Planning Your First Garden


Our first garden was a little area on the side of our house where we grew a small variety of veggies (aka, I don’t remember what we grew…). We did really well…the first few weeks. I think most beginning gardeners deal with the same naive, over-optimism when it comes to planning their first garden. We were finally realistic with our expectations with our sixth garden. And we did so well that year, that we actually expanded the next year. We intend to expand again this year, too. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Planning for your first garden is exciting…and overwhelming. I have four tips for you to think about.

1. Location, location, location

Real estate is not the only market where the key phrase is “location, location, location.” Location is very important when planning your first garden. Most vegetables need at least 6-8 hours of sunlight each day. There really is no replacement for sunlight when it comes to gardening. You are not limited to an open field, though.

Watch your space, but keep in mind that if you are doing this now, the sun does change positions throughout the year. What you want to watch for is tall objects and the shadows they cast, areas where water puddles (to avoid), and where the natural traffic flow is for animals (and humans). If you plant your garden where the dog routinely walks, guess what? The dog WILL walk through your garden. Planning your first garden with these things in mind will save you some headaches in the long run.

If you don’t have enough open space, look into container gardening (be sure to check out her follow-up post, too), vertical gardening, windowsill gardening, or urban gardening. If you don’t have a space that isn’t sopping wet, build a raised bed to get your plants’ feet out of the puddle. There are lots of ideas floating around Pinterest, check those out for inspiration, too.

2. Size Does Matter

Um, gardens, people. Gardens. Sheesh. As I mentioned before, I am notoriously over-optimistic when it comes to how much garden we can handle. Ultimately, we hope to produce much of what we eat here on our one acre homestead. Learn from my experience. Start with less than you think you can handle, unless you think you can’t handle anything, then start with a 4’x8′ bed. Nothing ruins the gardening experience better than losing control of weeding and losing all the time and money you invested. Trust me.

3. Plant What You Eat

Tomatoes are fun to grow. They come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and even flavors, especially heirloom varieties. But if you don’t like tomatoes or eat food with tomatoes in it, you are wasting your time and space. I know it is tempting to think “well, I don’t eat them now, but I will when I grow them…” You won’t.

Plant what you eat, not what you think you should be eating. Trying new things is fun. Shopping all the things you can grow in your first garden is fun. Rotten veggies that you invested time and money into is not fun. It does nothing to inspire your gardening efforts. Try new varieties and veggies next year. This year’s new thing is planning and growing the garden itself.

4. Easy Does It

Now, let me expound upon number three. You also want easy to grow. Zucchini is easy to grow and it is a prolific plant. However, zucchini plants are prone to squash bugs. Want to know how I feel about squash bugs? Ahem. I would avoid plants that are prone to these buggers your first year and read all you can about natural pest control in the garden (please, please, please do not use pesticides or such chemicals in your garden).

Tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers are all relatively easy to grow. So is lettuce and spinach (green smoothies, anyone?). Root veggies take a little extra ground work at the beginning, but keep well once harvested in the fall.

Remember that everything you plant in your garden is going to need watered and weeded. Raised beds and mulching help you out in this area tremendously. Trust me on that one, too.


Bonus Tip #1

Keep a garden journal. I don’t, so this may seem hypocritical advice to some. To that I say, learn from my mistake! I intend to start one in my home management binder this year. I can’t tell you how much I wish I could reference notes about our past successes, failures, pest problems, yields, etc. I’m not talking anything elaborate or pretty, though if that’s your thing, go for it. A spiral bound notebook will work just fine.

Bonus Tip #2

Raised beds. Build them, fill them, use them. They make gardening infinitely better and easier.

Bonus Tip #3

If you find a snake in one of your garden beds, go right back out the next day. You probably scared him off when you ran screaming out of the garden the day before anyways…

{Good Reads} for Planning Your First Garden

Wondering where to buy seeds and transplants? I’ll cover that on Monday. I’ll see you then!

Related posts here on ye ol’ blog:

I’m linking this post up to Encourage One Another at Deep Roots at Home, Wellness Wednesday at Intoxicated on Life, and Hearts at Home on Upside Down Homeschooling.

