Written by Ranae Aspen, Associate Educator
Beginning a garden does not need to be cumbersome. With a few tips and guides, you can have fresh vegetables on your table this summer. Gardening begins with a plan, equipment and a little creativity. Begin the thought process by assessing the space that you have. Gardening can happen in small pots, raised beds or traditional gardening plots. If you will be growing your own seeds for things such as tomatoes, this is prime time to begin. So, let’s get started with a plan of action!
This area can be both personal as well as tool oriented. On a personal level, you need to have gloves, a hat, sunscreen, and comfortable shoes that you do not mind getting dirty. Be sure to stay hydrated as a lot of the gardening season happens during the heat of the summer! Hand tools you will need include a trowel, watering can, and garden hoe. These items can be found at local department stores. You may want to look for them at yard sales and second hand stores as well. In the beginning, buy the very basics. From a pocket book perspective it is good as well as being mindful of the space you will need to store your equipment.
Lettuce photo by Alice Henneman, Extension Educator
Selecting Vegetable Plants and Seeds
Concentrate on one or two vegetables and learn as you go. You will want to place plants in sunny areas. Keep in mind, you could use containers or plant directly in a garden plot. The first step is to decide what to plant. Make a list of the vegetables you like to eat and see which ones grow best in your area. Tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, beans and herbs are easy things to start with. Here is a good reference from Nebraska Extension horticulturists on patio container gardening and what grows well in Nebraska.
The budget-friendly way to grow plants is to start from seeds, as opposed to buying plants. Seed catalogs and garden centers have a variety of seeds to choose from. The packets clearly explain how to plant the seeds, when you should expect them to sprout, days to harvest, and the care of the plant. This definitely takes forward planning. Right now is the optimum time to begin planting tomatoes from seeds indoors. If you decide to purchase plants from your neighborhood garden center, look for pot-grown plants with healthy, green leaves and no flower bunches. The plants should have white roots. Avoid plants with yellow, thin straggly stems.
Herbs photo by Alice Henneman, Extension Educator
Location of plants is important. Rely on the seed packets or the information that comes with established plants for location of full-sun or partial shade. Typically, you want to select a spot with good drainage and no competition from surrounding tree or shrub roots.
The next part of gardening may be the challenge for you, and that is weeds. You will want to keep up daily on watching for weed growth and pulling them out. Pulling weeds is free, a great form of exercise, and does not require adding chemicals to your plants. It truly is a win-win!
Watering plants is critical for growth as well. Lightly water the bed or pot before you plant. This makes the soil easy to work with. For sprouted plants, gently pull plants apart without cutting them as this harms the root systems. Set the plants at the same depth as they were in their original container. Be sure the root area remains moist during the critical first few days. Check out this Backyard Farmer video for a visual of planting your vegetable plants.
Once you go through your first gardening season, you will feel so accomplished! Nurturing the plant from start to finish and then putting it on your table for your family is truly rewarding! For ideas on how to use your fresh herbs and vegetables, check out this page by Nebraska Extension’s Alice Henneman.
Herbs are a great first plant to grow as well. Very easy! I tend to use a lot less salt when I have a plant to snip a few glorious leaves from. Chop them up, add them to your cooking, and the smell it gives is amazing! The first step is to begin, the rest is easy!
The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture the garden is to feed not just on the body, but the soul. Alfred Austin
Greiss, Ted, Extension Assistant West Central Research & Extension Center
UNL Backyard Farmer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7BcMAr02_XM
This post was reviewed by Morgan Hartline, MS, RD, LMNT, SNAP-Ed Program Coordinator