Fresh vegetables and the miracle of life

Starting your own garden takes time and effort, but can be well worth it come dinner time.

When my Dad was growing up in Green Mountain, Iowa during the 1950s, the garden in his backyard was an important source of the family’s food. However, he hated working in it.

Several decades later, things have changed. It’s now one of his favorite pastimes.

“I wanted nothing to do with our garden as a kid, but over the years, I’ve come to appreciate it,” he says. “There’s nothing better than picking sweet corn and eating it 20 minutes later. Fresh vegetables are highly underrated. The crops that come from one’s garden are truly miracles of life.”

If the vision of grilling burgers garnished with fresh lettuce and tomatoes, plus a side of peas or green beans and a few ears of corn sounds appealing, keep reading. For those who live outside the city limits, these are your vegetable gardening basics.

Identify a space

The first step is to pick a site for your garden, ideally one that will receive a generous amount of sun. Selecting a location that is off to the side or corner of your yard, is ideal, especially if you have children who will be running and playing nearby. Black soil produces best results, but other kinds can be improved with fertilizer, compost or mixing in store-bought top soil.

Decide what to grow

You can figure out what you want to grow in your garden by asking yourself what you like to eat. Research how much space various crops require—while corn is wonderful, it requires an abundance of space—and plan accordingly based on your garden’s size. Some of what you buy will be plants (tomatoes, peppers, lettuce), while others will be seeds (corn, green beans, peas, carrots).

Prepping your garden

It’s time to get to work! The ground where your garden will go and its sod need to be tilled. Do not underestimate the amount of work that can go into this, particularly if your garden will be sizable. Converting established lawn into garden-ready soil can be done by spading, which can be very physically taxing, or with a garden tiller. Another option is to build an elevated frame for your garden and fill it with soil—those typically are a foot off the ground, but do not maintain moisture as well as traditional gardens.

Planting the seeds

While you’ll be tempted to get started when that first spring warmth hits, be patient. Frost is your garden’s worst enemy. Most seed packets indicate the ideal temperatures for planting. As you get everything in the ground, utilize stakes to mark where rows start and finish, as well as what is planted. Don’t squeeze too much into a small place as plants need space to grow.

Keeping an eye on things

While the heavy lifting is done at that point, ongoing, regular maintenance is necessary to ensure a successful harvest. If rain keeps things moist, great!  If not, water the plants accordingly. Keeping weeds out of your garden is critical. When pulling them, be careful not to disturb the plants. Place grass clippings between the rows—this keeps moisture in the ground. If you have pets or rabbits in your neighborhood, construct a fence to keep those unwanted visitors out. A three-foot tall structure with a tight weave that is against the ground and supported with steel stakes or wood posts, will be sufficient. Spending 10 to 15 minutes a day to check in on your garden is key. Neglecting it could mean an overwhelming amount of work and weeds.

Reaping the harvest

Now comes the fun part. You’ve put in the work and patiently waited. The weather is warm and it’s time to fire up the grill. Best of all, there’s no need to take an extra trip to the market. You’ve got a beautiful garden that is filled with vegetables. How do you know when your crops are ready? Some veggies, like peas, green beans and tomatoes, are obvious. If something looks like it does at the store, then it’s probably good to go. Corn can take a bit longer—if the kernels aren’t full or sweet, sorry, but you’ve got to wait.

Prepping your garden for the offseason

Once your crops are harvested, keep the remaining stalks and leaves in the garden for natural fertilizer. Cut those items up or go over them with a lawnmower to make them more granular. After some fall rain, till the ground to integrate the soil with the grass and vegetable clippings. Let them sit for the winter, then till the soil again in the spring for easier planting. When you do, be sure to rotate plant locations each year.

You’re now well equipped to start your own garden! Admire, harvest, and eat the fresh vegetables you have grown!

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