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WHEELING — This is a very exciting time of year for gardeners and outdoor enthusiasts.
It brings me much joy driving around the Ohio Valley and noticing many gardens beginning. Starting a garden without the guidance of a family member or trusted neighbor can be overwhelming and exhausting. If you are interested in starting a garden, now is a great time, as you have plenty of time for your warm season produce to grow until our first frost in Autumn.
Did you know many crops can grow into winter? With minimal investment, you can keep some crops growing all winter under low tunnels or cover. If you have never gardened, your first year is best to start slow. Zucchini, yellow squash, beans, peas, cucumbers and tomatoes are some of my easy favorites that everyone can easily grow and enjoy with your family. Most plants love sun, but if you are unable to put your garden in a sunny spot, you can also be successful with other plants that enjoy cooler places.
If you can, a soil test will let you know if your soil is lacking any nutrients.
They are inexpensive and can help with any problems before you get your plants in the ground.
The next step is to till or no till. The main objective of this is to loosen the soil so your plants won’t have to compete against the grass (or weeds), mix up organic matter into the soil and to help control weeds. You can no till by covering your garden area with plastic for at least a month.
A raised bed is a great option for a family garden. My wife and I started with three 4-feet by 10-feet raised beds, and I was amazed at how much food you can produce from that size of an area.
You can also utilize landscape fabric to reduce weeds, increase moisture, and decrease chance of disease of your plants.
Now is the exciting part, buying plants and spacing your garden. It is important to check your spacing for your specific plant type and variety. Lettuces can be planted inches apart, while squashes need to be separated by 3 feet! You want to make sure to give them plenty of space to grow into, but also so you won’t have bare spot in your garden. It is always best to source local with all products, but it is especially nice with plants. I always try to ask questions when I am at a local greenhouse and pick up on tips from other local farmers. Those connections are invaluable and give me more comfort trying something new. Some plants are better to buy one that is already started, but some can be direct seeded (DS, don’t worry, all seeds have directions on the label). One tip is to make sure you have areas to walk — I always shovel out my walkways and place the soil where my plants will be and space my garden so I have plenty of room to reach my plants when it is time to harvest. Check the timing of when different plants want to be outside. Some plants like pepper plants can withstand hot temperatures, while others, like spinach, become bitter and tough in the middle of the summer.
As your garden begins, make sure it gets plenty of water, weeds are removed, and plants are healthy. If you begin seeing issues with your plants later in the year (bugs, wilted leaves, brown leaves, etc.) contact the Master Gardeners, and join our Facebook group Ohio Valley Gardeners, and we would be more than willing to help.
Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed with the many options to garden. Enjoy your garden — spend time learning and teaching your family how plants grow, and delegate. Kids can be wonderful assistants, as well as neighbors. A little help now getting your garden up and running, and you will be feeding the neighborhood in no time. And don’t worry, if you have too many, local food pantries and homeless shelters are always appreciative of extra produce. Contact your local farmers market to see if you are able to sell your produce. Ask questions, and at the end of the day, plant something, and just get outside.
Eric Blend and his wife own The Blended Homestead, Wheeling, a local farm that produces a wide variety of produce, meats and eggs.
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