10 Tips to a Successful First Vegetable and Herb Garden

“Tell me everything you know about starting a vegetable garden,” is what she said, standing behind the counter at one of my favorite coffee shops, Muddy Waters Coffee, making my latte. My initial thought was, “I hope this latte doesn’t take that long to make.”

So after asking a few questions and spewing a few answers, I realized that for most people her age, there is just way too much information on the internet on the subject for her or her frinds to drilll down into a plan that might lead them to success. So in an effort to help a potential newbie gardener who just happens to make a great latte, here goes:

__10 Tips to a Successful First Time Vegetable and Herb Garden__

1. The garden site has to have at least 6 hours of full sun anywhere from 10 a.m. in the morning to 4 p.m. in the afternoon. Vegetables and herbs like to bask in the sun.

2. The site of your new garden must be well drained. If water pools in the area for an hour or so after a heavy rainfall, you will need to do one of three things.

a. Build boxes that will allow you to elevate the roots growing in the soil above the poor drainage. 2×6″ boards turned up means 6″ of growing space above the present soil line, making this a good place to start.

b. Move to another site with full sun.

c. Grow your vegetables and herbs in a container garden situation.

3. Start with a small area and increase the size once success comes in the space you first chose. Most people’s eyes are bigger than their time allotment. Success breeds more success. I’ve seen some pretty awesome gardens in a 4×4′ bed. Amazing produce can come out of a space this size.

4. Site the garden as close to your walk into the house each day as possible. Out of sight, out of mind is the biggest reason veggie gardens turn to weed ridden wastelands. Place the garden where you drive by, walk by or better yet like to sit and ponder your place in life. Being close by daily means more frequent weeding, watching for pest problems and harvesting those wonderful things you dreamed of sharing with your family and friends.

5. Make a list of the vegetables and herbs you actually eat. I know people who grow all these beautiful exotic looking eggplants who actually would never order eggplant anything from the finest restaurant in town. Hence, the vegetables are not used by the family, and were a wast of their growing space.

6. Take the list and go to my favorite resource for knowing what grows at what time of year here in South Carolina. (You foreigners reading this now need to check out your own state extension service to get the correct information for your place) The Best When to Plant List in SC

7. You have to add organic matter to your soil. This feeds the soil and makes it a healthy place to grow and prosper. No if, ands or buts about it. If you do not do this from season to season, you will not have success. (I don’t make statements like this often.) Add 6-12″ of compost such as mushroom compost or your city’s recycled leaf compost. You can use your own compost if you get into do this. Now for container gardening, use readily available soiless mixes from garden centers and big box stores. Compost is not needed in these mixes.

8. Less is usually more. Do you really need 12 tomato plants in your garden. Are you opening a spaghetti sauce factory out of your kitchen? Probably not, so contemplate the numbers and quantity of vegetables you might get from a single plant. Then plant accordingly.

9. Mulching is the single most forgotten garden practice that must be done for many reasons. Mulch goes on top of the soil. It does not get mixed into the soil like compost. So what are the benefits to mulching? There are many!!!

– Help keep the weeds from growing in your garden. Most weed seeds need light to germinate and grow. They can’t do this with a blanket sitting on top of them.

– Cool the roots of your vegetables and herbs. They like the sun on their faces and the shade on their feet!!!!

– Help conserve moisture in the soil which means less watering and more money in your pocket.

Favorite mulches include:leaves (I like the ones that go through a mulching mower. They look so beautiful in the beds.), pine straw, ground pine bark, newspapers, shredded documents.

10. Fertilize with a slow release fertilizer such as Osmocote or use some of the organic liquid fertilizers available at garden centers. If you add compost each season you plant, you won’t need to fertilize so much.

Follow these 10 steps and your chances for success shoot sky high!

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