The smell of that first ripe tomato, the taste of that first freshly-picked summer squash. . .
The obvious reason anyone starts a vegetable garden is to grow their own food to eat. But what if I told you that shouldn’t be your first expectation when you start your garden? If you’re a beginner who is just starting out your vegetable gardening journey, there is an overwhelming amount of knowledge to be gained. However, if you’re just starting out, the best thing you can harvest during your first season of gardening is wisdom. Any food that you harvest is just a bonus!
Here are some things to consider before getting your hands dirty.
1. Think about your space. Your garden should be planted in one of the sunniest locations in your yard. If you’re growing your food in pots indoors, a sunny window is best. You may have a very small yard, but a large family. Don’t hesitate to search on Pinterest for ideas to make the most of your space! There are all kinds of creative ways to produce more food than the classic garden that is planted in rows; for example, raised beds or vertical gardening. I recommend keeping a garden journal and drawing your plan out on paper before prepping your soil or buying seeds.
2. How much food do you want to grow? What makes sense to grow for a family of three doesn’t make sense for a family of seven. You also have to know what you plan to do with your harvest. Eating it fresh only, straight from the garden? Freezing to use later in the season? Canning for enjoying all year? Your amounts will vary based on when you plan to eat your vegetables. Plant a certain amount of food based on your family’s size, but don’t be discouraged if everything doesn’t produce the way you want it to. After all, you may not know how many tomatoes will be enough to sustain your needs yet. That will come with experience. You can learn just as much from your mistakes as you can from your successes!
3. Timing is not everything. Surprising, I know! The weather fluctuates so much from season to season that there is no precise day that your garden has to be planted. Especially here in the South, we have a very long and forgiving growing season compared to much of the country. If you search your specific zipcode on Farmer’s Almanac, you will find a different last frost date than someone even just 20 miles from you. However, it’s just an estimate. Instead, plant according to the weather forecast, using that date as a general guideline.
4. Be careful what you read. There are gardening charts and lists and endless amounts of information on the internet about vegetable gardening. Take each thing with a grain of salt and find out what works for yourself. Save your money when it comes to expensive gardening tools and gadgets. Stick to the basics! A vegetable needs good soil, adequate watering, and sunlight to grow. To help yourself remember what worked for you each year, you could keep a log in your gardening journal that you can refer back to.
5. Just get started! It’s impossible to succeed at something unless you actually do it. No matter what season we’re in, there’s something you can do now to get your garden started. Vegetable gardens take time to prepare, so go ahead and get started to make the most of this season. Put yourself out there and be creative. If your squash doesn’t get pollinated this year, try again next year. Gardening is a lot of trial and error!
It’s always helpful to have a local gardening resource, but just remember that no one has the exact same type of location, soil, and growing conditions that you have. I’ve found that Clemson Extension is one of the best resources with information on the basics of gardening in our region.