Everyone’s mind and searches are on vegetable gardening right now. Those seed catalogs are like the Sirens’ song, aren’t they? Before you start a vegetable garden, ask yourself a few questions beyond which vegetables are easiest to grow.
Sometimes, long-time gardeners act as though you should know exactly what to do right out of the starting gate, or they pretend that gardening takes some kind of magic potion to be successful. While magic happens from the very act of growing things, learning how to grow is like learning any other craft. Rarely, does someone know how to knit, crochet, cook or even keep their homes without learning some of it beforehand. Here are some questions that should be asked before you ever buy that packet of seeds or potting soil.
What do you like to eat? The Ruby Red Swiss chard, shown below, is one of the most beautiful vegetables you can grow. However, if you can’t abide the taste of Swiss chard, don’t grow it. Start with things you like to eat and try one new vegetable, herb or fruit each year. As you taste what comes from the work of your hands, your palette will also grow. You may find that you love beets or turnips because you harvest them when they are small and at the peak of perfection.
When I was a child, my father loved turnips cooked with fresh ham hocks. It was kind of sweet, and pinkish brown and white and gross. I grew up thinking I hated turnips, but someone told me I should grow them before I wrote them off. After harvest, I steamed them with a bit of butter and salt and pepper. What a revelation! I love turnips now because I can harvest them when I want–small and tender. My youngest daughter loves radishes. I’m convinced it’s because we grew them from the time she was small. Radish seeds are one of the best vegetables for children to sow because the seeds are rather large and can be sown directly outside. Plus, radishes grow so fast. Great for small people with even shorter attention spans. Radishes are nearly foolproof. So are green beans.
Where does the sun shine? Vegetable gardens need six to eight hours of sun to do their best. In uber-hot years, southern states like Oklahoma may need some shade cloth during the heart of summer, but most gardens beg for a sunny spot. One exception to this rule is lettuce and other greens. You can often grow them in a bit of shade. In fact, in hot climates, they appreciate it.
Is water nearby? This is probably the most important question. If you don’t have water close to your garden, it will not thrive in Oklahoma or other hot climates. In fact, you simply must water a garden in most places in the U.S. because it is a continental climate. Before you buy seeds and potting soil–if you’re using containers–plan for water. You need easy access to water whether it’s Netafim drip irrigation, or a spray nozzle. Where you grow has a lot to do with the way you’ll water too. Think about where the sun shines. Will you be growing on a patio that has in shade at least part of the day? Is your garden in full sun? These are important questions.
How big? Like hungry children at a buffet, seed catalogs and early spring make it easy to overindulge when it comes to gardening. Above, is my large garden, but I don’t suggest it for beginning gardeners because it is too large. It’s very easy for things to get out of hand. Start small with containers, or raised beds and have a simple plan. Below is the rough draft of the balcony plan I drew for my book.
Here is my potager–kitchen garden–in early spring. See how tidy it is? Well, the next photo is at midsummer.
It may seem overly simple, but plants grow. As they grow, they take up more and more space. So, try not to over plant and start small.
So, these are the questions I consider whenever I plan a new garden bed, whether it’s for veggies or sun-loving ornamental plants. What have I missed? What are the things you think about when planning a new garden space?