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Veggie gardens for beginners


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Planting a vegetable garden can be a worthwhile endeavor for anyone, even beginners.

Planting a vegetable garden can be a worthwhile endeavor for anyone who has an available patch of land. Gardens need not take up much space, and even apartment dwellers without yards can plant small gardens in containers they place on terraces or window boxes.

Mark Lovejoy, owner of Garden Treasures Nursery and Organic Farm in Arlington, said that vegetable gardens can help lower your food costs and you get to know exactly where you food comes from, but people might feel like they don't know anything in the beginning.

"It's common for people to feel overwhelmed because they don't know how to grow things but, in general, plants want to grow themselves," said Lovejoy.

Although establishing a garden is easy enough, beginners may make a few mistakes along the way. Those who already have paved the garden way before can offer novice gardeners some worthwhile tips.

One of the first decisions novice gardeners must make is which crops to grow. This will help determine how much land you will need and which supplies or soil amendments will be necessary. According to The Old Farmer's Almanac, a common error for beginners is planting too much and more than anyone could ever consume, so it's best to start small and be proud of that small garden.

Plants such as peppers, squash and tomatoes produce throughout the season, so you may not need many plants to provide for your needs. Less prolific plants may require a greater investment to produce a similar yield.

Starting with transplants can also help beginners, said Lovejoy, "especially with vegetables that are not as accustomed to our colder climate." Vegetables like tomatoes and peppers work well, but rooted vegetables like carrots and parsnips do not work as well with transplants, he said. "The roots get deformed when transplanted and they tend not to grow right," he said.

Lovejoy said one common mistake is planting too early in the season. "They'll see one day of good weather like we have today and start planting immediately," he said. "Patience is the best thing when you're a gardener," he said.

Locate your garden in an area that gets adequate sun. Many vegetables need between six and eight hours of sunlight per day. Without enough light they will not bear as much and could be susceptible to insect infestation. Vegetables and fruit also need plenty of water because they're not very drought-tolerant, so keep gardens close to a water source.

Another good tip is to locate the garden near the house or barbecue grill. This way you can easily harvest fresh produce and use it when cooking.

Soil preparation is also key. Till the soil and remove debris like rocks, sticks and hard clumps of dirt. Work with organic material, such as manure or compost. Apply mulch after planting to help maintain moisture levels in the soil.

Lovejoy said to make sure to have a balance of watering and composting as well. "They'll know compost is good, but then they add too much and it dries out their soil," he said. Overwatering in the beginning or forgetting to water later are also common problems. "They think about it a lot in the beginning because it's a baby, but then they'll forget," he said.

Plant the tallest crops at the rear of your garden bed. Work forward with shorter crops. Try to leave a foot or more between planting rows.

Lovejoy talks more about gardening on his free podcast, "The Dirty Cultivator," available at


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