How to Plant an Edible Garden

By: SYH

The three most important things you need to think about when planting an edible garden are sun, soil, and water. Get these right and you’ll be feasting on home-grown veggies, fruits and herbs year round. Get them wrong and you’ll be stuck with a yellowed, buggy patch of mess.

Almost anyone can cultivate a healthy garden–the key is not to over-think things. Here’s a step-by-step list of everything you’ll need to know to be grocery shopping in your backyard in no time:

Sun Right

Find an area that will get at least 6 hours of sun per day. While there are shade-loving exceptions, such as lettuce and other tender greens, most edible plants–tomatoes, squash, and peppers, especially–need and love the heat and sun.

At the same time, too much heat and sun can be hurtful. If you live in a hot climate, make sure to plant your garden where it won’t receive more than 6 hours of sun a day. You can shelter your plants with a home-built shade structure if you don’t have any other options. Simply put four stakes in the ground at the corners of your garden, and cover with sheer fabric or bird netting. You can also purchase this at any garden or plant store.

Good Earth

Whether you set up your garden in raised beds, in pots, or straight into the ground, be sure to grow your plants in good soil. To determine what kind of soil you have, try this: take a hose and wet a patch of soil, then take a pinch. If it feels slimy and kind of sticky, then you have a clay soil.  If it feels gritty and the water seems to drain very quickly through it, then you have a sandy, or a “loamy” soil. Those with clay soil need to get a soil amendment to help create air and loosen things up so plants’ roots can expand. if you have a loamy, easily draining soil, get some soil amendment to help retain water. Another big essential is adding compost–hopefully organic–that will add the nutrients necessary to grow a good crop. Compost is like food for soil. A good rule of thumb is to add a 1-2 cubic foot bag of compost per six square feet of planting area. You will also want to purchase a good organic vegetable food to feed your plants once a month during the growing season.

Holding Water

People are often daunted by the task of properly irrigating their plants, but it’s actually very easy. First, consistency is key. Plants should be watered 3-4 times per week for a few minutes when they’re new. As they mature and their roots grow, you’ll want to water less frequently–possibly twice a week. It’s important to achieve a deep watering, though, to help encourage the roots to go down where they can stay cool. When plants don’t get a deep water, their roots will stay at the surface, which tends to dry out quickly. Plants with superficial roots will not thrive as well, and will require more watering.

Always water in the morning so the leaves have time to dry over the course of the day–this will minimize pest and insect activity. If you’re not sure whether your plants need watering, here are some rules of (green) thumb: Droopy plants usually need water, unless it’s the middle of the day and blazing hot outside (this will make any plant–even a well-hydrated one–droop). You know your plants are over-watered if their leaves are yellowed and their flowers are dropping off. It’s usually better to under-water than over-water, because over-watering can lead to decreased fruit production. To check to see whether your soil is properly hydrated, just stick your fingers 3 inches down into the soil. If it feels cold and damp, you’re good.

Pest Control

Vegetables don’t like to have their leaves watered–this encourages pests, which will move up into the plants from the ground. To keep aphids and other flying insects away, just spray your plants once a week with a mixture of one-quart water to one-teaspoon organic dish soap. (This mixture is identical to the organic insecticidal soap you can buy in the gardening store, for much less cash.)

Choose Wisely

Many people don’t put enough thought into what to plant in their gardens. It’s easy to know which plants are right for you–just think about what you and your family like to eat. Plant things that are difficult to find, or a bit expensive at the supermarket. Don’t waste space on things that are difficult to grow and easy to buy, like garlic and onions, which must be replanted after you pick them. Instead, choose prolific plants such as tomatoes, squash, zucchini, beans, sweet peas, berries, and almost any herb. The more you pick, the more they produce.

Dew Gooders

Some beneficial flowers will help deter pests and add color to your edible garden. Some choices are marigolds, nasturtiums, petunias, purple coneflowers, sweet alyssum, cosmos, and sunflowers.

Pot Luck

You don’t need to have a yard to have a vegetable garden. Almost anything can be planted in pots on a deck, stoop, or windowsill. Cherry tomatoes, blueberries, avocados and herbs flourish in small containers. Think vertical too–lots of vines do great in small spaces or in pots. Create a trellis and grow beans, cucumbers, raspberries…you can even find “dwarf” sized fruit trees that do great in pots too. There’s no excuse for not having your own edibles!

Thank you to Gina Monaci, Founder and owner of Smartscapes Landscapes in Los Angeles, CA for her insights into edibles.

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