I’m so pumped about this series, I wrote you a poem!
Oh, friends, today is gonna be fun!
Welcome to part 2 of Gardening 101.
Here’s part 1 if you’re just digging in.
Today we’re gonna talk seeds, supplies, and sources for your garden.
Well, I may not be the greatest poet, but I sure do love this gardening thing! Today we’re going to tackle how to choose what to grow, some thoughts on basic garden supplies, fun with seed starting, and how to make your own raised beds if you’re interested. I have some great–and simple–info for you!
Garden planning with my mom and Grace.
In part 1, you made your Garden dreaming list of all the things you want to grow. Grab that list, and let’s work through it to decide what to plant this season.
We’re going to consider these five key things: money, time, space, sun, and soil.
1. Money. You could buy a seed packet for less than a dollar and plant in the soil you’ve got if it’s good soil. Or you could go with a few small containers to start. Or you could try your hand at a raised bed or two, which requires a bit more resources. Decide on a gardening budget that’s comfortable for you. If you need to start small, that’s okay! A little goes a long way, and you can always do more later! Gracie’s Garden started with a few containers and grew over the course of five years. We now have over 40 feet of raised veggie bed space and lots of flower beds. Our garden space and plantings expanded over time, and over that time we learned to care for it all. Choose what works for you in this season of your life.
A great place to find plants is at the local farmer’s market if you have one!
2. Time. Growing a garden isn’t just about planting things once and never having to touch them again. Depending on what you grow, there’s a lot of ongoing tending that happens–which to me is the fun part! Planting our garden takes a few days, and tending and watering takes me about 15-30 minutes a day. Sometimes it takes much less time during a week when it rains, but there are also times it takes a lot longer, like when I need to prune. Consider the maintenance needed for certain plants. Tomatoes generally require staking and pruning, but they give you fruit over time. Carrots, however, grow, get pulled out of the ground once, and that’s it!
My little gardener giving the plants a drink.
3. Soil. The soil is what sustains the life of the plant, providing nutrients, and allowing deep roots to grow. Good soil is a gardener’s gold. But, let me tell you right now, that “perfect” soil is not required. Here’s a shortcut: call your local garden shop or garden extension service. First, ask them about the general soil in your area. Here in North Carolina, we have clay soil, which means that it doesn’t drain or allow plants to root well. So, raised beds are a must for us. In areas of our yard where I’ve done in-ground planting, I’ve had to dig out mass amounts of clay first to replace it with looser “loamy” soil.
Tomatoes love marigolds and I love them both.
Whether you are planting in pots, or raised beds, or in-ground, you’re likely wondering what kind of soil to use. A reminder: I’m no expert here, and that’s why this series is titled Gardening 101!
Here are some soil basics. Plants need nutrients in the soil to grow, and when you grow lots of veggies and flowers, they suck the nutrients out of your soil. So, each growing season, you’ll need to add nutrients back to the soil to keep everything happy. This is called “amending the soil.” But, how do you know what nutrients to add? My farmer/gardener friends may cringe at this, but I don’t test my soil every year. It’s the only way to know what your soil needs, though. I found this test kit that I may use this year. Once you know what your soil is lacking, take a look at what you’re growing and see what nutrients each plant needs (Do a quick internet search to find that info. For instance, here’s a simple article on soil needs for tomatoes!).
Dirt, beautiful dirt! Actually, that’s bags of vermiculite, peat moss, and mushroom compost.
Okay, let’s talk dirt. If you are starting from scratch, what kind of soil should you use? A couple years ago, we tried making Mel’s mix (read about it here) which was super labor-intensive and did not work well in the end for us. We had one raised bed with Mel’s Mix and one right next to it with another combination. Mel’s mix didn’t seem to make our plants as happy. We’ve also used bagged MiracleGrow vegetable bed soil and lots of other bagged soils.
Tilling up the garden beds last year with a baby on my chest. : )
But here are our two favorites:
1. A local grower’s mix of organic mushroom compost, crushed shells and vermiculite (helps our soil to drain well), and organic topsoil. Lots of local nurseries and landscape supply places mix their own soil, so do a little research and ask around to find the best! This is the soil mix we started with in most of our raised beds.
