It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Yellow particles coat our cars, flip-flops emerge from the cobwebs in our closets, and daylight pushes our kids’ bedtimes later and later.
And lots of people decide they want to start a garden, perhaps for the first time. But like a child tiptoeing to the edge of the pool, they hesitate. They fear failure, think they don’t know enough, and don’t know where to start.
As I talk with beginning gardeners (since it wasn’t all that long ago I was one myself) and they ask for quick tips and guidance, I always back up and ask four key questions. The answers to these questions will help anyone develop a plan for any type of garden from the simple to the complex.
Why do you want to garden?
Finding your why is a crucial consideration for the new gardener. The answer will decide what you will grow and what you won’t.
For example, if you want to plant a garden to save money on your food bill you’ll choose crops like herbs, peppers, and even melons — crops that are more expensive to purchase at the grocery store.
If you want to grow your own food to avoid pesticides on conventionally grown produce, you’ll choose crops like strawberries, spinach, tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers — produce that in their non-organic forms have the highest amounts of pesticide residues.
If you want to garden just for the joy of growing your own food, I suggest a small plot with crops you love to eat like fresh tomatoes or zucchini. And if you want the simplest, no-fuss crops, you may choose peppers, okra, or beans.
How much time do you have to spend?
It’s no secret, gardening can take time. But if you make a plan to work in your garden every week, you may be surprised at how much you can get done.
With only a half hour per week, you can easily maintain a couple of raised beds. If you have more time, perhaps you can till a small garden plot.
Just keep this in mind: more new gardeners make the mistake of planting too large of a garden than vice versa. You can always expand. But the last thing you want is for garden work to become a chore. You’re more likely to give up in frustration. So start small.
What do you like to eat?
This question is so simple, yet it’s often overlooked when planting a new garden. You want to grow what you already eat.
Think about the vegetables, fruits, and herbs you regularly buy at the grocery store. Which of those could you grow? Start with those. Most people in our area begin with tomatoes, peppers, and zucchini or squash.
That’s not to say you can’t try new things. Go for it! Just make sure you allocate most of your garden space to food you know you’ll eat. Then, with the rest, have fun and experiment!
How much room do you have?
While most vegetables make themselves a happy home in raised beds or containers, some need more room to spread out. Unless you plan to create a large garden, skip crops like corn, shelling peas, or black-eyed peas. Those take up a lot of room, and unless you’re fine with using four-square-feet for one night of corn on the cob, make better use of your space with other crops. Buy what you don’t have room to grow at the farmer’s market.
The biggest mistake, in my opinion, in growing a garden is not trying to grow one at all. I’d love to get back to the days where a backyard garden is the norm rather than the exception. But the second mistake is not taking a little bit of time to plan.
So before you grab your flip flops, hop in your yellow-tinted car, and drive to the garden center to purchase your garden supplies, seeds, and baby plants, consider your answers to these questions above, and you’ll be well on your way to a successful garden this year.