Location, worms, food, water are essential YOUR FIRST GARDEN

By Thresea Harris

OSU Extension master gardener volunteer

Gardening should be easy. Gardening should be fun. I make sure my garden is both.

First, pick the right spot. Your plants need sunshine to grow the best flowers and vegetables. Walk around to select a good, sunny spot. Make it easier by making a simple sun chart. A sun chart is a layout of your yard charting the sunshine during the day. There are some plants that grow in the shade, though, like Swiss chard, collards, spinach, mustards, begonias, impatiens and coleus, to name a few.

Next you need to understand your dirt (which should be soil). Good soil is important for growing a great garden. It provides plants the opportunity to grow their best. You should check the drainage in your selected spot. If the water sits on top of the ground for a long time, it will make good mud pies but not a good garden. You can also consider using raised beds or plant everything on a mounded hill for better drainage.

Lots of worms mean you are getting good aeration in the soil. The soil has important parts: minerals, organic matter (rotting plants and more), air spaces and water. Your soil can be heavy clay, too sandy, too dry or too wet. You should have it tested to see what you need to add. You can add manure, compost, peat moss and leaves. I add 2-3 inches of leaves and peat moss to the ground and mix. Manure should be composted. Fresh manure will hurt your plants and is not safe. Compost can be a mixture of vegetables and kitchen scraps. Peat moss helps sandy and clay soil, but make sure it is moist before you mix it. Leaves are good because they are free in the fall. Leaves are an invitation for those worms to inhabit your garden.

All plants need water to live and grow. Water helps plants move nutrients through the stems. One inch of rain a week meets the needs. Clay soil dries out slower and sandy soil dries out fast, therefore a rain gauge could be handy. A rain gauge measures the weekly rainfall. If you have to water with a hose, use a tuna can to measure. When it gets full, you’ve added an inch of water. Understand that watering isn’t as simple as you might think. If you add mulch, it will lessen the need to add water. There are many ways to water. You can use hand sprinklers, lawn sprinklers, wands or soaker hoses. Soaker hoses water slowly and deeply. You should water early in the day.

Plants also need feeding. They like nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. The three numbers on the fertilizer bag stand for nitrogen first, phosphorous second, and potassium third. The numbers stand for the percentage of nutrients in the bag. You need 11/2 pounds per 100 square feet of garden. Nitrogen helps growth and green color. Phosphorus help form nice roots, make seeds, fruits and flowers. Potassium helps plants make strong stems and keep growing fast. Fertilizer can make a good garden great.

A good-size beginner vegetable garden is about 16-by-10 feet. A garden this size will feed a family of four for one summer, with a little extra for canning and freezing (or giving away). Make your garden 11 rows wide, with each row 10 feet long. The rows should run north and south to take full advantage of the sun. Vegetables that may yield more than one crop per season are beans, beets, carrots, cabbage, kohlrabi, lettuce, radishes, rutabagas, spinach and turnips. Here are my suggestions for your 11 rows: tomatoes — five plants staked; zucchini — four plants; peppers — six plants; cabbage, bush beans, leaf or bibb lettuce, beets, carrots, chard, radishes, and marigolds.

This is how you make your first garden. Good luck and happy gardening.

Read the easy to understand ways to make your garden at: http://go.osu.edu/firstgarden.