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All articles here are written by Melinda Briana Epler (that's me!) unless otherwise noted. I'm a documentary filmmaker, writer, and brand experience designer - I've dedicated my life to living a sustainable lifestyle and helping others do the same. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts for articles. Welcome!

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The First Five Steps To Starting A Vegetable Garden

We have a lot of new readers, and several new gardeners signed up for the Growing Challenge Evangelist Edition, so I thought I’d make it easier for you new gardeners to begin!

The First 5 Steps to Starting A Fruit and Vegetable Garden

1.  Liberate yourself from what you think you’re supposed to do. This is your garden.  Yours! So rule number one in planting your garden is to forget what you’re supposed to do and do what you want to do.

2.  Make a list of the things you and your family love to eat fresh. Don’t limit yourself for this task, just write them down.  First on my list is actually fresh fruits like raspberries and peaches, followed by tomatoes, carrots, salad greens, and peppers.  So write down what you really enjoy eating when you buy it fresh from the market.  And also add fresh foods that you love to eat that are often too expensive for your budget.  I’d add blueberries, basil, and maybe fennel bulbs or saffron.

3.  Research the things on your list. A little knowledge now will make a HUGE difference later.  Look up:

  • Can you grow it in your area?  If so, is it easy to grow or really temperamental?
  • Can you buy the seeds, bulbs, or starts of the plant?  If not, maybe you can find an open pollinated variety at the farmer’s market or a local farm?
  • How much space does it take up?  If you have a limited space, are there smaller varieties or dwarf options available?

Let yourself cross off things that just seem too difficult, temperamental, or require too much time, space, or money to grow well.  You can spend some time at your local library, look everything up online, or buy a good gardening book or two.

4.  Plan your garden. First take your refined list and divide it into when you need to plant each crop:  research whether you plant it in the fall, winter, spring, or summer.  Many plants can be planted in several seasons, but some have a specific need for lots of warm days, or lots of cool days. Here’s a very fancy version:

Last Frost Date

You’ll likely find that most seed catalogs and gardening books will tell you to plant a certain number of days after the threat of last frost.  If you’re in North America, you can find your last frost by visiting Victory Seeds, Farmer’s Almanac (here for Canada), the National Climatic Data Center, calling your local master gardeners, or perusing your local newspaper archives.

Sketch Your Garden

Then draw a sketch of your garden.  It can be quite simple – you just need to know how much space you have, so you can fairly accurately plot out what will fit in your space.  And then start plotting!

Take into account size and how much light it needs when you’re deciding where to plot things. Again, here is a very fancy version which I created last year with some online software:

But really all you need is a pencil and a piece of paper.  It’s possible you’ll not be able to fit everything on your list, and that’s ok.  You will have to prioritize this year – you can always try it next year!!

5.  Begin to Buy Your Seeds and Plants! The more local you can source your seeds and plants, the better adapted they will be to your specific soil and weather.  I’ve created a list of my ten favorite catalogs (be sure to look at the recommendations in the comments as well), or you can visit your local nursery, farm, or farmer’s market.

Challenge Yourself!

The Growing Challenge New! The Growing Challenge Advanced Edition – From Seed To Seed! The Growing Challenge: Evangelist Edition

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