Happy Friday, frugal friends! Today we welcome back contributing writer Anita with some terrific tips for planning a large vegetable garden. Thanks, Anita!
Years ago when I started gardening it wasn’t my intention to grow all the veggies that my husband and I would need for a whole year, I just wanted some fresh tasting tomatoes and a few other fresh veggies. However, with the price of vegetables and fruits in grocery stores continually on the rise, I have made it my mission to grow and preserve as much of our food as possible, as a lot of other people across this nation are starting to do. If the thought of a large vegetable garden appeals to you, here are some tips that can help your garden progress from hobby to serious food supply.
In the Beginning
If you are eager to provide many or all of your own veggies for the year, but are a first time gardener, the best tip I can give you might be to start out small. Pick four or five of your favorite veggies, and plant just a few of each: things such as tomatoes, radishes, lettuce and peppers. Then each year add more things. Also, consider growing one new vegetable that you haven’t had before each year, such as eggplant. I had never eaten eggplant before, so a couple of years ago I bought some seeds, started a couple of plants, and found out that I actually love eggplant! Experiment with new things and you might find yourself with a whole new supply of veggies to feed your family and preserve for later. It’s important to know, too, that gardening can be addicting, so keep your excitement in check, and make sure you don’t start out too big and overwhelm yourself right off the bat, leading to an unpleasant experience.
Moving From Small Scale Garden to Large Scale Garden
When I was just starting out I planted the basics: tomatoes, lettuce, radishes, beans, peppers and a couple of summer squash. As the years have gone by, and especially when we moved to our 4 acre lot, our garden has grown by leaps and bounds. In fact, last year we fully doubled the size of our previous year’s garden. The results were so successful with last year’s garden that it provided us with all the veggies, (except for corn) that we needed for a whole year. We technically have 2 gardens, the main plot, which is 50’x16’ and a smaller plot which is 10’x10’. Depending on the size and layout of your yard, this might be the way to go for you as well. In the main garden I grow: tomatoes, peppers, celery, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, onions, summer squash, winter squash, eggplant, cucumbers, swiss chard, pole beans, lima beans and bush beans. In the smaller bed are lettuce, asparagus, spinach, basil, dill, thyme, and oregano.
I grow potatoes in two stock tanks beside the gardens. Potatoes tend to take up a lot of space in the garden, and this can be a concern for some. But a few years ago I read about using old tires as planters for potatoes. Then I ran into someone who’d mentioned that they successfully grew potatoes in this fashion. Technically, this is called using “stock tanks”. If you have old tires, it’s worth a try. Here’s how it’s done: You start with one tire, fill it with dirt, add your “seeds” (you can order real potato seeds online, or simply use a piece of a potato with 2 or 3 “eyes”) and as the plants grow you add another tire and fill it with dirt. You can stop at two tires or go up to three. When it’s time to harvest, just remove the tires and start digging! Since I didn’t have any tires when I first heard about using stock tanks, I looked on the internet for other alternatives and saw ideas for things like 5 gallon buckets and garbage cans. I started with 5 gallon buckets but did not have a lot of success, just a few small potatoes. Like I said, gardening involves experimentation, so two years ago I decided to try a larger container and got a couple of black plastic stock tanks. Once again, no success, but I did discover that I used too much fertilizer, so last year I held back on the fertilizer and had better results. The tanks make it easier to dig for the potatoes than in the garden; when I was planting them in there I would always miss some only to have them come up the next year in the middle of something else! Also, this method will save you tons of space, which is great if you live on a smaller lot.
Drawing Out Your Plan
For me planning is essential, especially as the garden increases in size. Every year I draw out a map of my garden and write in where I am going to plant everything. Crop rotation is a very good thing to practice; it prevents crop specific diseases that can hatch over winter in the soil from spreading onto the next year’s crop, especially in crops such as tomatoes. Also it is beneficial because there are certain crops that put nutrients in that soil, like beans (nitrogen), while other crops take nutrients out of the soil. Researching what you are going to plant is also important. You should know what planting zone you are in as well (basically, this means that you need to know what grows best in your part of the country/world), because this will help you determine what plants will do best in your garden. Knowing your plants’ needs such as fertilizer, water and when to plant will help you in getting the best production possible. There are many great books available on gardening, so check Amazon or your local library for a great gardening education. This will help your large vegetable garden to be as successful as possible.
Working with a Small Space
If you don’t have the space for a large vegetable garden, there are ways to make the most of the space you do have. You can plant bush varieties of squash and beans, instead of vine varieties. For tomatoes, look for ones that say they are “determinate”, this means the plants will stay compact and not vine out, if they are labeled “indeterminate” that means they will vine out. Over the years, and through trial and error, I have learned just how much I can crowd veggies together to squeeze in as many varieties as possible without hurting production. A lot of things such as beans, lettuce, and spinach can be planted closer together than what it says on the package. In fact, for my lettuce and spinach I don’t even plant rows, I just sow them in a small square, approximately 1’x1’ or 2’x2’.
Recommended Reading: Square Foot Gardening Guide: Grow Organic Fruits and Vegetables in Less Space
Radishes, since they are early and a short season item can be sown in the same row with things such as beans. People have used radishes in this way for years as ‘row markers’. By the time the beans are just getting going the radishes are done, so there is really no interference and you’ve saved space by planting two things in the same row! I do not have the space to grow sweet corn so that is one thing I do buy, but we are close to the locally famous Olathe, CO sweet corn which you can get a really good deal on in the grocery stores when it’s ready. We are also blessed with an abundance of local orchards that grow delicious peaches, apricots, cherries and apples, so I can go straight to the orchard for good deals on these as well. I did try growing strawberries in pots on my back patio last year and can say that it was a small success with having enough for a pie and a batch of jam! This year I plan on expanding that to see if I can produce more to can or freeze for winter.
Our favorite canning book – easy to use even for beginners: Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
Over the years, gardening has become more than just a source of food for us, for me it’s also become a therapy; my retreat from the daily grind. I can go out and immerse myself in the garden chores and all my problems from the day disappear. There is such gratification, and wonder, from seeing that tiny seed that you put in the soil grow into a mighty plant that puts forth nourishment for you and your family. Only God can engineer something like that!
I hope that all of you reading this try gardening and get the enjoyment out of it that I do. Good luck and happy gardening!
Bio: Anita is a manager for a electrical mining equipment manufacturer. In her spare time enjoys working in her large garden, canning produce and hunting with her husband. When she has extra, extra spare time she likes to quilt and do crafts. She also is hoping to start raising chickens and possibly blog about the experience one day. –