Novice gardeners can find success

Published 3:55 pm Monday, March 9, 2009

Question: I want to grow a vegetable garden this year. Do you have any tips for the novice vegetable gardener and any upcoming workshops?

Answer: If done well, growing fresh vegetables, herbs or fruits can provide a great sense of joy and accomplishment. A vegetable garden can also reduce the family’s food budget, and it can be a source of hard-to-find items such as Chinese cabbage, heirloom tomatoes or fresh herbs.

With proper planning the garden can be both functional and attractive. Landscape designers today often incorporate ornamental plants such as flowering annuals into the vegetable garden and vice versa. This gardening philosophy, coupled with our favorable climate, can offer opportunities nearly all year.

I suggest you start small.

An area of 50 square feet is a good size to start with and you will be surprised how much you can grow in that area. The tendency for most beginning gardeners is to start too large and give up in frustration.

Regardless of size, there are five factors to consider in selection a garden site.

The first is sunlight. The garden should receive at least six hours of direct sunlight each day. Vegetables should therefore be planted away from the shade of buildings, trees and shrubs. Some leafy vegetables such as broccoli, collards, spinach and lettuce tolerate shadier conditions. However, if your garden does not receive a minimum of six hours of sunlight, you are fighting a losing battle.

The second consideration is convenience. The closer the vegetable garden and the easier it is to access, the more likely you will harvest in a timely manner. It is also more likely that you will keep up with weeding, watering, insect control and succession planting.

The third consideration is soil. You do not need to have the ideal type of soil to grow a good garden because you can alter the soil. However, if possible the soil should be fertile and easy to till, with a loose, well-drained loam with good organic matter content. Avoid any soil that remains soggy after a rain.

The fourth consideration is water. Including rain and irrigation, the garden needs at least 1 inch of water per week. Therefore, it is essential to locate the garden near a water source. Drip irrigation is ideal because you wet only the soil without wetting weeds or foliage.

The fifth and often neglected consideration is good air drainage. Avoid locating the garden in a low spot such as the base of a hill or the foot of a slope. These areas are slow to warm in the spring and frost forms more readily. Also, avoid planting items too close, which can lead to poor air circulation and increased disease problems.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System is planning a “Home Grown” workshop at the North Shelby County Library on Saturday, March 28. For registration details, contact Nelson Wynn at 669-6763 or Tony Glover 568-0005 or visit