Wannabe Gardener: Making Your First Vegetable Garden

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I’ve wanted my own vegetable garden for as long as I can remember.  My parents (as I think many filipino parents do) had one growing up and it was huge!  One of my chores would be to go out daily and pick what was ready for harvest.  I’ve always wanted to try tending to a box garden, but with working, family, money…the idea of it kept going by the wayside.

I’ve tried growing tomatoes and strawberries out of pots and now realize I didn’t prep my soil well..or even water it!  The hot summer sun burned my plants up and I had little to harvest.

So here we are, 2015, and we are attempting our own patch of sustainability.  Our motivation?  Eating more veggies as a family AND saving money.  Actually, I think I want to minimize me having to go to the markets frequently with a toddler and infant in tow.  However, a garden to tend together as a family is such a great learning experience for children as well.  Not only can they learn about responsibility in caring for something and putting in hard physical work, they can also appreciate the fruits of their labor…through eating healthy!

So if you are a wannabe gardener, thinking of trying out your first vegetable box garden, or an expert gardener that can give me advice…READ ON!!!  I know I’ve already made mistakes, but I’m hoping the end of the season will at least give me some food for harvest!

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We started off digging out a plot for the box garden against our house in our backyard.  We chose this spot primarily because it was an old bed of old bushes and such that was overgrown with weeds and such.  We needed to clean it up already, so we put the garden here.

Potential Mistake #1:  This part of our house is in shade in the morning up until noon.  I’ve later read that morning sunlight is the best for a garden.  Oh well…we’ll have to restrategize for next year.

We prepped the soil with manure and basically made a 50/50 combo.  I don’t know if this is right, but that’s what we did.

We bought tomato, eggplant, and pepper plants from our local Lowes and I started cucumber, squash, basil, parsley, cilantro, lettuce, pok choy, carrots, and watermelon from seed.  To start the seed I bought a box of the starter pellets, followed the directions, and watered.  I put them each in cup solo cups, but I could have easily used an old egg carton instead.

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I scoured the internet with ideas about what to plant where, how far apart, etc.  I had a good mix of plants that needed tons of sunlight and some that needed less.  We were going to build another box that was in more full sunlight most of the day for our tomatoes, squash, and watermelon, but we got lazy.  So this year’s experiment would have to do.  Some things I did (based on what I read about companion planting):

  • tomatoes were planted at the end where it got the most full sunlight
  • eggplant, squash, cucumbers and peppers were planted at the front of the bed which was the next best spot to receive the longest full sunlight
  • lettuce was planted closest to the house since it didn’t need as much full sunlight
  • basil, parsley and carrots were planted around the tomato plants
  • cucumbers were separated from the tomatoes
  • pok choy was planted wherever I could find room

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These peppers were the first I saw growing.  I read I should pluck these when they are still decently small to stimulate growth of more fruit?

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4 weeks later my garden is channeling Little Shop of Horrors.  About 3 weeks after planting I was already cutting lettuce.  It is quite tasty and fun cutting lettuce for our dinners!  However, with the lettuce we’ve encountered a problem when it rained for 3 days straight…slugs.  My daughter was starting to freak out when she picked our dinner lettuce!

Yuck!

  • I tried some noninvasive resolutions like putting a tub of fresh beer near the lettuce…didn’t catch any slugs and still found them.
  • I’ve also sprinkled my coffee grounds around the lettuces….I think it burned/killed the bottom leaves.
  • I sprinkled crushed egg shells around the lettuce plants…I haven’t noticed anything, but the slugs are gone.  I think this is primarily because it isn’t dank and wet from non stop rain.

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Things are coming along quite nicely!  I took this shot this morning and the tomato plants and squash are about 3-4 feet tall.  I haven’t even added fertilizer, Miracle-Gro or what not!  I am surprised though that there are tons of green tomatoes waiting to ripen and tons of flowers on the tomato, squash, cucumber and eggplants.  Some things I’m noticing:

  • I put a cage around one of my cucumber vines and it is climbing up the cage like a champ.  I put a wood stake around another cucumber plant and it doesn’t want to climb it at all.
  • The yellow squash plant likes to move towards the sunlight.  The leaves are bending in one direction in morning and another by the afternoon!
  • The peppers just aren’t growing as big and flowering as the other plants.

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So far my biggest snafu is the pok choy plants.  I think it was too late in the season to grow and the hot temperatures got to them, which I believe caused them to bolt (flower).  I heard when they bolt they become super bitter.  Something was eating the leaves of the pok choy as well.   I also put a lot around the tomato plants (which I think is wrong because it is a cabbage and this can stunt the growth of the tomato plants), due to lack of space. So I pretty much have harvested what I had.  We’ve actually chopped them up and cooked them in soups and stir fries…it is quite yummy!  I think I’ll try growing these towards the fall and maybe the cooler weather will be better towards them.  Still don’t know what was eating them leavesa and how I can prevent it though.

Any thoughts on what I need to do better?  I will be chronicling my garden progress on the blog and would love to hear your thoughts…and help!

~Lani

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