Around Our Little Homestead – July 2012

Around here, we try to grow more food each year than the year prior. Here’s why. You can see my ambitious list of seedling started last year on this post. You should also check out this post because my chickens make me smile.

I’ll get this out of the way first:

Dead Zucchini Plant

There are not enough words in the English language to encompass the whole of my loathing of squash bugs. Thank you, fair zucchini plant, for the half dozen zucchini you blessed us with before those hideous beasts got the best of you.

Now, on to better things.

This is Zane:


Zane curled up to sleep in a pallet in the barn. Commence oohing and awing.

Bell Pepper Plants

Our bell pepper plants are doing significantly better than the zucchini plant.

Tomato Plants All in a Row

So are our tomato plants (all 75ish of them).


Our volunteer tomatillo plants are already providing fruit.

Leek Blossoms

And I saved the best for last, the leek blossoms. These things are huge and they just make me happy.



Heirlooms, Hybrids & GMOs, Oh My!

You may be wondering why I would include this in my series on saving money. To be honest, it’s about much more than money. There is one definite way heirlooms save you money, but this goes much deeper than money.

Heirlooms are open-pollinated. If you save their seeds, you can grow the same plant/fruit the next year. And the year after that. And the year after that. You get the point. You can turn your $3 investment into a lifetime of food if you use heirlooms. Not so with Hybrids and genetically modified (GM) seeds.

Hybrids are a forced cross between plants. These do have the possibility to be stabilized and become open-pollinated. There are markings in seed catalogs that will let you know this. A marking of F1 is a first generation plant. You can not save true seed from these plants. Therefore, you have to purchase your seeds annually.

“The more seasons you grow an heirloom in your particular area, the stronger the plant will be in dealing with that area’s specific set of gardening troubles.” —

Now, on to genetically modified organisms. Genetically modified food is more of a buying issue than a what-to-grow issue since the seeds aren’t readily available for backyard gardeners. However, this is what the majority of our commercial farms are using. You need to be aware of this.

Genetically modified seeds are something out of a science fiction horror movie, only real. Genetically modified organisms take the DNA from one species and insert it into another. They take genes from bacteria, viruses, animals, insects and humans, then insert them into the seeds along with antibiotic resistant “marker” genes (hmm, antibiotic resistant genes in our food…that sounds super).

Do you know what they are doing with genetic modification?

  • potatoes that glowed in the dark when they needed watering (I’ll admit this one sounds kind of awesome, a plant that tells you when to water it…but what did they put in it to make it GLOW?)
  • corn engineered with jellyfish genes
  • engineering corn with hepatitis genes
  • inserting jellyfish genes in pigs to make their noses glow in the dark

You can visit the FAQs page at Seeds of Deception for a whole lot more on GM seeds. I’ll share some sections that jumped out at me:

Crops such as Bt cotton produce pesticides inside the plant. This kills or deters insects, saving the farmer from having to spray pesticides. The plants themselves are toxic, and not just to insects. Farmers in India, who let their sheep graze on Bt cotton plants after the harvest, saw thousands of sheep die!

Hasn’t research shown GM foods to be safe? No. The only feeding study done with humans showed that GMOs survived inside the stomach of the people eating GMO food. No follow-up studies were done. Various feeding studies in animals have resulted in potentially pre-cancerous cell growth, damaged immune systems, smaller brains, livers, and testicles, partial atrophy or increased density of the liver, odd shaped cell nuclei and other unexplained anomalies, false pregnancies and higher death rates.

In March 2001, the Center for Disease Control reported that food is responsible for twice the number of illnesses in the U.S. compared to estimates just seven years earlier. This increase roughly corresponds to the period when Americans have been eating GM food.

Q. Didn’t the scientists at the FDA study GM foods themselves? No.  The FDA relies solely on information supplied by the biotech companies.

Some further reading on organic seeds, GMO and seed saving:

Books on saving seeds:

To bring this back to the point of saving money, here is a photo of last year’s lettuce bed taken yesterday:


Do you see all that lovely red romaine and gold rush lettuce?

