It is still cold here and my garden is definitely on my mind.
This will be the fourth year I will be planting a garden at this location. My soil is just about there, nice and fluffy. Even though I live on some of the best soil on the planet we still have to "work" on it to get the microbial life moving and the fertility up. We live in zone 4 and, as you may know, each zone has its own challenges. If you don't know your zone you can use this link to figure it out because it is important to have that information. It will help you to be able to pick appropriate fruit trees, berry plants and everything else that will come back year after year (perrenials - a topic all of its own!).
If you are are a first time veggie gardener you need to take some time and figure out the following:
1) What is the purpose of my garden?
Are you gardening to just ad some freshness to your family's diet. If that's your goal, then a few tomato plants in containers and some lettuces just may do the trick.
Are you actually supplementing your food budget. Then the size of your garden will really matter. I will be going over how much food you will need to grow to make an impact in your budget a little later.
2) What foods do my family like to eat?
This may seem like an odd question, but if your family won't eat spinach, then don't waste the space in your garden. The lure of exotic varieties of tomatoes is almost irresistable, but if your family members don't love tomatoes - don't waste the space and time because tomatoes can be work. So you can see where this question will take some thought.
3) How much space do I actually have for my garden?
We have a 1600 sf garden (40'x40') and there are two of us. I find that this isn't enough garden space to grow enough food for us. My goal is to grown enough food so that we don't have to buy ANY vegetables year round. We are lucky that we live on a farm and I have additional land that I can dedicate to growing our food, but you may not have that luxury. So, your goals will be different from ours.
If you do not have space to have a nice sized garden, then I want to urge you to go to your local farmers' market and develop a relationship with a local farmer. You may have read how easy it is to garden and that all you need to do it plant a few plants, sew a few seeds and magically almost you will have food. That IS NOT TRUE. Growing vegetables is difficult, and growing nutrient dense food is even more complicated. So, if you don't have the time, money or energy to dedicate to a garden, then a local farmer is your best answer. Local farmers spend all their time growing vegetables and they need your support to keep doing it. The "buy local" movement is a good thing and these farmers need your help to make a living and to keep farming.
I have a good friend here who spent 3 weekends and nearly $500 to make raised beds, they did it wrong, had a poor crop the first year (which is NOT unusual in a garden), gave up and never planted again....... $500 down the drain! So think about it before you invest in raised beds, potting soil etc. You may be wasting your money and your time!
4) How fertile is my soil?
Wow, that's a big question. And finding a good compost is part of the answer. Much more to come......
If you are just starting out, you need to be very patient with the concept and practice of vegetable gardening. It will take 2-4 years to get your soil right and to find the varieties of vegetables that will grow well in your area and that your family will like to the taste of. Yes, each variety will be different in subtle ways at least. Some varieties will do great in zone 4 and not in zone 8 or 9. There will be a lot of trial and error when you begin, so don't be too hard on yourself and expect to make mistakes.... I certainly have and I have 40 years practical experience with plants and my partner is an agronomist!
Okay, I'm going to stop for now..... hope you will find this thread interesting and so feel free to chime in!