Friday, April 6, 2012

3 Simple Rules for Planting A Small Veggie Garden

raised bed garden
Photo Source:

This is my favorite week of the year.  If you're a sports fan, it's hard to keep up with everything going on.  The Masters is being played this week.  Most baseball teams have their opening series this weekend.  NFL free agency is in full swing, and draft talk is always buzzing.  If you're into hockey or basketball, the games are meaningful as playoff teams are being determined.  My church softball team even has a couple of practices scheduled, and I can't wait to swing the new bat I got for Christmas.

Although I am a pretty big sports fan (hey, to root for this team you kind of have to be), sports are not my favorite thing to do at this time of year.  My favorite thing to do this time of year is plant my garden.  For those of you in the northern part of the country, it's the perfect time to start planting your garden for delicious summer veggies.

Some people are easily intimidated by gardening, but it doesn't have to be a huge operation.  You can grow enough greens for salads and plenty of fresh veggies in a very small area.  If you are a beginner, a great place to start is the Square Foot Garden.  Using the principles in this gardening method, you can grow enough food for your family and use 20% less space (and water) than a traditional row garden.  I have tried to incorporate some of the principles of this method in my own yard.  Here is a picture of my garden.


As you can see, my plants are planted very close together.  Why?  Because the nutrient dense compost (that I make myself, but you can buy) can support this type of garden.  That's the great thing about this method.  It cuts down on wasted space and wasted water, and it allows you to get a lot of production out of a little area.

I am growing peas, carrots, tomatoes, garlic, onions, spinach and lettuce.  I will also start some cilantro so that I can make my own salsa.  I am going to use jalapenos that have been frozen from last year to add the heat.

1. Plan Ahead

You have heard of the 5 P's, right? Prior preparation prevents poor performance.  It applies to gardening too.  You have to do a little bit of research to find out what will grow successfully in your area.  You want to plant so that certain vegetables are being harvested at the same time too.  For example, I have peas and carrots being harvested around the same time so that when I am done, that corner can be used for other crops like garlic, onions, and even more carrots for a winter crop.  I have lettuce and tomatoes that will be picked at the same time for salads.  I will plant my cilantro so that it will be perfectly ready to pick when I am picking the tomatoes for salsa.

You also might want to plant certain plants for constant grazing.  I will be picking baby spinach in 30 days, but I am planting my rows 2 weeks apart so that I am not overwhelmed by spinach.  I will be able to pick each row for two weeks  until it's time to move on to the next row.  When I am done picking a row, I can just add compost and plant another.  I am doing the same with the peas.  I have planed the areas behind the trellis now, and in another week, I will plant the rows in front of the trellis.  This will help me stay in control and keep me from needing to pick the peas all at once.

2. Use What You Have Available

There is no benefit to using bricks for a raised bed.  Heck, you don't even need to do a raised bed (I just find it easier).  I happened to know a guy getting rid of some bricks, and they were free, so that's what I used for my borders.  You can use lumber (not treated), a pre-fabricated kit from the store, or even old logs.  I added the row down the middle this year so that I can walk through without disturbing the soil.

My trellis for the peas is actually two old crib rails that are tied together in the "L" shape for stability.  They are also anchored into the soil with metal hooks that I recycled from another project.  You can use whatever you have to make a trellis for peas.  If you're lazy, like I was last year, you can simply use the tomato cages that you can buy at most home stores.  Some people use old wooden ladders.  Some people just build their own.  My neighbor is an electrician, so he built his out of pipes that were leftover from a recent job.

We have a spice rack that was given to us as an wedding present.  It had a container of coriander seeds in it that I rarely used in cooking.  So, I planted some on the off-chance that they would take root.  As luck would have it, they did, and they grew some of the most beautiful cilantro plants I have ever seen.  I kept the seeds from one or two of those plants for next year's garden, and now I have a perpetual supply each year.  You can do this with a lot of different seeds - tomato, squash, peppers, and even herbs like basil.  My neighbor and I occasionally share seeds if we grow different crops.

3. Don't Plant What You Won't Eat

I love to make my own salsa.  We consume gallons of the stuff throughout the summer, and we even give it away as gifts.  My love of salsa is the primary reason that I started my garden.  But I have also learned to see the value in self-sufficiency, and I have expanded to include the veggies that we like to eat regularly in order to save some money.  If you are a baby spinach salad eater, plant baby spinach and cut down your grocery bill.  If you love tomatoes, plant tomatoes.  Keep it simple.

Try it from a local farmer first.  If you don't like it, don't try to grow it.  If you do like it, talk to that farmer at the market and pick their brain for tips on growing it well.  Then, try growing it next season.

Also, you don't want to grow something just because you grew it last year. Last year, we had a lot of zucchini, and while we like zucchini, we decided that we have enough in the freezer, and we are taking a year off.  If we need fresh zucchini, we can buy one or two at the market, or just get it from someone who is giving it away.

Lastly, don't waste time and money growing something that costs extra too keep alive.  We tried green beans last year, but they were not productive because of insect issues, so we did not plant them this year.  The bugs didn't go anywhere, and I am not going to cover my plants with insecticides just to eat beans.  That kind of defeats the purpose, rigtht?

With a little bit of planning, you too can have a successful small garden that supplies your family with fresh veggies all summer long.  Good luck, and happy diggin'!



  1. Hope you have gazillions overflowing, so we can trade blueberries. (David)

  2. Hi Matt...great post. I am actually planning a similar post for We have been box gardening for a few years now, and love it. And now that our daughter is two years old, it should be a fun learning experience for her as well. She loves fresh veggies. :) Enjoy! ...and good luck!



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