There is nothing quite like enjoying food that you grow yourself. Whether you are just looking for some herbs to add to recipes, a way to spend quality time with your family outside or if you want to embark upon something more ambitious, homeowners should know that starting a vegetable garden from scratch is not impossible if you learn the basics.
How to Start a Vegetable Garden from Scratch
Although springtime is the most popular time to start a garden, the growing season in warmer parts of the country is virtually year-round. Whenever you decide to give Central Texas gardening a try, we have some tips to help set you up for success.
Prepare Your Garden Bed
Choose a spot in your yard that receives full sun. In hotter climates, a fence or building that shades the plot during the hottest afternoon hours can give your plants a helpful reprieve from the heat and sun.
Remove weeds and grass from the area you want to use if you want to do rows directly in the ground. You can also smother weeds and grass with black plastic over the winter, or dig your turf up with a garden fork (and compost the grass and roots).
However, we recommend you consider raised beds rather than traditional row gardens. Raised beds are easier to plant, weed and mulch. Plus there’s less soil compaction from tending your plants, and they provide a tidy appearance to the garden. You can use planks of cedar, plastic, corrugated metal, or other materials to build beds. Avoid pressure-treated wood that has been treated with toxic chemicals such as arsenic.
Either way, loosely break up the topsoil without turning it over. Mix in a healthy amount of organic materials to give the earth a boost of nutrients, break up heavy soil and feed microorganisms that your plants need to survive. Be sure to plan ahead. Compost, manure and other soil amendments are best applied 2-3 weeks before you intend to plant seeds or starter plants so that they can integrate with the underlying soil.
When to Start
All of the soil and raised garden preparation work can be done any time of the year, though most people like prepping everything in the late winter, so it’s ready to go by spring.
You’ll want to wait until the last average freeze date for your area to put in your summer garden plants or seeds. In Central Texas, that’s usually between the middle of February and the middle of March.
The Texas Almanac has a map to help you find the right time for your area, and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension has a handy chart with more vegetable gardening tips and tricks for plants that thrive in Central Texas.
Plant Your Garden
Depending on what you plan to grow, you can either sow seeds directly into soil or transplant starter plants purchased from a nursery. Ideal plants to start from seed are root vegetables (carrots, radishes, etc.), beans and cucurbits (squash, pumpkins, cucumbers). Peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants with longer growing seasons are generally better started indoors before the last frost, so they get a head start. Potatoes, onions and garlic theoretically can be grown from seed, but most people get roots or starters.
If you plan to purchase plants, we recommend that you get them from a reputable local nursery. These retailers take care to offer healthy plants that are free of fungus and other diseases and sell plants grown locally and adapted to your climate. Big box stores may get plants from anywhere in the country that may be stressed from cramped shipping conditions or infrequent watering. Worse, they may not be suited to your area.
When you get your plants home, be sure to give them a good watering if they are drooping or dry, especially if you can’t put them into the ground right away.
When you remove a starter plant from its pot, be careful not to damage the above-ground parts. Lightly separate roots if the plant became root-bound in the pot and then plant in a hole large enough to cover all of the roots, backfilling until the plant is level with the garden soil.
For both seeds and transplants, gently tamp down soil and water well. Adding some fish emulsion to your first watering will give the plants a bit of a kick start for the spring.
Caring for Your Garden
Once plants are established (or healthy above-ground growth appears from seeds) mulch your garden with compost, wood chips, bark or other mulching materials.
Be sure to water regularly, especially when plants are getting established. New plants can often use daily watering until they develop healthy roots. Be sure to water thoroughly during dry and hot summer months.
When you water, water slowly and deeply. Avoid watering during the hottest part of the day, as water will evaporate before it can sink into the lower layers of soil. When possible, don’t get leaves of plants wet, as this can encourage disease. Water droplets also act like tiny magnifying glasses and can cause the sun to burn tender plant leaves.
Scientists have discovered that many plants do well when sharing a garden with a “friend.”
Garlic, onions and chives will repel many insects, and it’s not a bad idea to plant them around both your flowers and vegetable gardens. They have slender green stalks and pretty flowers, so they are a nice addition.
Beans and other legumes, including clovers, help fix nitrogen in the soil, a necessary nutrient for all plants. You might consider interspersing your beans with your other vegetables or planting a crop of clover after your veggies are done for the year.
There are many more combinations that are ideal for gardens. For a complete list of plant pairings to consider, check out this list.
ABC Can Help With Your Outdoor Spaces
At ABC Home & Commercial Services, we understand that homeowners want to be able to enjoy their outdoor spaces. That’s why at ABC, we provide top-notch lawn services so that you can enjoy all your yard and lawn has to offer. Our highly trained specialists can also help with mosquito control, your sprinkler system, pool maintenance and repairs, power washing, and even with handyman services and help setting up outdoor lighting. Let ABC tackle some of your to-do list so you can start a vegetable garden or spend more time enjoying your home’s outdoor spaces.