2. Black Kow mixed with organic mushroom compost. Grace lovingly calls the Black Kow, “poopy cow,” because…. well, that’s what it is. And it just plain works. Every year, we (meaning me with Grace playing in the dirt while I do this) till up our existing soil with a big shovel and mix a few bags of poopy cow and mushroom compost into our raised beds for added nutrients. So far so good!
Husband of the year here, mixing soil for me and helping construct new garden beds.
What about fertilizer? I haven’t gotten into composting yet, so for now, I’m using traditional fertilizers. I sprinkle some ‘MaterMagic in with my veggie plantings once they have had some time to root. I use Dr. Earth’s fruit tree fertilizer for all the trees a few times a year, too, but the Black Kow mixed into the pots works just as well. For our bulbs, I use Jobe’s Organics bone meal. If we plant beans, I use a nitrogen booster. This all sounds very complex, but so much of what you need to know is easy to Google and, many times, written on the seed packets! : )
The year we tried Square Foot Gardening.
4. Sun. Most vegetables need 6-8 hours of direct sun. My vegetable garden actually only gets about 5 hours of full sun, but somehow it still does well. One end of the raised bed area gets a bit more sun than the other, though, so I purposely plant the more sun-loving veggies there like tomatoes and peppers. On the shadier end, I have some part-sun flowers and creeping vines that like a little respite from the heat every now and then. If your garden spot doesn’t get much light, you can still grow many leafy vegetables such as lettuce and spinach, but in general, the sunnier the better.
Carrots, corn, oregano, rosemary, tomatoes and a marigold living together. There might be a couple onions in there too.
5. Space. You don’t need a ton of space to grow a garden. If you follow the Square Foot Gardening method, you’ll be able to pack a lot in a tiny space. But, plants do need room to root and spread out. I made the mistake of planting too much in a small space my first year of gardening, and most of my tomatoes ended up pretty tasteless. Just like our lives, if you grow too much in one space, you won’t have enough nutrients to go around. So, consider your space. Like I mentioned in Part 1, gardens come in all shapes, types, and sizes!
I love Gracie’s sweet handwriting. : )
So, what are you going to grow? Let’s look at that garden dreaming list you made from part 1. Considering the five keys we just discussed (money, time, soil, sun, and space), what on your garden dreaming list is a must-keep, and what needs to get crossed off for now? Another way to pair down your list is to do a little research to find out what will grow well in your zone and season, like we talked about in Part 1. This is very helpful info to have! I am purposely holding off on planting a few things till later in the season because they need more heat to grow (watermelons for instance). So, till then, I’ve got an open space in my garden that I can fill for a few months with carrots!
Widdle that list down to what works best for your particular garden, your season of life, and what you will enjoy most. Don’t have enough sunny space for all those veggies on your list? Grow what you have space for. Don’t have time to deadhead cosmos all summer (I learned this the hard way last year)? Don’t plant many–or consider cutting them off your list altogether. Don’t have the budget for raised beds this season? Start with a few pots! Or get creative and try these unusual garden planter ideas. My best advice is to start small. You can always add more later in the season–or in future years!
All of our seeds spread across the dining room table!
Now, let’s dig into some seed and supply sources. This is not an exhaustive list, and you may have great sources I haven’t discovered yet. I’d love to hear your thoughts too! : )
Some of my favorite garden supplies and sources:
Numero uno on my list are the magical garden beings called Master Gardeners! Have you heard of Master Gardener’s before? I did not know this service existed until just a few years ago when I was trying to figure out how to deal with the hornworms on my tomato plants, and I met one at a garden shop. Master Gardener programs (also known as Extension Master Gardener Programs) are volunteer programs that train individuals in the science and art of gardening. These individuals pass on the information they learned during their training, as volunteers who advise and educate the public on gardening and horticulture. Do a quick Google search to see if your area has this program–they likely do! I’ve met several Master Gardeners at garden fairs and local events, and they are a wealth of knowledge.
I store my seeds in the bottom of our refrigerator in Mason jars to help them last a little longer.
