Help with first garden

I am wanting to put in my first garden. I am on the lazy side so I want to simplify where I can. I have been looking into drip irrigation using a soaker hose and a timer. I am also going to lay plastic to warm the ground and hopefully cut out the weeds. Where I live has a HUGE mosquito problem, so I want to plant plants that are supposed to help chase them away. I also want to not use any pesticides or other chemicals and am looking to do companion planting. I am a bit overwhelmed! Also my yard is not and will not be level; it all slopes. I am having the yard tilled. I thought about getting metal cattle panels for the vines to grow on since they will be reusable for many years. We are a family of 5. I want to plant veggies, herbs and flowers that repel bugs.  We have an almost half-acre lot and I plan on using somewhere around a 30′ x 30′ area.

I could really use some help on plant layout; with the plastic I am worried about standing water and the mosquitos. Should I cover the plastic with hay? Will that help? Do you know anything about the garlic mosquito spray? Is it safe to use on growing gardens? Would getting worms be a good idea or a waste? Are there particular plants that are easy/hard to grow from seeds that I should/shouldn’t spend the money to buy?

And anything else I haven’t thought of? Any and all help would be greatly appreciated! T Palmer

Answer: Well T, your questions are good ones, but it’s going to be tough to address them all in this space.  As a first-time gardener, I would suggest you start with a bit smaller garden plot. You’ve planned a pretty ambitious size for a newbie. As for what to grow, GHS offers a wide selection of wonderful certified organic seeds and live plant options but what you grow depends on several factors: 

  • soil conditions [clay vs. sandy]
  • sun conditions [8 hours of sun for most vegetables]
  • what Zone you are in [important to know so you can determine last frost date and growing season]
  • what you like to eat [some things are fun to grow but you might not consume them], for starters. 

There are also different types of cool season plants like lettuce and spinach that can be planted even before the last chance of frost, and warm season plants like tomatoes that don’t thrive until it gets good and hot! Some cool season crops can be replanted in the fall, so you are planting in succession throughout the growing season.

For organic gardening you may want to reconsider the tilling, depending on your location.  Bringing subsoil to the surface can allow dormant weed seed to resurface. Instead, do some research on creating rows ofraised beds. It will make working with your plants a bit easier and might be a good workaround for the sloped areas. These can easily be constructed with 4×4 or 4×6 timbers. It will also help with your standing water problem, as you could either leave the grass between the rows or use mulch. The new soil will allow the water to drain off properly and not puddle. Creating the raised beds will also allow you to more easily control the content of the soil and make sure your pH is balanced for vegetable growth and it will allow you to easily install a drip irrigation system for targeted watering.

You might also consider container gardening for some crops like potatoes or smaller tomatoes, and of course, herbs and flowers.

Vines will grow on about anything. You can make climbing grids with bamboo poles and twine, or try our trellis netting or other plant supports, which are easy to store after the season.  

To control weeds you can use our plastic mulch but depending on your location it can also work against you by overheating the soil in the summer. You can also use a thick layer of newspaper covered with either hardwood mulch or grass clippings (grass that has not been treated with a herbicide). This will also allow the water to completely permeate the soil.

For companion planting check out this book and other instructional books in Our Library.  There are many excellent resources for which plants work together, and equally important which to NOT plant together. 

For your mosquitos and other pests we have several options; where and when you can use them will depend on what stage the vegetable is in. Most of the organic controls can be used prior to harvest, but always read the label for directions for use with edible plants. Another pest for many gardeners will be rabbits and sometimes deer, so especially for rabbits you may want to consider fencing in areas of the garden to keep them out. Watch plant labels for varieties that deer find less appetizing. 

Check online for resources that distinguish Good Bugs versus Bad Bugs. There are many beneficial insects out there and most pesticides are non-selective, so always know what you are going after and read the labels of any products to make sure you are affecting only what you need to.

To get started you’ll want some graph paper. Start laying things out to determine how many plants you will need (and usually not as many as you might think, unless you like to can, freeze or give away). Check your Growing Zone and know when your growing season begins. Your county extension office might have a chart that gives the best starting time for vegetables that grow in your area.

Leave enough room somewhere in your yard for a compost bin. This will generate lots of free organic matter that your garden will need at the end of the season to regenerate itself. Gardening is a great family activity and a lifelong learning experience.  Make sure everyone chips in to pull weeds, water, trim and reap the harvest in just a few months.

Good Luck! Karen

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