Starting a Vegetable Garden from Scratch
Learn how to start a vegetable garden from scratch and get your garden growing.
A gardener plants a tomato seedling.
Starting a vegetable garden from scratch can be one of the most daunting tasks facing the home gardener. It helps to have a plan, but taking that plan to the blank patch of ground can be intimidating if you don’t know where to begin. Luckily, there are plenty of options for converting even the most challenging space into a bountiful garden.
Know your soil
For most types of gardens, the perfect soil is a quality light loam made up of nutrient-rich organic matter and a composition of relatively equal amounts of sand, silt and clay. In general, the more organic matter the better.
Not sure what kind of soil you’re working with? Simply grab a handful of moist (not saturated) soil and squeeze. If the clump falls apart as soon as you open your hand, you’re dealing with a very sandy soil; if the clump stays intact, then your soil contains too much clay. Loamy soils hold together to some degree, but crumble when poked; that’s what you want to see.
Once the soil type is determined, you should run a basic soil test to determine its pH as well as the nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous levels. Many universities and extension offices offer soil testing, but home tests (obtained at your local garden center or online) are satisfactory. Take the appropriate number of soil samples and follow the directions on the package.
If there is any concern about environmental contamination in your soil, send it to a professional lab. My cousin wanted to build a garden alongside an old garage that was most likely covered with lead paint. I recommended she test the soil before planting anything edible in the area because years of flaking paint could pose a problem. It doesn’t cost much, around $25, and you’ll have the assurance of knowing whether your soil is hazardous for food gardening or not.
If you have a relatively healthy soil, with a good nutrient level, balanced pH and fairly decent tilth – or texture – you can create a garden the old-fashioned way by plowing and tilling. When we started our first community garden in an old field, we brought in a tractor to tear up the ground, followed by a thorough tilling to loosen the soil before planting.
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