” A garden requires patient labor and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfill good intentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them.” -Liberty Hyde Bailey
If you have ever tasted a tomato fresh from a garden, then you would understand why we try year after year to grow food in our own back yard. We planted our first garden in 2008 and it was Matt’s first larger scale garden.
He grew so much food that year, that we were able to can enough vegetables to last us for two years. Now because Matt was gardening on such a large scale and the garden produced so much food, we decided that we would only plant a garden every other year. It not only gave our soil a little break, but it also gave our family a year to recover from all the work.
Now, I won’t lie, large gardens are super time consuming. But the pay off for our family has been so amazing. I would say 95% of the vegetables we eat are from our own garden. We purchase some frozen vegetables from time to time as well as fresh seasonal vegetable in our off years. All the vegetables are organic, and the savings from canning our own vegetables has given us the freedom to purchase the rest of our store bought vegetables organic as well. A third added bonus is that our children are learning the value of hard work and fresh food.
Our oldest daughter was two when we started gardening and had so much fun helping daddy in the yard. Here she is standing on Matt’s shoulders to help show how tall the okra had grown.
and that smile showing off our giant pumpkin. Oh, I miss those chubby cheeks.
Over the years, Matt has really honed in on the best practices for gardening. Not only the logistics of reaping a good harvest, but also what we as a family like to eat and what grows the best in our area. Among our friends and family Matt is the go to guy on gardening advice.
Each year people approach Matt and say, “I want to grow a garden like yours, how do I do it?” So, we decided it was time to share what we have learned over the years with other backyard growers.
Here are Matt’s 5 tips for growing a garden.
Number 1 “Only Plant What You Can Handle”
Our garden is 30’x40′. Many look at what we have and think they would like that too because of all the food it produces. However, if you are new at gardening, it is best to start off smaller. If you plant a garden that is too big, and more than you can handle, you are more likely to give up, or burn out completely. If this is your first time, start small. Take in to consideration that in order to have a garden you are going to have to:
Till the ground and create your rows, buy and plant your seeds, set up a fence to keep out unwanted garden pests, build structures or supports for certain vegetables, and constant weeding. And this list is only to get the garden started. Once your food is fully grown then you will have to pick, shuck, and can what you grow.
We are not trying to overwhelm you with a massive list of to dos, we just want to reiterate the importance of planting a garden that you can handle.
Number 2 “Research”
Different plants grow best in different areas, and different plants grow best in different seasons. Research what grows best where you live and the season in which you plan to plant. Buy seeds for foods you actually want to eat. That seems like a no brainer, but in our area we hear of a lot of people who are growing peppers in their garden. Now there is nothing wrong with peppers and they do grow great in our area, but what we have noticed is that they are growing peppers only because they grow well in our area, not necessarily because they like eating them. If you are going to spend your money and time on a garden, grow foods that you actually want to eat. It took us several years to really decide what grew the best in our garden, and what we preferred to eat. Things we grow are: black beans, green beans, black-eyed peas, butter beans, zucchini, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, carrots, and lady finger peas. Other vegetables that have done well in our garden are beets, radishes, turnips, white potatoes, okra, pumpkins, and green peas.
Another tip for researching, is look into how much of something you want to grow. Unless your plan is to share with your neighbors or can a lot of spaghetti sauce, you probably don’t need ten tomato plants. Decide what you want to do with that vegetable and see how much each plant will produce and go from there.
Number 3 “Laying Out the Perfect Garden”
Georgia is known for its hard, red clay, but we happen to have unsual soil in our yard because we live next to a flood plain. I’m not sure how that has scientifically affected our yard, but our soil is dark, soft dirt. With this said, we plant directly in our yard and not in a raised bed. If want to plant directly in your yard but have hard, rocky soil you can have a local landscaping shop deliver dirt by the dump truck load. But, don’t just buy any kind of dirt. Ask for a mix of top soil, and organic compost.
When you are laying out your garden remember to pick the sunniest spot in your yard. This may mean you are sacrificing the best grass in your yard. But a vegetable garden does best when it gets lots of sunlight.
When you plant your rows, make sure they are running East to West. Plant your tallest growing plants on the north end of the garden, and the shorter growing plants on the south side. Leave enough space between each row so that you can walk in between them. This will make weeding and picking much easier.
If you are planting pole beans (black beans, green beans, butter beans, etc.) they will need poles and netting to grow up. Matt spaces metal poles (electrical conduit from the hardware store) down the rows and attaches garden netting between each pole with wire. This allows your beans to grow up and out.
Lastly, you will want to add some sort of fencing to keep out rabbits or other garden pests.
This is a little diagram to help you visualize.
Number 4 “Baby Your Vegetables”
It is important to keep the weeds out of your garden. Weeds steal nutrients and water from your vegetables. It is best to pull your weeds out by the root by hand. If you use a weeding tool, it may only pull up the top part of the weed, leaving the root below the soil to suck nutrients from your vegetables, and you may cause unwanted damage to the roots of your vegetables. This may be the most pain staking part of the garden. Weeds not only steal nutrients from your plants, but they also steal your time and give you back pain.
Also, water your garden regularly. If you have a raised bed, you will probably want to water every day. If your garden is in the ground, every other day. Matt sets up a sprinkler system and allows it to run until the garden is soaked. Of course you can skip a day if you get a good rain.
Number 5 “Timing is Everything”
The question Matt probably gets the most, is “when should I plant my garden?” The timing will be different depending on what part of the country you live in, so make sure to look it up. But in north Georgia Matt recommends on our shortly after Good Friday. When Matt was younger his grandfather told him, “always plant on Good Friday, and the Lord will bless your harvest.” It may be an old wives tale, but this tip has proven good for us even when we have had an early Easter.
A few weeks after planting your seeds, you start to notice little sprouts popping up. If you walk down your rows and see gaps between plants where you know you planted a seed, it might mean that seed is not producing. It is okay to add another seed in those gaps.
After many weeks you will see your garden full of yummy vegetables. Keep track of the date you planted each plant, and write down how long the seed package said it would take each plant to grow before being ripe. This may not be an exact science, but keep an eye on each plant and pick them when you think they are ready.
Once each type of plant is ready, it is important to pick it, shell it, and can it within two days. This is to make sure you are canning, or storing the freshest food.
Well, there it is. If you have any other questions you would like answered by Matt, leave a comment and we will do our best to answer it for you. Happy Gardening!