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Getting Started with a Garden

Updated: May 9

As the weather warms and you notice vegetable seedlings for sale at your local nursery, you might be feeling the urge to try your hand at an edible garden (or a cut flower garden!) While I'm no expert, I've been doing this plant thing for long enough that I can point you to the starting line and some great resources to help you on your journey.

Let me preface the information below with this tidbit: I kill a lot of plants. That's how I've learned. A green thumb is nothing more than experience, the good and the bad kind. So if you try something this season and it doesn't work out, don't be discouraged. Your local flower lady is a shameless seedling killer. You're doing great!

The Basics

My favorite planting-a-garden-101 resource is Vegetable Farming for Beginners published by the Farmer's Almanac. It walks you through how to pick a good spot, what size to start with, how to pick what you grow, and how to lay out your garden.

I am not a big vegetable grower, but I've had plenty of success with lettuces (which it's too late for this year), green beans, tomatoes, carrots, and beets. The one vegetable that has always given me trouble is the potato. They've ended up with scab every time I've tried.

If you'd like to try your hand at flowers, you can't go wrong with zinnias, cosmos, and sunflowers. They can all be direct sown and, in my experience, are pretty drought tolerant. I wouldn't recommend anything that requires a long head start indoors or is specifically bred for greenhouse production if you're just starting out.

This gives me an idea for another post: Perennial Flowers for Beginners. Whaddaya think?

The Calendar

With any garden, you need a seed sowing calendar. It sounds much more lofty than it is, really. A seed sowing calendar is just a plan for when you're going to plant what and where (indoors or outside). You can make it as simple or complex as you like.

The Farmer's Almanac has a great Planting Calendar. I've plugged in the South Weymouth zip code. You can see that this is a great time to start many vegetables in our area. Most seed packets will also tell you when to start seeds, how deep to plant them, and how far to space them. Follow this advice. If you try to plant something out of it's normal season, it'll be stunted, or prone to disease, or just not yield as much as it should.

Understanding whether you need to succession sow (sow a few batches a few weeks apart) for a constant harvest and what the best harvest point is may take a little more digging. For that, Google and trial and error are your best friends.

Seed Resources

All that said, you need seeds if you're going to plant stuff! So here's a list of my top three online seed resources:

  • Hudson Valley Seed Company: I first saw this company at the Boston Flower Show years ago and I've been a loyal customer ever since. They have super cool heirloom varieties of everything and partner with artists to illustrate their seed packets. I have always loved the veggie seeds I've purchased from them.

  • Baker Creek: Baker Creek specializes in rare seeds, which is evident from the second you navigate to their website. It's a good mix of vegetables and flowers. Just browsing here is fun and by fun I mean addictive? Now I have my eye on some yarrow seeds. I said I was done buying seeds for the year, but maybe I'm not? In the name of research...

  • Johnny's Selected Seeds: This is a popular seed purveyor with cut flower growers. Their customer service is awesome. They have tons of informational videos and resources and their catalog is incredibly informative. They also sell tools and organic supplies.

So there you have it. Go forth and plant stuff!

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