You just moved and your new home doesn’t have a garden space. Or maybe you’ve never had a garden. Perhaps you want to grow your own produce at home. It may be that you want to can your food at home. It could be that you like the idea of having a hobby. Honestly, the reasons are endless for starting a garden from scratch. In fact, in the current day, many homes don’t even have a garden to begin with. So, if you want to garden, you might need some tips for exactly how to start one from the very beginning.
Now, how you garden has a lot to do with your end goal. If you’re gardening as a hobby, how you garden can look very different than if you’re planning on growing the majority of your year’s produce. How you garden also depends on the resources you have such as your ground, light availability, and water. So let’s dive into it shall we? Looking at the key basics you need to consider.
The 3 Primary Elements
First and foremost, you need to consider the type of soil you have. I’m not saying to get super complicated here, just use some common sense. When you’re scouting where you would like to garden, what type of soil is available? Is it filled with rocks? Are weeds the only thing that will grow there? That’s the basic approach, the beginning. Soil that is too rocky will be hard to grow plants in. Gravel is not a good thing in a garden!
Once you find a place that you feel would be suitable, you should dive deeper. Take a spade or shovel and break the ground. It’s time to get our hands dirty! When you look at the soil, you will be able to determine the very basic composition of it. Sandy soil tends to have good drainage while clay is very fine soil and tends to hold onto water better. There are more technical terms as well, but we’re sticking with the basics right now! When you look at the soil, super sandy soil and super dense clay like soil are not optimal. If the composition is somewhere in between these, you will likely have decent success growing a garden.
Finally, the location of your soil, the layout of the land, is also important. If you are in a very dry climate range that receives little rain, a low spot that collects moisture a little easier will likely yield better results with less watering than on top of a hill. Reversely, if you are in a fairly wet climate, a location that collects a little less moisture will be better.
Light is essential for plant growth. The majority of common garden plants do well with full sun with the exception of a few that do well in partial shade. When you’re looking for a good garden location, try to find one away from tree cover and shade as well as one that receives the maximum light during the day. The sun travels east to west, so most often a location that is free from obstruction in either of these directions is best for optimal light. So, in addition to finding a location with good soil, you should also balance that with the light that the location receives.
Finally, the last key element to consider when picking a location is your access to water and its qualities. We already discussed your location relative to the soil holding water, now we’re going to quickly mention access to actually watering your garden. While rainfall is best, it’s not necessarily reliable. In order to have a successful garden, you need to have a fairly consistent watering schedule and a good water source. This usually means that you need to have a faucet or hydrant fairly close by so that you can reach your garden with a hose.
Different plants have different requirements for water. A good method that has worked for me, though, is giving them a good deep watering twice a week using soaker hoses. This not only helps conserve the water because it’s going directly into the soil by the plant, but it helps to truly soak the plant’s roots and keep it strong and healthy. Tomatoes, for example, can get disease if you water them from the top down instead of just at the base of the plant.
Quality of water can also be a big deal. Personally, I have never had an issue. Most rural water systems, and city water, has been treated so that the minerals aren’t too high and you don’t have any contaminants. This is usually what I use. However, if you use well water you might want to check the minerals in it. Some plants are sensitive to high concentrations of certain minerals and if you are using this water you could possibly cause an issue with not only your plants but your soil long term as the minerals build up in it. I encourage you to do some research on this if you have well water!
There are two main garden design types, in-ground and raised bed. Now, just like with everything else, these can each get more complicated and there are different methods of both, but we’re going to stick with the very basic concept of each.
In-Ground Garden Beds
In-ground garden beds are considered fairly traditional. You simply use a rota-tiller and work the ground so that it is suitable for planting. If you choose this option, I would highly recommend tilling it first in the fall before it freezes. This will break up the grass and kill it over the winter. Then in the spring, I would go back in and till it again before planting. This will not only help hinder the grass from taking over your garden, but it will also help the soil to be less clumpy and better for planting.
If you don’t have the option to till in the fall but instead just in the spring, there are some things you should expect the first year. First, expect your plants to possibly not do so well. There are some cases where they do exceptionally, personally I experienced this with squash, however in most cases I had issues. I had a terrible green bean stand the first year I tilled up a fresh garden space. There were some cut worms in the soil that prevented a good stand and then the plants themselves just didn’t produce well. The second year around, the plants did absolutely marvelous.
Second, plan to be weeding like crazy unless you utilize methods like mulching or condensed planting. If you space your plants out, there will be plenty of room to let weeds and grass grow. If you choose to mulch, lay down dried grass clippings free of herbicides, the mulch will prevent light from reaching the soil and therefore prevent weeds from growing. Additionally, if you practice a fairly condensed gardening plan, leaving little room to walk between the plants, as they grow, they will reduce the sunlight reaching the soil and in turn prevent weed growth. The first year, utilizing both methods may be beneficial.
Raised Garden Beds
Raised garden beds can be useful in a variety of different garden systems. Regardless of whether you want to grow large amounts of food to preserve or just as a hobby, they can be utilized.
Say for instance, you have bad soil in the location best suited for gardening on your yard. However, the light is the best and the water situation is the best. You might consider constructing raised beds and hauling in good soil in order to have the best overall system for that location. Or maybe you have back issues that make working an in-ground bed difficult. A raised bed system also might best serve you. If you plant to just hobby garden, you likely won’t need so much space and maybe you prefer the look of a raised bed. If you garden to preserve food, you will need a fairly extensive raised bed system.
Something to remember with a raised bed design though is that if you have a fairly tall garden bed, the soil can dry out quicker. In turn, this means you may have to water more frequently.
The end goal of creating a garden from scratch is to develop a place that will bring you years of success. Taking the basics seriously from the beginning will help you to feel excited about going out and working in the space along with setting a solid foundation for you to do whatever you wish. As you garden year to year, you’ll likely find yourself adjusting slightly over time to different things you encounter. But regardless, the three primary elements of gardening will stay the same, they just might get a bit more complex. Gardening truly is an area where you never know it all. You’re always learning, always growing.