Burpee (I have often ordered a few weird wildcard veggies from them like On-Deck Corn. We’ve grown it three years in a row and love it!)
Floret Flower Seeds (my favorite flower seeds and bulbs)
Park Seed (another favorite for flower seeds)
Botanical Interests (lots of heirloom seeds)
Southern Seed Exchange Catalog (You must get a printed version of this catalog. It’s so beautiful and informative!)
Mail-order veggies from Burpee above. They always arrive in great shape.
First, I love local garden stores! I do shop at some of the big box stores that carry locally grown plants (Lowes often has lots of local growers highlighted!), but there’s something magical about going to the smaller garden shops. One of our favorites here, For Garden’s Sake, even has goats, chickens, and alpacas that you can visit. Local garden shops are often run by passionate gardeners who get excited when someone asks a question or needs advice. Use the resources in your area–you might even make a new friend or two!
A few supplies we use and love:
Greenes raised bed kits — We have several of these and they come in all different sizes. SO fast and easy to assemble!
Tomato ladders – These things are the best!
Nitrile-coated garden gloves – Great if you have roses or pokey veggies like cucumbers.
My Joyful Garden planner
I do have a few trowels and clippers, but I often end up using soup spoons, Grace’s craft scissors, and my bare hands! You don’t need fancy tools to grow a garden. And larger sticks from your yard make great tomato supports too!
At our local garden shop getting some perennials for the front yard. Grace is more excited about the rocks!
Gardening books I own and love:
Cut Flower Garden
Square Foot Gardening
Carrots Love Tomatoes, an excellent resource for companion planting
The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible
A favorite children’s book I read when I was a child, and now read to Grace, The Reason for a Flower.
And I haven’t purchased this book yet, but I’ve had my eye on this one.
Do you have a favorite gardening book or resource? I’d love to hear!
A peek at our seeds today! Big Max is getting BIG!
Seed starting. Depending on where you live, starting seeds indoors can help extend the length of the growing season for many plants. If you have hot summers like we do, it can give you a headstart on growing things that don’t love the heat. And, it’s just fun! We didn’t start any seeds indoors last year because we were a little busy caring for two little new babies. But, this year, we jumped back in! This year, we started tomatoes, peppers, some zinnias, sweet peas, and pumpkins. After trying unsuccessfully year after year, we are determined to grow a pumpkin in 2017!
To start seeds indoors, you mimic the conditions needed for a seed to germinate and sprout outdoors: warmth, water, darkness, and once the seed sprouts, light!
Following Erin’s instructions for starting sweet pea seeds. So excited about these!
You don’t need a grow light like we have (we purchased this one several years ago and it easily stores away in our front hall closet when we’re not using it) to start seeds indoors. You can simply use empty egg cartons, some plastic wrap, and a bright window. See this tutorial for more. And be sure to read this awesome post for more seed starting basics.
Tomato seedlings in paper cups.
How to make your own raised garden beds. I built two new garden beds last year that still look great–and all for about $40 each. I went to Lowes and picked out a couple untreated cedar planks, had the nice gentleman there cut them for me into eight sections – four 2′ sections and four 4′ sections. I got a small roll of landscape fabric, a box of 2″ long nails, and I already had a 1″ x 2″ board at home that I sawed into eight sections to bolster the inside corners of my garden beds. I built the boxes in a similar way to this tutorial, then used a staple gun and attached the landscape fabric (helps keep weeds and critters out) to the bottom of each bed before placing them where I wanted them. I filled them all with soil, and that was that! These two beds took about an hour to construct.
Our new garden bed, and my cute little gardener in her PJ’s!
There you have it! Like I said, this is Gardening 101. There’s so much more I could share, but I hope this gives you a great start in growing some fun things this year.
In the next and final post of this series, I’ll share our own garden plans with you, a sample starter veggie garden plan for those of you who want a great place to begin, as well as a few tips on houseplants and gardening with kids! (And there may be a huge gardening giveaway too!)
Your turn! I’d love to hear what you are planning to grow this year. What supplies or seeds you are considering? Feel free to ask any questions you have, too!