If you don't have enough space for a garden, not to worry, make a container garden. It's as easy as using 5 gallon pails, (you can get them at Home Depot), drill some holes in the bottom for drainage, and I like to line the bottom with some stones or small rocks. I use the stones so that when the water is draining through the bottom of the pail, you aren't losing your soil. Pour the soil on top of the stones and plant. This is actually a "mobile" garden, you can place the pails in your yard where they will get optimal sunshine.
Not only is container gardening convenient, but there is not much weeding required. Really, all you have to do is plant your seeds or plant, water consistently, and sit back and watch your plants grow.
For others that do have space to plant a garden in the ground, you want to make sure the spot you choose will get enough sun. Tomatoes, peppers, beans, squash, cucumbers and eggplant need at least 6 hours of direct sun a day to ensure a good harvest. The amount of sun doesn't have to be continuous though. You can have 3 hours in the morning with some shade midday and then 3 more hours in the late afternoon. However, if your spot gets less than 6 hours of sun, don't give up..you still have options. Plants that you eat the leaves, such as lettuce, arugula and spinach do well in a partially shaded location where they get about 3-4 hours of sun a day. Root plants, such as carrots, potatoes and beets need more light than leafy vegetables, but they do well getting about 4-6 hours of sun a day. Again, if you want to plant tomatoes and peppers but don't have the required sun, put them in containers....your mobile garden can be placed anywhere!
Now, timing is everything when planting a vegetable garden. If you plant tomatoes too early for example, the plants will sit there not growing and possible rot in the cold. If you plant lettuce too early, it will produce more flowers than leaves and the leaves you harvest will be tough and bitter. So, when is the best time to plant? Here are a few tips....
- Cool-season vegetables: Vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, peas, potatoes, broccoli and cabbage grow best in the cool weather of spring and fall. These vegetables are pretty hardy and survive despite the cold temperatures. In most areas, cool-season vegetables are usually planted in early spring so they mature before the onset of hot weather, or in late summer to early fall for harvest in the cool months of fall or early winter. If you plant cool-season vegetables when it's too warm, the lettuce will start to flower before you get a chance to harvest it. Instead of producing tender, crisp leaves, lettuce will send out a tall flower spike. Any leaves that are left on the plant will be bitter-tasting and tough. Broccoli will form loose clusters of yellow flowers instead of forming nice tight heads. And peas won't properly fill their pods with sweet peas.
- Warm-season vegetables: These vegetables such as beans, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash and corn like it hot and grow best in the warm months of summer. They need warm soil and air temperatures to grow their best. If they're planted while the weather is still too cool, they will suffer and not grow. Because freezing temperatures kill these vegetables, it's best to plant after the threat of frost in spring.
So, decide what kind of vegetables you would like to grow. Because I eat so many leafy greens everyday, I like to plant lots of them. However, let me tell you what I did wrong so you don't make the same mistake. I planted long rows of lettuce and Swiss chard...they grew beautifully ALL AT ONCE. Now even I have too many greens to eat because they all were ready to be harvested at the same time. Then, once harvested, I had nothing for the rest of the season. What I learned after the fact was, plant smaller rows of green leafy vegetables, but stagger your planting time. Plant a few rows one week, then a few weeks later, plant another couple rows, etc. This way, the plants will be ready to harvest at different times so everything isn't ready at the same time. Believe me, it was a lesson well learned.
Of course, tomatoes and peppers will all be planted at the same time because again, they need warm soil and weather to grow properly. We don't have a very long growing season here, so we need to make the best of what we have. Once you taste your own home-grown tomatoes, you won't want to buy another tomato in the grocery store.
Decide where you want to plant your garden and get digging. There is nothing more rewarding than watching all your hard work turn into some of the most delicious vegetables you will ever taste!