People are always surprised to find out that I have a very successful vegetable garden at my home in Las Vegas. After all, it is in the middle of the desert. They say things to me like, “I wish I could have a garden, but I’d just kill everything. I don’t have a green thumb like you.” It’s funny because before I started my vegetable garden I killed flowers on a regular basis. I did not have a “green thumb.” But at some point I decided that it would be really great to grow my own food that I knew would be free of pesticides, GMOs, and all the other things that are hidden in veggies at the grocery store.
So I did a little research on Pinterest and read every article I could find on gardening in the desert (isn’t Pinterest magical? I don’t even use Google any more). It was incredibly helpful but I have to admit that I was so new to gardening that the standard gardening language was foreign to me. I wasn’t even sure what was meant by using the word “soil” because I would hardly call Las Vegas dirt and rocks “soil”. Anyway, eventually I just decided to go ahead and jump right in and see what happened. And guess what? It worked! I was actually able to produce a decent amount of fruits and vegetables on my very first try in the middle of a very hot summer in Las Vegas. Since then I’ve learned a lot through experimentation and more research, and now my garden is thriving and produces more than my family needs.
So to all of you who think you can’t have a successful garden because you have no idea what to do, I’m here to help. Below I have outlined the most important things you need to know to get started vegetable gardening. Feel free to ask any questions you have in the comments section and look for subsequent posts that give tips on making your garden even better.
Let’s get started.
Where to plant:
Most Fruits and Vegetables prefer full sun. When choosing a location for your garden, pick a spot that gets at least 6 hours a day of sunlight. Once you’ve found that spot you need to decide if you want to plant in the ground or in a raised bed. The ground is a good option if you have a very tight budget, and you don’t have a lot of burrowing rodents around to eat your crop. A raised bed, however, is the best option if you can afford it. Raised beds are easier on your back, offer better protection against animals and weeds, and offer a better solution for people who have hard, rocky soil in their yard because they can fill the beds with soft, new soil. Raised beds can be purchased online, from local garden centers, and even at places like Costco during the spring. They can also be easily made with some wood and weed blocker. Keep in mind that you can make the bed any size and shape that you want but you should make it in a way that allows you to easily access everything that you plant in it.
What to plant in:
-Rich Organic Soil-
Soil (i.e. the dirt in the ground) is the most important factor in determining the success of your garden. If you have good soil, its easy to have a good garden. If you have bad soil, you are pretty much setting yourself up for failure. Fruits and Vegetables grow best in nutrient rich, slightly acidic soil. If you are planting your garden straight into the ground, you will want to ask your local gardeners or nursery about what type of soil you have and how to improve it for vegetable gardening. It is important to get local advice because soil is different all over the country and your soil may need different amendments than mine.
If you are planting in a raised bed you will add soil that is ready for gardening. There are many different ways to get good soil. The most fool proof ways to get good soil are to either buy it or make it yourself.
Buying soil can be expensive, but you only have to do it once when you do your initial garden set up. If you choose to buy soil, you want to buy bags of organic soil that is meant for growing vegetables. You can usually buy this at your local garden center or nursery and most bags will say “for fruits and vegetables” right on the front label.
If you choose to make your own soil, here is a great recipe from the popular book “Square Foot Gardening“: Mix equal parts peat moss, course vermiculite, and blended compost (compost from different sources). That’s it!
Many nurseries and garden centers are familiar with the square foot gardening method and can help you find these ingredients. Make sure you wear gloves and a mask when mixing the ingredients together. In an upcoming post I’ll talk about improving your soil to get the most out of your garden.
What to plant:
Starting plants from seeds is easy once you know what you’re doing. In fact, I would suggest planting a few plants from seeds just to experiment. However, your best bet for starting a new garden as a beginner is to buy starter plants (also called Transplants). Transplants are plants that were already started as seeds in pots weeks before and are waiting at your local garden center for you to plant them. Buy only fruits and veggies that you like to eat so that you aren’t wasting space in your garden. I would also recommend that you buy some marigolds. Marigolds are flowers that are great pest deterrents. They also attract pollinators and look pretty in your garden. I plant them all over my garden in between my vegetables to keep bugs away.
I always suggest planting any fruits and vegetables that you like, but here is a list of beginner friendly options to help you get the hang of things:
- zucchini (only buy one plant, they produce a lot!!)
- green onions
- swiss chard (lettuce that you can pick and cut off leaves and it will just keep producing)
- basil (if at first it looks a little rough after planting, don’t worry, it will recover and get much bigger)
Make sure to follow spacing guidelines that are found on the plant tags.
There are different methods for watering that should be considered based on where you live. Rainy areas of the country can usually rely solely on rainfall with occasional hand watering. Drier areas should use driplines if possible because they can be set on a timer and give the plant water on a consistent basis. Driplines also help prevent weeds, water waste, and diseases caused by overhead watering. Here is a video on installing driplines that won’t clog up from hard water and will last a very long time. All of the materials you need to make your own dripline system can also be found at Home Depot or Lowes. They are very easy to install and someone at these stores should be able to walk you through the process. You can also find additional help on YouTube.
If you have the time and a small garden, you can just water by hand. Take care to water the soil and not the plant. Watering from overhead can be problematic for some plants, especially tomatoes, because it can promote disease. You can find out if your plants are getting enough water by sticking your finger into the soil. If the soil is dry about an inch from the surface, then it needs more water. If the soil is wet, it’s getting too much. 1″ deep into the soil should feel damp if your plants are being watered sufficiently.
-Straw or Shredded Wood Chips-
Mulch is material that you lay on top of the soil around the base of the plants to keep soil cool, prevent water loss from evaporation, and to prevent weeds. Mulch should be organic and free from chemicals. Straw, wood chips (untreated), dried leaves, ground up bark, and silver reflective mulch are all good options.
No matter how or what you garden, it’s all an experiment at first. For me, I wasn’t sure if I would be successful or if I would even like gardening! I killed a few plants in my first season of gardening (which helped me to learn more about growing them), but I also successfully grew lots of plants and had a decent harvest for a first timer. It was actually incredibly fulfilling to watch my plants grow and produce fruit all because of the time and care that I gave them. Gardening has become one of my favorite hobbies and it is a useful skill that will benefit my family for the rest of our lives. I hope you all will enjoy it too!