If you’ve never grown vegetables before the first thing you want to decide is where to plant them into your backyard. Most vegetables need 6-8 hours of sunlight each day although greens can handle less. Choose a site in an area which won’t be shaded by buildings or trees and one that is close to a water source. You won’t want to cart water any further than absolutely necessary. Protect the site with a fence to keep out dogs, rabbits and other animals which can damage your crops.
To grow vegetables the soil has to be fertile, deep, friable and well drained. Unless you’re extremely fortunate your soil is not likely to meet these standards, but over a time period you’ll have the ability to raise the fertility of the soil by following good cultivation practices.
The first task is to dig the whole of your site. Dig to a depth of 8-10 inches and keep working the soil which makes it loose and friable. Don’t dig when the soil is too moist. How do you know? Squeeze together a handful of soil. If it sticks together in a ball and doesn’t easily crumble under slight pressure by the finger and thumb, it’s too wet.
The soil will be improved by the addition of organic matter. It will help release nitrogen, minerals, and other nutrients for plant use when it decays. Well-rotted compost or manure could be dug into the ground. Alternatively a mulch of partially rotted straw, compost or crop residue on the soil helps keep the soil surface in good shape, slows water flow from the soil, and suppresses weeds.
Before you you begin to plant your own seeds there is one additional consideration – the design of your beds. The normal practice is to plant your plants in rows some 5 inches apart or just broad enough to enable you space to walk between the rows. This means that each and every time you walk on the property your soil has been slightly compacted. The alternative is to make a raised or broad bed. In this method you split your site into lots of beds around four feet wide with a narrow path between. This permits you to reach the middle of the bed from either side without treading on the ground.
If you grow the same crop year after year in the same bed, there is a higher risk of disease infecting your plants. To minimise the risk you should avoid planting plants of the same household in exactly the same soil for three seasons. You can attain this by using a four bed spinning and moving the plants on to another bed every year.
When choosing seeds it is logical to select disease resistant varieties where these are available. Saving your own seed isn’t always a great idea for at least two reasons. Firstly because seed saved from crops grown from hybrid seed won’t come true, and second your home saved seed could have become cross-pollinated from different crops grown on your property.
In the warmer areas of the United States most seeds can be sown directly into the beds. You’ll need to cultivate the soil to a fine tilth and sow the seeds in the depth recommended on the package. In cooler regions, or where you need early crops, seeds need to be sown in flats or trays inside. Overhead light, either natural or synthetic using fluorescent tubes, and heat is required to ensure satisfactory germination and development. Before they can be planted out in the beds, the seedlings need to be hardened off by putting them out for longer periods each day so that they become accustomed to the outside temperature.
Once your plants are all planted out in the beds that they will require regular watering, weeding and fertilizing. On average your crops will need 1 inch of water weekly. If this isn’t provided by rainfall, you’ll need to make up the difference. It’s much better to give the garden a good soaking once a week as opposed to applying small quantities of water every second day. The best time to water is early in the morning. Hoe your beds regularly to control the weeds and leave the soil in a loose, friable state to absorb after rainfall.