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How to make a first-time vegetable garden a success


Having your own vegetable garden can be a delight in the warm weather—picture being able to open the door and pick fresh vegetables for dinner. But if you’ve never gardened before, getting started can seem a bit tricky.

This week on “Take Care,” gardening expert Amy Jeanroy lets us in on the makings of a successful garden. Jeanroy covers herb gardening for the how-to website About.com, and has operated a family greenhouse business for the past 15 years. She's also the author of “Canning and Preserving for Dummies.”

The first steps to creating a successful garden may be simpler than you think:

  • Make sure the spot you pick gets full sun (six hours of direct sunlight a day)
  • Make sure the garden hose can reach it

When it comes to vegetables, Jeanroy says too much sun is better than too little. You don’t have to worry about them shriveling up as long as the amount of water matches the amount of sun.
Once you have your spot picked out that meets this criteria, the next step is preparing the soil. To do this, you first need to test it to see what it needs.

“No matter where you live there will be a local cooperative extension, and they offer free soil testing,” Jeanroy said. “You take a section of soil from a couple of different spots in your garden area, and you put it in the bag [that they provide] and you give it to them, and in a few days they’ll do a soil test for you and give you recommendations.”

So after your spot is picked and your soil is tested, it’s time to start preparing the soil. You may picture yourself buying a cart-full of garden tools from the hardware store to do this, but the most important thing you really need is newspapers.

“I want you to put one big block of newspapers right on top of the grass, then I want you to moisten it, and then put your composted material on top of that—bags and bags of it, that’s what you can get at your local hardware store—and dump all those on there, probably 4-6 inches deep. Then you’re going to plant your plants right in that material, and then mulch on top of that to keep the soil moist, and you have an instant garden,” Jeanroy said.

This may give you an instant garden for the first year, but Jeanroy says you are never truly done preparing the soil.

“Each and every year you’re going to be adding organic material, which means like a composted material, to the same garden area,” Jeanroy said.

This will ensure the soil in your garden stays nutrient-rich to keep growing fresh vegetables year after year. And although you may not be able to start planting your garden until the ground has completely thawed from the winter, Jeanroy says it’s never a bad idea to start mending the soil once the snow has melted.

But after all this if you’re still worried you lack a green thumb, Jeanroy says there are six easy vegetables for first time gardeners:

Credit j_arlecchino / Flickr

  1. Cucumbers
  2. Peas
  3. Salad greens
  4. Tomatoes
  5. Peppers
  6. Beans

“They all grow pretty easy and [there’s] nothing really fancy about them,” Jeanroy said.