So you want to garden? I can help with that. :)
If you’ve never gardened before, or are starting a brand new garden, here are the three things you must consider before you begin.
Thing 1: Sunshine. Look around your house and evaluate your sunlight (preferably in summer). Your yard, balcony, or patio are obvious places to start. If you don’t have those, perhaps you have a front step or a few feet in front of your garage? And sometimes landlords don’t mind if you plant a few things in that scraggly bed by the porch. Here’s what you do: make a sketch of your likely location. Then pick one sunny day and look at your area first thing in the morning, at noon, at 4-5pm, and around 8pm. Outline where all the shadows are, and note the difference between dappled shade (from trees) and full, solid shade (from buildings). At the end of one day, you’ll have a map of the sunniest part of your yard – the part that has the least layers of shadow on it. If you have a space that gets 6-8 hours of summer sunlight, you can have a garden! More is better (except maybe in Fresno…) because plants will get bigger and you can plant more varieties, but you can do *something* with 6-7 hours of sun. (In January, days are shorter, so don’t worry if you’re only getting 4 hours of sun.)
Thing 2: Soil. This makes all the difference in the world. Almost all yard soil will need some work to get it to the fertility you…and maybe you don’t even have a yard. Advanced gardeners will build their own soil, but for starting out, my preferred way to go is to build raised beds and buy good soil. Get it by the cubic yard from a landscaping company (one yard per 4′x8′ bed) It’ll be called “garden blend” and will have half dirt and half compost. You can buy bags of soil and compost at the garden store, but you will need a lot of bags to fill a 4′x8′ garden bed.
Thing 3: A container. Raised beds at least 2′ square and 8″ deep are ideal. I like 4′x8′ beds. Lumber generally comes in 8′ lengths, so you can create one from three planks with only one saw cut. I can also reach across a 4′ bed without stepping on the soil. You can also plant in BIG portable containers. Here are a couple ideas: an 18 gallon Rubbermade tote; the bottom 12″ of a plastic trash can; a 5 gallon bucket (fits one tomato plant); or a plastic wading pool. You can also buy 18″x24″x12″ self-watering plastic planters for $75 if you’re feeling gear-happy. (Here’s my favorite source.) Just keep in mind, anything smaller than a 5 gallon bucket is going to require lots of fussing and careful attention. Important: Any container must have holes in the bottom for drainage or your garden will probably drown. Plunk your container in its new home and mix your soil and compost in it. I suggest putting half the soil in, mixing it up, then continuing to do layers and mixing in batches. It’s hard to mix a hundred pounds of dirt at a time.
Thing 4: Water. Chances are, you’ll need to water thoroughly one or more times per week. The smaller your container, the more often you have to water. A 4′x8′x12″ deep bed needs water once a week. A 6″ flowerpot needs water twice every single day. Having good equipment (I like a garden hose with a fan-type nozzle) means you’re more likely to give the garden the water it needs.
If you have good sunlight and soil and a place to put the dirt, you should be able to grow tasty veggies at home