1. Get an idea. For a vegetable garden, think about what you like to eat and what you generally buy (or can’t buy) at a local farmers’ market. Many people do not realize that some vegetables pair well together and complement each other in terms of growing. This is called “companion planting.” Also, make sure you plant the proper vegetables at the right time of the year. Planting certain vegetables too early (such as pumpkins) will result in pumpkins ripening before you want them to. Purchasing a Farmer’s Almanac will give you a better idea of when to plant certain vegetables for your region you.
2. Pick a place. A good size for a vegetable garden is around 10x16 feet. Almost all vegetables and most flowers need about six hours of full sun each day. Spend a day in your chosen spot and watch how the sun moves across the space. It might receive more sun than you think. But don't despair if your lot is largely sunless; many plants tolerate shade. Check plant tags, backs of seed packets, or ask the staff at your local garden center to find out how much sun a plant requires.
Vegetables need lots of water, at least 1 inch of water a week. Make sure that wherever you plan your garden, you are able to either get a hose to it, or carry watering cans.
Drawing out a diagram of how you want your garden to look will help you visualize the final product. It will also allow you to troubleshoot any possible layout problems.
3. Buy some basic tools. Have these essential gardening tools on hand before you begin: spade, garden fork, shovel, hoe, hand weeder, and a basket or wheel barrow for moving around mulch or soil.
4. Clear the ground. Get rid of the sod covering the area you plan to plant. If you want quick results, you can dig it out, but it's easier to smother it with newspaper. A layer of five sheets is usually thick enough. Spread a 3-inch layer of compost (or combination of potting soil and topsoil) on the newspaper and wait. It'll take about four months for the compost and paper to decompose.
If you don’t want to till and nourish the soil you’ve got—or if you have a bad back and would rather not be bending down so low to garden—you can build a raised planting bed with non-pressure-treated wood.
5. Improve the soil. Soil needs a boost. The solution is simple: organic matter. Add a 2 to 3 inch layer of compost, decayed leaves, dry grass clippings, or old manure. Till the organic matter into the soil. If you are working with an established bed you can't dig, leave the organic matter on the surface and it will work its way into the soil in a few months.
6. Consider a fence. Fences are especially important if you are planting vegetables (although some flowering plants may be enticing to critters, too). Build it before you plant the garden so rabbits or raccoons will never get a glimpse of what is growing.
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