Beginners Garden

One of my favorite memories of my grampa has him sitting at the kitchen table, gnawing on the end of his cigarette while the rototiller idled noisily in the back yard.  I have no idea why he’d let it sit there running for so long, especially since it was a horrible noise and even worse smell, but there you have it.  After the farm-perfect rows and furrows were planted, he’d tediously weed, water, and await the coming of the horn worms.  His tomatoes were huge, juicy, and heavenly.

This is wear my love of gardening began.  This is where I learned to listen to plants to learn what they needed and where they would be happiest spreading their roots and stretching their branches.  When I was grown and had my own home, I spent all my spare time designing my flower gardens – all to no avail, thanks to my German Sheppard who loved the cool soil and soft flowers I’d just laid out for his afternoon nap.

Thanks to the endlessly changing tides of our lives, I now have the garden of my dreams (though scaled down to suburban living), which elicits much appreciated oohs and aahs and questions.  Reading between the lines of these questions, I have come to the conclusion that people who did not grow up in a family of gardeners believe that gardening is a huge, expensive, time consuming endeavor.  They don’t realize it can be as simple and inexpensive as putting a plant in a pot of dirt on the patio. What’s that cost – $10, including the pot?  Three minutes a day of TLC, on average?  Yes, if you want a small farm to sprout up in your back yard it will cost a bit more and take considerably more time, but most people simply want a few tomatoes and maybe a pepper plant.

So, for my dear friends who are afraid to take the first step into the garden…

The basics of vegetable gardening, on the cheap and easy:

  • pick your spot,
  • dig a hole twice the size of the ball of roots that comes out of the seedling pot,
  • plant your seedling, filling the hole with soil you bought at your favorite big box store,
  • press the soil firmly around the base of the plant,
  • water,
  • check your plant the next day and water again, as long as the soil is not soggy from the day before,
  • water your plant daily for the next week or so, then you can slack off on watering.
  • It’s a good idea to check your plant(s) daily, so make this quick trip to the back yard part of your after work routine.  It takes 2 minutes and can prevent any problems, like forgetting to water for too many days in a row.

What to do – a little more detailed:

strong>Pick your spot:

  • Sun
    • Most plants need as much sun as they can get for at least half the day.
  • Space
    • The amount of space you have for your veggie garden will determine how many plants you can grow.


  • Good soil
    • Planting soil can be purchased at your favorite big box store.
    • Amendment is also available at the big orange box.  It can be mixed in with existing soil to add nutrients, or plant directly in it.  It smells pretty ripe, so don’t use it straight if it’s near a window or door.
  • Easy access to water
    • If you have a choice between location A or location B, and location b is closer to the hose, choose location B.  I’m lazy, so I’m always looking for the easiest, most efficient way to complete my tasks, and dragging a hose around the yard is, quite frankly, too much work.
  • Container
    • What you grow in will impact what you can grow.
    • Ideas
      • large terra cotta flower pots
      • wood planters (similar to flower pots)
      • raised beds
      • straight in the ground
    • Be sure what ever will be in contact with your plants and the soil is healthy!  Old tires, railroad ties, and concrete blocks all leach chemicals into the soil, which your plants will transfer into your homegrown veggies.

What to plant when:
We can plant pretty much from early March thru early June.

Planting earlier puts you in danger of frost, which will kill young plants. Planting later means you’ll need to water more often, which is more work, more money, and more risk in losing the plants, so try to avoid planting any later than early June.

If you’re reading this, you’re likely just starting out, so keep it simple.

Seeds can be difficult, so buy seedlings.

Bonnie Plants are organic, non-GMO, and available at your local big orange box store.  (YAY!)

Tomatoes are easy and can be crammed together (about 18-24″ apart). You’ll want to pick up a tomato cage for each of your new plants so they grow up, instead of out.

Zucchini and peppers are also easy plants, though zucchini needs a lot of space. Basil is also easy and doesn’t take much space.

We’ve had trouble with corn.  It gets bugs, needs a lot of water, gets torn up in the wind…  We’ve also had some trouble with melons, mainly because they need more space than we allot them.

Broccoli, cabbage, etc are winter plants in southern California.

Lettuce is a bit tricky, so save that for winter or till you have more experience growing the easier veggies.

Don’t over think this, just remember to feed and water your new plants and they’ll reward you with a few beautiful and tasty, and next year you’ll do even better.