Looking to grow your own vegetables? Some gardening tips for beginners

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Buy an air fryer, e-bike, or any new contraption, and it comes with an owner’s manual, a densely written instruction book in lowercase for when you just want to start frying and rolling. That’s why the makers include the condensed version, a quick start guide – just the basics to get you going on the road.

This is how I imagine it is for gardening beginners. They just want a quick beginner’s guide and start digging.

According to the National Gardening Association, the pandemic has created 18.3 million new gardeners, many of whom want to grow what they can eat.

These new horticulturists cite mental and emotional health benefits in addition to the hope of local produce. Not all of them fit the typical gardening mold, many of them are younger, more diverse, have young children and live in apartments or condos. Let me tell you, welcome!

With a lifelong devotion to growing vegetables, herbs and fruits, I have learned a lot by “trowel and error” and am happy to share my hard-earned wisdom. Here is a quick start guide for gardening:

THE ESSENTIALS

A sunny spot: Solar energy is essential for growth. It takes 6-8 hours of sunlight per day to create most vegetable crops. Yes, there are shade-tolerant plants, most of which fall into the leafy category like lettuce, Swiss chard, spinach and beets. Some herbs such as mint, lemon balm and coriander can do well in a little shade. Don’t fight the site — place the right plant in the right spot based on the amount of sunlight available.

Often the sunniest spot lands in the front yard. Use your imagination to create a vegetable patch worthy of a garden if that’s where the sun shines. Those narrow, bulky beds along fences or driveways can be ideal for tomatoes or other heat-loving crops. It may be possible to incorporate raised beds into the design of your yard facing the public. Another idea is to mix vegetables and herbs into your ornamental landscape. Kale and carrots provide attractive foliage. A teepee supporting beans or cucumbers can become an accent piece.

New or improved floor: Feed your soil to help it feed you. Amend your soil or flower beds with aged cow manure to boost your soil’s nitrogen levels. (Be careful if you are offered chicken manure from a neighbor’s chicken coop. It gets “hot” when fresh and can burn your plants.) Follow with some compost to improve soil texture and moisture retention properties. Online calculators are available to help you determine the amount of amendments you need for the size of your garden. Consider a soil test to learn more about your plot. Learn more here: soiltest.cfans.umn.edu/testing-services

Stick to potting soil if growing in containers. Garden soil or manure is too heavy and will bog down. You can add organic or synthetic granular fertilizer to increase fertility without losing the fluffy texture.

Water: Vegetables need an inch of water per week, more when it’s hot. A good rule of thumb is to water at least once a week if your soil is clay or loamy, at least twice a week if your soil is sandy, resulting in a deep soak each time. Observe how quickly water is absorbed into the soil or if it forms quickly to get an idea of ​​the appropriate amount. Get a rain gauge to determine how much free water falls from the sky.

Mulch your garden to help retain this moisture, but be careful what you use. Never mulch vegetables with wood chips or wood shreds which will take time to break down and deplete nitrogen in the process. The best mulches for vegetable gardens include materials like shredded leaves, straw, and newspaper.

GROWING TIPS

What to grow: Grow what you can’t find at the grocery store, whether it’s fresh-from-the-vine flavor or perhaps hard-to-find vegetable varieties. Get the most out of your efforts by growing “cut and come” crops like leaf lettuce, Swiss chard, kale and other greens. Pick only what you need while the plant continues to grow. Even broccoli works this way, harvest the central head, then watch for the development of smaller side shoots. Grasses do well with frequent trimming, growing bushier and better.

Figure out how much you and your family will eat so you know how many plants to grow (one zucchini is probably enough!), starting small at first. You might be surprised at how much your garden produces.

Seed vs plant: Direct seeding is best for roots like carrots and beets. Garden centers sell pea and bean plants but it is just as easy and cheaper to sow them as seeds; they will catch up. Wait for the soil to warm to 55 degrees before sowing pumpkin and cucumber seeds. Test the temperature with a soil thermometer or watch lilacs bloom, which usually requires the soil temperature to be 50 degrees or higher. With our shorter growing season, it is best to buy tomatoes, peppers, broccoli and cabbage as plants. With lettuce and other leafy greens, you can sow seeds in addition to using purchased plants, spaced a few weeks apart to extend your salad season.

How to grow: If space is limited, use it wisely. How about cucumbers that will work for salads and pickles? Vertical supports like cages, trellises and tepees for tomatoes, green beans and cucumbers reduce their footprint, in addition to promoting air circulation to help avoid fungal diseases and facilitate harvesting.

If possible, raised beds are the way to go. The result: better soil structure, fewer weeds, better drainage and warmer soil to start and extend the growing season. Raised beds are an excellent choice for seniors and people with physical disabilities. Fill the beds with 50-50 grade topsoil and well-aged compost.

When using containers, get the largest size possible to allow for good root growth and adequate moisture. Plant breeders have responded to the needs of terrace and balcony gardeners by developing new “terrace” varieties; compact versions of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, beans, summer squash, strawberries and other crops more suitable for limited spaces.

Harvest abundantly: With tomatoes, peas, beans, peppers, cucumbers and summer squash, it is important to harvest regularly. This signals the factory to continue producing. You can harvest root crops like carrots, beets, and turnips at different stages, from mini vegetables until the items are fully developed. If the herbs start to bloom, no sweat. You can still use the foliage, and the flowers will attract beneficial insects that control unwanted pests.

Plus, the more you harvest, the more you reward yourself for the fruits of your labor and a well-done first year of gardening.

Rhonda Hayes is a Twin Cities-based master gardener, writer, and author of Pollinator Friendly Gardening.

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