulch is another great deterrent to discourage certain animals. Deer can be a little trickier. For deer, try hanging a bar of heavily perfumed soap, or 4-5 mothballs in an onion sack, waist-high from a tree.
6. Cover your bases. That means being ready for late frosts. For large rows of vegetables, you can use a frost blanket. Just be sure to remove the blanket during warm days and cover your vegetables at night when frost is forecasted.
7. Soak your seeds. Most seeds need moisture to plump up and start germinating. Always follow the seed packet recommendations. For seeds that benefit from presoaking, dunk the seeds in room temperature water. Let them soak for several hours or overnight. Then drain and plant immediately.
8. Space out. Avoid over-crowding by spacing seeds according to packet recommendations. When plants are young, thin them out by removing any weaker ones. This will make weeding easier and will yield healthier, more hardy plants.
9. “Thank you very mulch.” Adding mulch helps conserve moisture, suppress weeds, supports numerous beneficial organisms that make soil healthy, improves soil structure and drainage, and in some cases, deters animals from eating away all your hard work.
10. Consider companions. Companion planting, or planting diverse plants along with your vegetables, can help naturally ward off harmful pests and attract beneficial insects. For example, rosemary and sage naturally repel cabbage moths, bean beetles and carrot flies. Radishes can be used to discourage cucumber beetles, squash bugs and stink bugs.
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