I did not plant one single seed this year (well, that you see here).

To the left is the raised bed our lettuce occupied last year. As the weather heated up, the plants bolted. I harvested some of the seeds and have a legal size envelope full. Imagine my surprise this spring when all these little lovelies popped up, the plants reseeded themselves.

We had some for dinner the other night. Lovely. And free.

Further Reading: Where to buy heirloom seeds

Garden 2011


I’ve been wanting to do a Garden 2011 post for a while now, but have been busy with said garden and my growing-like-weeds children. So here I sit before they get up this wet Wednesday morning to type a post about our garden.

We are shrinking the 80’x64′ space we’ve used for our main garden for the last two years by two cattle panels in length, so it is now 48’x64′. This year we also switched to raised beds. Andrew has diligently built 13 4’x8′ raised garden beds, which range from 8″-12″ tall. We do have one that is about 20″ tall, it was the first one built and we decided the rest did not need to be so tall. We will use this one to grow long root veggies, parsnips and carrots. We eventually want around two dozen beds in the space, but some will wait until we get the permanent greenhouse set up so we know what space we have in that last section of the garden.

So currently our garden consists of sopping wet mud and a dozen empty raised beds. We can’t have topsoil hauled in until the dump truck won’t be swallowed up by our yard. I can not believe how wet the ground is right now. And we live on a hill.

We do have five small raised beds on the side of the house that I managed to clean and seed before the monsoon season hit here in SE Indiana. We have swiss chard (a new food for us), pak choi, parsnips, red romaine lettuce, goldrush lettuce, spinach, english shelling peas, beets and carrots sprouting in those beds, though much slower than last spring.

Things aren’t as behind as they feel though. Our current greenhouse is teeming with life! It is filled with trays and trays of germinating seeds. To end this post, I will leave you with a list of what is sprouting in our greenhouse, what’s waiting for direct sowing and some photos of said sproutings. I hope we have enough room.


Fruit & Veggies:

  • cauliflower
  • broccoli
  • cherry roma tomatoes
  • amish paste tomatoes
  • green zebra tomatoes (these are awesome)
  • red zebra tomatoes
  • asparagus (seeds finally sprouted!)
  • artichokes
  • celery
  • chinese cabbage
  • leeks
  • small sugar pie pumpkins
  • miniature white cucumbers
  • black diamond watermelons
  • butternut squash
  • bull nose bell peppers
  • brussel sprouts
  • tomatillos
  • cayenne peppers (well, the seeds are there, still no sprouts)
  • jalapenos
  • yellow squash
  • corn (this was ridiculously fun to grow, they grow so fast!


Spices & Herbs:

  • dill
  • cilantro
  • parsley
  • sweet marjoram
  • english lavender
  • thyme
  • large leaf basil
  • sweet genovese basil
  • lemon basil (from my mama)
  • stevia
  • chives
  • peppermint
  • spearmint
  • bee balm
  • german chamomile
  • hyssop
  • lemon balm
  • sage
  • eucalyptus (this is an experiment, grown as a houseplant)
  • comfrey



  • night phlox
  • diablo cosmos
  • love lies bleeding
  • benary’s giant zinnias
  • globe amaranth
  • sea shell cosmos (oldest picked these out, gorgeous)
  • radio calendula
  • bunny tails
  • evening sun sunflowers (from our own seed, collected last year)

Waiting for direct sowing:

  • marshmallow
  • swiss chard* (*successive sowing)
  • cabbage
  • red onions
  • yellow onions
  • beets*
  • turnips
  • radishes
  • carrots*
  • kale
  • sugar snap peas (too late?)
  • parsnips (better bed)
  • pac choi*
  • lettuces & spinach*
  • okra
  • corn
  • chinese cabbage
  • strawberry popping corn
  • kidney beans
  • black beans
  • green beans
  • burdock
  • flax
  • fenugreek
  • rutabagas
  • mongolian giant sunflowers
  • more flowers for ambiance, providing I can find the room

If you’d like more info on our gardening habits, check out this post. You can also check out my absolute best money saving tip.