A supermarket tomato simply can’t compare in taste to a ripe tomato fresh off the vine. Vegetables that are typically picked early for supermarkets have more nutrients when they are allowed to appropriately ripen before picking. Supermarkets don’t provide the full range of vegetable varieties available to the home gardener. If you agree with these statements and you aren’t already a gardener, why not make 2020 the year you give gardening a try?
There are four key criteria to get started: sufficient sunlight, access to clean water, protection from wind, and quality soil.
Most vegetables prefer eight hours of sun daily. Your garden should be positioned to avoid sun blockage from trees, shrubs, fencing or buildings. You can also paint nearby fencing or siding white to increase light reflection.
If you have a lot of shade, you can still try growing plants with low light requirements like leafy greens, asparagus, garlic and leeks. If these grow well, try branching out into medium light plantings like beans, radishes and peas.
Watering can be done by hand, sprinklers or irrigation. Regardless of method, the water source needs to be easily accessible. Repeatedly carrying heavy watering cans to the garden can quickly dampen your enthusiasm for gardening.
If your yard is subject to wind, your plants will need a wind break to protect them from both the wind and the debris wind can carry. Plantings or fencing can do the trick.
The last essential is soil that can sustain the plants. There isn’t enough room here to discuss all the elements that make good soil, how to test it, how to develop good soil over time, and how to work with the soil to optimize its texture for planting, but there’s a lot of information online to help.
If you have plants growing in your garden space now, it’s likely to be able to sustain a garden with the addition of some compost. If your desired site is rocky or full of dense clay that doesn’t drain, don’t despair! You can grow plants in containers or you can purchase or construct frames to build a raised bed on top of this undesirable soil and fill the frame with purchased soil mixes.
If you opt for a raised bed, be sure the width allows you to access the whole bed: if it’s against a fence, don’t make it wider than about three feet so you don’t have to stretch too far to reach the other side. If it’s not right next to other structures, think about how you’ll maintain the area around it (for example, leave enough space for your mower to get around the bed).
A couple of other considerations are accessibility for wheelbarrows and such and protection from critters that might eat or disturb your crops. Deer need eight foot fencing, but dogs, cats and rabbits can be deterred with shorter fencing. Just make sure you either leave enough space between the fence and bed for you to fit while working in the beds or have a way to open the fencing to access your plantings.
When you first start gardening it’s a common mistake to be too ambitious and plant too much. Start with a few veggies you really love and then use what you learn this year to expand next year. Draw a plan, record what and when you plant, and make notes throughout the growing season on what works and what doesn’t so you don’t make the same mistakes next year.
When you plan your garden, normally you’ll want the tallest plants in the back (northern side) graduating to the shortest in the front; however plants like lettuce prefer some shade and you can place them behind your tallest plants (like tomatoes, trellised beans or corn) to provide the cooler atmosphere they prefer.
Use the instructions of the back of the seed packet to evaluate plant spacing needs, though you can often plant a bit more densely than the packets recommend. Square Foot Gardening is a popular technique that uses even denser planting techniques to make the most of available space.
Because our SW Washington temperatures are cooler than other areas or the country, you’ll need to add additional “days to maturity” to seed packet estimates: from 10 days added for varieties that typically harvest in 40 to 50 days up to 30 days added to varieties that normally harvest in 100 days.
If you have enough light and space indoors, you can start plants inside to get a head start. It’s particularly helpful to start long growing plants like winter squash indoors and transplant them when the weather warms to give them a chance to mature by autumn.
For more information on starting your vegetable garden, check out the WSU Clark County Extension Master Gardener Program at extension.wsu.edu/clark/master-gardeners/.
Master Gardeners are available to answer your garden questions at (564) 397-5711 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday and from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursday and Friday.