Gardening Basics

I hope everyone grows some vegetables. I believe gardening can cure three ailments that affect much of our society.

First, gardening gives you exercise. Go to work shoveling soil, hoeing the weeds, bending and stooping to plant, weed and drag hoses. It’s good exercise.

Second, you can save money on groceries. This depends on how fancy your garden is, of course. But a package of grape tomatoes will cost you $3, yet a six-pack of tomato plants costs $4. Imagine the number of tomatoes that could come from one tomato plant, let alone six.

And third, getting out in the sunshine, yanking those good-for-nothing weeds and enjoying your efforts in raising top quality produce simply ought to be good for one’s mental health and wellbeing. Now this last point may be my own perspective, but I’m not going to back down from it.

So how do we get started? Start by finding a good location. Your spot needs to have a full day’s worth of sun or close to a full day of sun. Vegetables thrive in sunlight and will produce so much more than if in the shade. In fact, if you cannot find at least five hours of full sun, try a different project other than vegetable gardening.

Next, we’ll take special care to make sure that the new garden spot can be reached by your current water hose, connected to the spigot.

Sunshine and water — check.

Now let’s put in a raised garden bed. Raised beds can be bought ready to go or made from two pieces of lumber. Make sure that you use lumber at least 6 inches wide as this will be the depth where your plant’s roots grow. At minimum, get a 2x6 piece of lumber at least 8 feet long.

So, we purchase two 2x6 pieces of 8-foot-long lumber from the hardware store. We’ll cut 3 feet off each piece of lumber to construct a simple box that is 5 feet long and 3 feet wide.

You can make a bed 4 feet wide, but no more. Why? Because any wider and you won’t be able to reach the middle from each side. In fact, for children’s gardens, we don’t recommend a bed wider than 3 feet. Kids have shorter arms.

Getting back on track, place that wooden box in your chosen location and fill the bottom with a layer of cardboard. Yep, that cardboard will keep the existing vegetation from growing through and will decompose in time. Cover the ground thoroughly. Putting down two layers of cardboard is OK, leaving gaps is not.

To the wooden box that is now a raised bed with a layer of cardboard in the bottom, add a garden soil made with some compost. The feed stores and garden centers have a wide variety of bagged products that will work just fine. Fill until almost full.

What’s next is the real fun. Pick two or three easy to grow vegetables that you really like and put them in that simple raised bed that will be nice and tidy in your backyard.

Plant according to the recommend start dates. Around Lufkin, I’d suggest planting most warm-season vegetables in early April.

I’d suggest you go with two kinds of tomatoes: a larger slicing tomato and a grape/cherry tomato variety that I like to eat like candy. Plant some beans for easy harvest and something else you enjoy.

When the tomatoes and beans are finished in the heat of the summer, yank them out and plant a few okra seeds or something else that can take the heat.

Later in the fall, plant turnips, kale, radishes or another cool-season crop.

Be sure to ask any experienced gardener what can be planted and your 3-by-5-foot raised bed should never be empty. You should be able to have something growing every month of the year.

Honestly, keep it simple: Select a good location, build a raised bed, fill it with good soil and plant away.