How to Grow a Garden

Alright, alright...quit laughing. I know, you know I have a terrible time growing things in the garden.

Well, that's not quite true. I can grow weeds like no body's business.

Too bad we can't eat weeds.



(I hope Jeremy doesn't see that title, he really will make fun of me.)

Every year seems to be a bit different. I always successfully grow something, but it's usually different every year. Except for zucchini and squash. Those are always prolific. (We're still eating last years now.) So it's kind of a guessing game on which veggie will win out this year. Will it be the onions? Tomatoes? Peppers? Last year's spinach and potatoes did very well, tomatoes did not, peppers did alright, carrots and turnips did not. One year we grew a huge amount of sweet potatoes, and one year I grew luffas all the way down the front yard. Those things are fun.

Anyway, knowing my background, you can prepare yourself for some serious doubts. Nono, just kidding, I'm going to share how I'm putting together my plans this year, and most of this post will be made up of links to other posts by people who actually know what they are talking about.

I did receive a lovely email from a reader asking for some pointers on planting, so I'm here to share what I've found. From others, who are more successful than me in the garden. One thing I have learned this year because the children were asking is the difference between a fruit and a vegetable. A fruit is a growth from a flower that holds the seeds. So tomatoes, squashes, cucumbers, strawberries, etc. etc. Vegetable is any other part of the plant; roots, stems, or leaves.

Let's begin with Roots:

Roots are obviously vegetables that are growths on the plant's roots. And there is a whole world of roots we can eat that we don't. (I've never tried growing sunflowers, but they grow tubers that you can eat too. Cool, huh?) Potatoes, onions, carrots, turnips, radishes, etc. Roots are delicious, especially with butter. I really love eating things with butter. So let's pick out what roots we eat. Your list may be different from mine, but I'm going to hit up the most popular. I think I am anyway.

Onions

I found this post on Stoney Acres very helpful, and I fully believe everything he says, so I ordered my onions through his link at Dixondale Farms. I'm in zone 7b, so I ordered mine to come next week, and will be putting them in the ground then. The kids and I did an intense math lesson while ordering our 180 onions and 60 leeks, and figured out that our onions are costing us about 11 cents an onion, whereas at the store they are around $1 each. Big savings right there!

Potatoes

Again, Stoney Acres has a great post on hilling potato plants, and here's my post from last year. Our yield was great last year, but I am going to change up a little how I do it this year. One thing I'm going to do is cut up the seed potatoes so that I'll get more for the money. Another thing I'm going to do is combine the deep planting method with the hilling method. Since my garden is buried in hay, and you can hill hay around potatoes (instead of dirt), I'm going to hill the hay around the plants as they grow up. I'm going to plant my potatoes from the east to the west on the southern side of my garden. Here's a post from Better Hens and Gardens that tells how to prepare the potatoes for planting. (I really need to get started.) For the variety: we love Yukon golds and sweet potatoes. Usually, people tell you to get them at your local nursery or garden center, which probably works. I have not had any luck finding seed potatoes around here, or at least not the ones I want. I ordered Yukons through Amazon last year, and they grew very well. I did also read on Grow Forage Cook Ferment that she's had some luck with organic potatoes at the grocery store. Some of the seed potatoes are so expensive it's a bit ridiculous.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are different from regular potatoes. They are a vine, and the tubers are formed on the roots and on runners. They are also a summer plant, and it's a very pretty plant (some people grow them ornamentally) with pretty flowers. I've bought transplants from the garden center before, one time they worked, one time they didn't. I'll most likely go that route again. But here's another idea from Jennifer's Kitchen about how to grow your own from a seed potato. And Tenth Acre Farm has a post about harvesting and curing them.

Carrots, Turnips, Radishes, and Parsnips

I paired all of them together because they are all very similar. I just figured out though that I've planted them at the wrong time. Radishes are fine, but maybe the reason I haven't ever harvested the others is because they do best in the fall. Huh! But I did grow some radishes last spring, so I'm going to try that again, and I'll hold off on carrots, turnips, and parsnips. This post offers a quick bio of each from Grow a Good Life. Garlic is another one to add to the fall planting schedule, as this post from Earth and Honey explains.

Now let's talk about the stems and leaves

The stems and leaves of the vegetable world are made up of things like broccoli, asparagus, celery, lettuce, spinach, cabbages, herbs, and more. Most of these are also good with butter. (What's not good with butter anyway? Lettuce is even good with buttermilk ranch dressing.) Leaf and stem veggies generally do better in the colder weather of spring and fall. Summer heat causes most of them to bolt and turn very bitter. So you'll want to harvest before the bolting action begins. Even last year, I planted my lettuce too late and even though it wasn't bolting in appearance, it was awfully bitter to taste.

