Joanne Kempinger Demski, Special to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
For new gardeners who want to start a garden bed, there are just a few steps that have to be followed.
Start with a small garden, as it’s easy to expand in future years, said Jayson Force, product manager at Burpee Plants in Chicago. An area that measures about 6 by 8 feet is a good start. When picking a location, make sure it gets at least six hours of sun a day and is near a water source.
Next dig out the grass if it’s not a raised bed, and then dig into the ground and break up the soil. Remove as many stones and weeds as possible and break up large clumps of earth. Add about 2 inches of compost, then work it in with a shovel or metal rake until the ground is fairly loose.
Next, plant your plants or seeds. When you plant depends on soil temperature and what you are planting. Depending on the crop, soil temperature could be anywhere from 45 to 75 degrees. Check seed packets for ideal temperature and to see how fast the plants will germinate and produce food. Also check the packets to see how deep to plant your seeds.
Once you have planted, add an all-purpose slow-release fertilizer. You will need to add fertilizer again halfway thought the summer.
Keep an eye on your new garden. Watch for signs of disease like discoloring, wilting and insect damage. Stake large plants as needed to keep air flowing around the lower leaves. If there are animals such as deer and rabbits in your area, circle the plants with a light-gauge wire mesh to protect them. Keep plants watered well.
Lastly, to harvest your vegetables when they are ripe, use a sharp pruner to remove fruit from plants and to shear herbs as cleanly as possible. Pick fruit when ripe to ensure continuous production.
What crops to grow
In addition to how to plant a garden, new gardeners also need to decide what crops to plant.
Force said he’s seeing gardeners buying a mix of seeds, but that tomatoes and peppers are the favorite.
“After that its cucumbers, followed by eggplant. … Also the herbs are very popular right now. People are seeing all these cooking shows while they are at home, and they say to use fresh herbs, and most people don’t have them. All you need is a patio pot to grow most of them,” he said.
Beans, lettuce, eggplant and cucumbers are good for new gardeners because they are easy to grow, said Mike Holt, resale manager at Minor’s Garden Center in Milwaukee.
If a garden bed is too big of a commitment, container gardens are another option; especially for those with small spaces.
If you just want a couple fresh tomatoes, do them in a container, said Brian Uebelacker, general manager at Minor’s Garden Center, “There’s almost nothing you can’t grow in a container except watermelon, as it would take over the patio, and you wouldn’t get a lot of fruit. You couldn’t do corn either,” he said.
Another option for growing plants is to use Smart Pots, which are made of a durable fabric, said Zannah Crowe, horticulturist at Johnson’s Gardens. “They are perfect for vegetable gardening. We grow potatoes in them every year,” she said.