We had a relatively hard time finding simple material that tells you exactly what you need to do to start a garden. For this research, the Extension Service search engine was something of a disappointment. One annoyance: The Google cheap seats specialty search engine used by the Extension Service doesn’t hold your place among the zillions of search items. So you have to keep track of the page number you’re on or you’ll be reading entries over a few times. Major pain.
But mostly the disappointment had to do with stuff that came up being over thought.
A big part of the pleasure of starting a garden is getting out and doing something, not reading about doing something. Or even worse giving yourself some paperwork about doing something. One guy we read specified the size of the paper you should write down your plan on (really!)
Brief Summary of Startup Chores
Eventually, searches on the Extension Service website did yield results. A PDF document from the University of Maryland— clicking on this blue title brings up "How to Start a Vegetable Garden-6 Basic Steps"—was brief and to the point. It’s only two pages. You can download it to your computer and print it out. Here’s a real over simplification of the process of starting a garden.
- Find a sunny place for your garden.
- Clear it. Pull up weeds.
- Break up the soil.
- Spread Fertilizer.
- Stick some seeds in the ground.
- Water the garden.
It’s not quite as simple as that. For example, some sources we consulted said a vegetable garden needed about 6 hours of sun a day. Others said 8 hours. Another example: There’s a consensus that you ought to get your soil tested. It’s a freebie from your local agricultural extension service. There’s a lot of advice around for garden tools. One source we liked said you can do a small garden with a shovel and a stick. We liked that. Others recommended a motorized tiller—a device that breaks up the soil with a rotating head. A plow does the same thing.
Still other sources differentiated between simply broken up ground and raised growing beds. All sorts of organic materials are recommended as fertilizer. Chemical products are also available.
What to grow also consumed many pages. The basic idea is to grow what you like to eat. Or in the case of other growing things what you like to see.
Water is a big topic. Where it comes from and how it drains are both elementary considerations.
Weeds & Friends
A longer source on what you have do to actually to start a garden—only two pages of a PDF document as well, but longer because the type is smaller—is published by the University of Delaware and the Delaware Cooperative Extension service. We found the extra detail helpful. It’s available on the Internet when you click the following blue link: Vegetable Garden Basics.
If you’ve really got some reading time on your hands and are not especially itching to get them dirty right away you might want to consult a longer piece (to find it click on "Basic Gardening Skills") published online by Washington State University (WSU). This is a lot of detail and the series provides numerous links to other WSU online publications. Look for information on pesticides. If your interests are limited, don't be afraid to be specific. Example: watering tomatoes.
Remember when you access stuff like this that growing stuff in America has been carried on for eons by people who didn’t know how to read. Or build garden water fountains. And they did pretty well with their gardens.
Planting Times for Garden Vegetables
If you’re still in the mood for detail, you might want to run your eye over one of the many gardening calendars available from numerous local extension services both online and in print. Here’s an example of one we liked: Just click on "Monthly Garden Calendars" to go to it. It’s published by Oregon State University. And what it does is it gives you an idea of what it takes to maintain a garden over the course of a year. Your simple startup garden won’t take so much time and effort, but we recommend this calendar as something that actually might whet your appetite for getting into gardening in a more expert way.
Won't Bore You with What Soil Is Made Of
And since our searches on the Extension Service website took so long, we decided to use regular Google to see if there wasn’t something simple and brain friendly about real tasks to get a garden going. We found two stories we liked, both available online. The first one (to look at it click “Starting a Garden from Scratch? Start Right,”) had practical suggestions. It was published by the Minneapolis St. Paul Star Tribune on March 24, 2009.
The second one, which we liked a little better, was published by the Lawrence Journal World & News and posted online on April 23, 2006. You can pull it up with a quick click on "Starting from Scratch." We used the search phrase ‘starting a garden from scratch,’ on regular Google to find zillions of similar stories.