Broccoli and Cauliflower

These do best starting in a greenhouse and transplanting. I found this post describing how to plant broccoli from Common Sense Homesteading. If you've never had homegrown broccoli, you are missing out on one of the intense joys of gardening. It tastes so much better than store bought, there really isn't any comparison. The only problems that will most likely show up with these (and others in the brassica family, like cabbage and kale) are little green worms. I usually pick them off, but this post from Alternative Gardening has a homemade remedy I may try this year. Here's a post from the 104 Homestead that tells when to harvest broccoli and cauliflower. I'll be ordering my broccoli from Seeds for Generations, and cauliflower most likely from Botanical Interests.

Lettuce

Lettuce is very easy to grow and really is delicious. Since Jeremy grows lettuce at Spring Lake Family Farms, I don't have to worry about planting it. (Yay! More room in the garden for something else!) But you will need to start the seeds either indoors or in a greenhouse and then transplant. Direct seeding, I've found anyway, takes too long for the plant to grow, and it gets hot before you get to eat it. That may not be true in more northerly climates. Here's a post on growing lettuce (and other cool weather crops) from Garden Talks and Tips.

Spinach

One of my successes last year, spinach is easy to grow. You direct plant the seeds in your garden (transplanting it doesn't work). We got so much spinach last year, it was really wonderful. I'll be buying mine from Seeds for Generations. You can grow spinach in the spring or fall. Just harvest before it gets too warm.

Cabbages

Cabbages are another better planted for the fall plant, although you may be able to get some grown in the spring for a summer harvest. I'm going to hold off on them, though. We eat a lot of cabbage during the winter months, but not very much in the summer.

Herbs

Herbs are another thing I struggle with. Except for basil. I've always got a good amount of basil plants growing, and last year's grew from seeds left from the year before that. Grow a Good Life has a post on planting herbs from seed. I'm planning on re-attempting dill, oregano, sage, lavender, thyme, and I may put a rosemary plant in a pot. I love that stuff, but it's a perennial, and takes up a lot of space. Buying seeds from Botanical Interests.

Finally, Fruits

Fruits are the edible seed pods in gardening terms, so anything that holds the seeds. Tomatoes, squash, peppers are all what we think of as vegetables in culinary terms because of their savory taste. But they are the "fruit of the trees," so fruit can be sweet or savory. I'm lucky because one of the elders in my church grows tomatoes, peppers, watermelons, squashes, and others I can't remember, in his big greenhouse and then sells them at a plant sale our church hosts every year. It really is so much fun, we have foods, crafts, and plants. (If you are near Albemarle NC, you should come this year!)

Tomatoes

Probably the most grown thing in gardens in the US, tomatoes are fairly easy to grow. It's best to grow from seed indoors or in a greenhouse protected and then, transplant them to your garden. Tomato plants do best with some sort of stake to hold them up, and everyone says it's best to pluck off the suckers. (I am the worst about doing stuff like that, why is that we so hate limiting growth for better plants? Another post, another time.) Here's a great post with illustrations on how to prune your tomatoes. And Grace Garden and Homestead has a beautiful tomato planter that holds the plants up. Much better than those dingy metal tomato cages! There's a ton of information on growing tomatoes out there, so I'm going to list a few more helpful links:

We love Romas and Amish paste, and brandywines are also good. Last year we grew some oxhearts and they were huge. Seeds for Generations has several of those, as does Botanical Interests.

Peppers

Really, peppers are even easier than tomatoes. They don't have to be staked off, just transplanted in and let them grow. Survival at Home has another post on Tips for Growing Peppers, also excellent. We usually grow jalapenos, green bell, banana, red bell, and Jeremy has been growing some purple bell in the greenhouses at Spring Lake Family Farms, and they are beautiful. Seeds for Generations has several beautiful varieties

Watermelons, Cantaloupes, Honeydews, and Cucumbers

I know the cucumbers stand out on this list, but they all grow very similarly, so I put them together. All are vines, that will grow and spread beautifully. You can either let them grow along the ground, which does take up garden space, or you can build a trellis of sorts for them to grow up. If you do a trellis for the melons, you'll have to come up with some sort of hanging device for the fruit to grow in. I've always just done the ground, but this year I'm planning a trellis for my cucumbers. Mostly because cucumbers are easy to miss their prime time for harvest (which is about 4-5 inches, or the length of your finger, for pickles). We'll be able to find them if they're up off the ground. This post, again from Tenth Acre Farm, is all about choosing the right trellis for your plants, and includes tomatoes too. I plant transplants from my elder at our church, but Botanical Interests has watermelon seeds. We love Crimson Sweet, Charleston Grey, and Moon & Stars (those are beautiful watermelons, they look completely different than regular watermelons). We don't like eating cucumbers, so we only plant pickling cucumbers, which are also at Botanical Interests. We also don't grow the other melons. My Dad grows cantaloupes, and always has plenty. He plants transplants, also from our church elder, and I'm not sure what kind they are. Plant your transplant when it's warm, and be careful with the roots. They are sensitive. Homestead Lifestyle has a post on how to plant watermelons. (Pumpkins would also fall into this category.)

