How to start a vegetable garden – Chicago Tribune


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Starting a vegetable garden Whether you’re looking to eat healthier or simply save money on groceries, gardening is an excellent hobby. If you’ve ever enjoyed farm-to-table food, then you know the high quality that comes with growing one’s own vegetables. Furthermore, the work of weeding, hoeing and planting gets you active and outside. Planting vegetables, especially for the first time, requires patience, diligence and care. But with those things, even the ultimate beginner can plant their own produce. So, get your gardening tools together, map out a plot in your yard and keep reading to get started. Benefits of a vegetable garden The act of gardening itself provides a number of health benefits. Besides growing your own produce that's in season and not treated with harmful pesticides, gardening outdoors is a natural mood booster. A 2011 study shows a significant improvement in depression symptoms after 12 weeks of gardening. Outdoor gardening is also an excellent source of vitamin D, which is vital for strong bones and a strong immune system. Of course, if you’re spending hours in the sun, you should be wearing a protective hat and long sleeves, or sunscreen at the very least. What do I need to start my vegetable garden? Before you start plotting your garden, you want to have everything you need. Here are a few of the essentials: A good vegetable soil is quick-draining and moist enough to clump together, but dry enough to break apart easily. Look for a soil mix that's intended for vegetable gardens. A vegetable garden in particular benefits from plenty of compost and organic matter, so be sure to have those things on hand as well. Plants are certainly easier for beginning gardeners, though they cost more than seeds. Certain vegetables should be directly planted as seeds, since they don't plant well. These include root vegetables like carrots, potatoes, beans and parsnips. Vegetables that plant well as seedlings include basil, eggplant, cauliflower and tomatoes. As you decide on your seeds and plants, keep in mind the kinds of foods you and your family eat, how easy or hard it is to grow certain vegetables and the vegetables that are native to your area. Tools for preparation and maintenance A high-quality, handheld trowel is a must for digging small holes to plant your harvest and break up solid clumps. This is one of your most often-used items, so it's worth getting one of decent quality. If you're keeping a sizable plot for your vegetable garden, you'll also need a shovel for moving soil, relocating vegetables and more. An angled shovel (one that ends in an inverted triangle) is easiest for gardening newbies to use. Part of maintaining a garden is removing dead leaves, weeds, stems and other garden debris with pruning shears or sharp garden scissors. With their sharp and exact points, pruning shears allow you to clean up your plot and promote healthy growth. A watering system is also crucial. There are more than a few sophisticated watering systems for you to choose from. For beginners, a hose with a sprayer attachment will do just fine, especially for a smaller garden plot. While this isn't a must-have, consider a raised garden bed. These are especially helpful if your garden plot is on subpar soil; elevating your garden bed and filling it with high-quality soil allows you more flexibility in where to plant, creates a space-efficient vegetable plot and makes for easier pest control. Where you choose to install your vegetable garden is absolutely critical for success. Vegetable gardens need ample sunlight — at least six hours of direct sunlight (though if you live in an excessive hot and sunny place, you may look for a shadier area). You also want an area that isn’t too windy. As far as size, less is more for new planters. A 10 x 10-foot garden plot is a perfect size to start and keeps maintenance manageable. You can opt for an 8 x 4-foot garden bed, too. If you're digging into the soil in your plot rather than installing a garden bed, you'll need to clear the space. This means using a shovel and trowel to dig up grass, remove weeds, clear rocks and debris and loosen the soil several inches into the ground so that roots can sufficiently plant. You can add some bagged mix with the soil on the ground. For your vegetables to succeed, the soil can’t be cold and must be able to drain itself well. If the soil on your ground is cold and wet, you should try a raised garden bed instead. Most store-bought garden beds include a kit with directions you can follow to plant the garden bed. Subsequently fill it with your bagged garden soil mix. Once your plot has been prepared, your seeds or plants are ready to plant. For plants, dig a hole that’s about double the size of the plant’s original container. Leave about two feet between plants to allow room for growth. Cover the hole with soil. With seeds, it's a good idea to add fertilizer and organic matter. Follow the directions on the seed packet to determine the depth of your planting. Make sure the seeds are resting firmly in the soil, so as to soak up the necessary moisture. Add stakes to demarcate where your seeds are planted. If you’re planting plants, have trellises or cages for those that need support to stay upright (like tomatoes, for example). Water your plants and/or seeds to settle them into the soil. You should water the soil when the top half-inch is dry. During warm weather, water your plot in the late afternoon or evening so your crop can soak up the water overnight. Ola Faleti is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews and its newspaper partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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