I've gardened in several homes and in several cities. Although the locations were different, the recipe for success was always the same.
Having a successful garden isn't hard. I believe that anyone can grow their own food, and it can be done most places (as long as there is a cooperative climate). But there are a few things you'll need to do right in order to be successful.
Here's my Top 7 Secrets for a Successful Garden:
SECRET #1 for a Successful Garden: Start with Good Soil
This was my nemesis when I began gardening. Kentucky soil is one of two categories: lush, dark, and fertile or miserable, red clay.
Unfortunately, my neck of the woods was almost completely clay. And clay is either in the form of concrete or soup. I'm not kidding. When it is dry, it is as hard as cement. When it's wet, it is practically liquid.
I managed to transform this clay nightmare into some great garden soil. Really. Here's how:
Greensand, manure, and compost.
1. Start with the greensand; sprinkle it right on that hard clay.
2. Next, add a layer of manure. Just ask someone who has animals if you can muck out the stalls or clean out the barn or scoop a field/pasture. They'll probably kiss you and bake you cookies.
3. Once the greensand and manure is down, just spread some compost on top. You can make this yourself, buy it, or go to a recycling center and get a truckload for free.
4. Once you have the greensand, manure, and compost in your beds, the worms will do the rest.
SECRET #2 for a Successful Garden: Variety
Plan to grow several different vegetables in your garden. Here in Kentucky, I usually grow up to 50 different varieties. Growing a large variety will offer palate change, food diversity, and interesting new dishes at mealtimes. Planting lots of different veggies will also ensure you have something to eat even if you have a crop failure (or several). If you have a nice variety of plants growing, chances are that something's gonna do well. You've got luck and numbers on your side.
By planting a larger variety of crops, you also may discover some plants that grow well and easily in your area.
SECRET #3 for a Successful Garden: Start Early
The sooner you get your plants in the ground, the sooner you'll be eating your yard. As soon as the ground is workable, get those crops in the ground.
SECRET #4 for a Successful Garden: Succession Planting
To get the most food out of a limited space, succession planting is key. I think I have been able to get loads of food from a small space because I am a nut for succession planting. I never leave a bed empty. Never. If it's not winter and I have open garden real estate, it's growing me food.
Succession planting is easy. Whenever you harvest a crop (like your spring broccoli, lettuce, peas, onions, and garlic), immediately plant a second crop in that space (like squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, or beans). Then when those crops are harvested in late summer, plant more crops for a fall harvest (like cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts).
SECRET #5 for a Successful Garden: Consider Height
Think about where the sun shines on your garden and plant accordingly. You don't want your tallest plants casting shade on your shortest plants. For vegetables to do their best, they need as much sunlight as possible. In order to give the shorter plants plenty of sun, plant sweet corn and other tall plants on the north or west side of the garden so they won't shade everything else.
Taller plants include the obvious ones like corn and tomatoes, but also can include cucumbers and small gourds if you grow them on trellises.
SECRET #6 for a Successful Garden: Make it Fun!
I think one of the reasons I find such pleasure in my garden is because I think it's beautiful.
A vegetable garden doesn't have to be a barren, empty, patch of dirt in your yard. You can add interest and beauty with trellises, raised beds, pots, and even flowers. Many flowers make great companions to vegetables. Marigolds keep the insects away from the tomatoes. Nasturtiums keep the squash bugs off the gourds.
Anyone can have a beautiful garden. It certainly isn't necessary. A garden will give you glorious free food all year no matter what it looks like, but the pretty ones are my favorites.
SECRET # 7 for a Successful Garden: Plan to Work
There are some tricks and tips that will keep your weeding and watering down to a minimum, but you are going to have to get out in your garden and work.
Mulching will stop most weeds and hold in moisture. Raised beds will prevent you from needing to weed your walking paths. A rainy forecast will nurture your plants so you don't have to water.
But there is still going to be work to do. Like:
• tying up tomato plants
• harvesting vegetables regularly
• pulling up plants and replanting the space (remember succession planting)
• hilling up potatoes (or covering them with straw)
• and even using organic methods to prevent bugs and diseases
Plan to visit your garden at least two times a week. This will allow you to know what is going on and stay on top of problems.
Weeding is easy when the weeds are small. The squash don't get too big if you harvest them regularly. Bugs can be defeated if you get on top of them before they start raising families.
The good news is that working in a garden can be a pleasure. It is also wonderful exercise. Lastly, it will be well worth the work you put in when you eat all that food year 'round!