Squash, Zucchini

These are always prolific for me, although I don't really feel like I have any secrets. I transplant them as soon as I get them in early April and let them grow. Squash bugs will attack at some point, but usually by the time I get overrun by the borers, I'm ready to be done with squash and zucchini anyway. When they first attack, we check the leaves for their eggs and just roll those off. Although Quinn at Reformation Acres has another idea on how to get rid of them. Eowyn loves looking for the little eggs, so send the kids out to check the leaves. Just watch the prickles of the plants, they can get big and hurt (they get bigger the older the plant is, so another good reason to let the bugs take them, in my opinion). The only other thing you have to watch out for is your zucchinis turning into baseball bats. They grow from too small to harvest, to big enough to use as a club within a few hours it seems. Oh, and if your yellow squash are turning orange, it's because they need water and are drying out. (Ask me how I know this.) Stoney Acres also offers a post on How to Grow Squash (I know, he can just grow everything!).

Legumes

Ahh, beans and peas. I plant beans almost every year, and my harvest is less than the seeds I put in the ground. "Ok, everyone gets two beans tonight for dinner. Just think, homegrown, and aren't they delicious?" I should probably just eat the seeds. This year's attempt will be bush beans and garden sweet peas. I have the bush beans from Seeds for Generations from last year that I never got around to planting, and Botanical Interests has more varieties of peas to choose from. We also love purple hull peas and crowder peas, but have not ever grown them. We just buy them at the Farmer's Market. Legumes put nitrogen in the soil when they are growing, and unless you get a bush variety, will need some sort of trellis to climb up. The post I mentioned from Tenth Acre Farm will help with that. Stoney Acres will help with the how-tos of planting peas. Peas are cool weather plants, and beans are hot weather, generally.

More Resources for More Information

Here are some other resources I highly recommend. Each has a ton of information, and will better help you and your garden grow, as they have and are helping me. 

Concluding

I've gotten most of those resources through e-book Bundles, and more that aren't available anywhere else. I really do enjoy those bundles, even though e-books are kind of a pain. But it's so much information, that to keep it in the house would be messy. Anyway, another plug for those bundles. The one coming in April or May will probably have gardening books.

I'm so glad I wrote all of this down! Now I have a clear plan for my garden, and usually, I just fly by the seat of my pants. (Probably one of the reasons I do so poorly every year.) I'll be doing posts as I plant the things, so hopefully, those will be of use to you as well. Or maybe that'll keep me accountable and I'll get them in the ground in time. Anyway, I hope all these links are helpful. That is a lot of links, so if I missed one, or messed one up let me know. I'll fix it. I found and pinned all of these links to my Pinterest board Things to Grow, and it has a lot of other pins with more information too.

Are you ready to start gardening? Share your plans in the comments.


PS Just so you know, I am so, so excited that I get to offer you a coupon. I feel like an adult blogger! It's just adult bloggers probably don't get so excited. So, I'll be cool about it. I'm cool, I'm cool.

10 comments

  1. I like to see open spaces of dirt waiting for a garden. This is how we gardened the first year on our farm, I loved it but it was really hard to keep the weeds down. So eventually over time we went to raised beds. It worked better after a couple drought seasons. In all honestly though I still prefer the open space, it's how we gardened when I was a kid. That was in a different state though where there was no Bermuda grass to invade. Herbs are probably my favorite thing to grow- I would suggest taking them and growing in a raised bed near the garden. You will have better luck and incorporate my favorite tip - Direct Compost. You can find it on my blog under Soil Care. Great post enjoyed, Love stopping by here.

    Carole @ Garden Up Green

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    1. Thanks Carole! I love the open spaces too, so full of possibility. Until they are full of weeds. I did use raised beds at my house in town, and did have great success with many things. But raised beds haven't been in the budget out here. I'd love to have a huge garden one day made up of both raised beds and ground beds. Anyway, I'll check out your posts, thanks for sharing! (I would not have minded if you wanted to share the link too for anyone else to find.)

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  2. Great article! Have it pinned for reference. Thank you!

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  3. That's cute about the coupon. ;0D
    You sound very organized in your approach and it looks like you have a wealth of information at your hands! I wonder if the elder at your church would be interested in helping you with your garden or maybe teaching you some things you'd like to know about growing veggies? Most gardeners are more than happy to share what they've learned.
    Best wishes with your planting this year. May you have an abundance in your garden!
    Thank you for joining us on The Maple Hill Hop this week.

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    1. Oh yes, I ask my elders (two of them are gardeners) questions all summer long, every year. But there's only so much time. That's how I know things like harvest your potatoes before the "dog days of July." And growing things organically is something we're all having to learn together. Thanks for reading Daisy!

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  4. Such great info! Thank you so much for sharing your Thursday favorite thing with us at Thursday Favorite Things Blog hop! ~Rina

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  5. I'm looking forward to starting our garden!! Thanks for all the info!! I'm visiting you From Monday Musings!

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  6. Great information, thanks for sharing :)

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  7. I'm great at growing weeds too. Thanks for sharing at Front Porch Friday last week and feel free to stop by again this week!

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