Grow Your Own: Weeds

This is the third post in a series about gardening. Today I’m going to give you a few ways to avoid weeds. Because they suck. No one likes weeds.

Although, according to A A Milne and his beloved character Eeyore, “Weeds are flowers, too, once you get to know them.” Way to be positive Eeyore.

So the best way that we have avoided weeds is by putting down landscape, or weed block fabric. It’s about $5 a roll and is probably not awesome for the environment…but I work full time and have lots of other commitments to family and friends that are more important than weeds. So weed block fabric works for me. It will run you about $20 for the whole garden.

Another option I haven’t used but I have heard about:

Cardboard and newspaper. Lay down your paper flat (if you are using newspaper, lay down a bunch of layers.) Cut holes in it and plant your seedlings. Cover the remaining bare newspaper/cardboard with grass clippings or leaves. Eventually the paper will disintegrate and decompose.

Also, you can get fancy and plant low crops around ones that are taller- plant lettuce seedlings around your pepper plants, for example. The pepper plants take awhile to produce so you can harvest lots of lettuce before the peppers take off and need the space.

Overall, you will have weeds in your garden. I still have to go through and weed every week or so. But if you use preventative measures, you shouldn’t find it to be a huge problem. Just think of it as garden cardio!

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Grow Your Own: What to Buy

When you are planning your garden, budget is likely to be a factor.  You will want to have some money put aside but you can easily keep the expenses budget friendly by sticking to my list:

First, consider the size of the garden.  Your costs will go up incrementally with every square foot you add.  I would recommend starting out with 1 4×4 raised bed and between 6 to 8 containers for your first year.  This is a manageable size & will give you a lot of fresh herbs and vegetables.

Raised Bed:

The first consideration with building a raised bed is what materials you are going to use to build it.  There are lot of options, but here are a few:

Kit: Since at home gardening has experienced such a resurgence, there are many kits out there that you can set up in just about an hour.  This one will run you about $40 and is actually the one my mom bought last year.  It has held up well over the winter so I have no issue recommending it.  If you are not handy and/or do not have the time or space to build your own bed, this is the way to go.

Pressure treated lumber (cost = $2.75/sq ft🙂 is what we used on our garden.  Eric built ours four years ago and we have had no issue with it at all (we used railroad ties to attach the pieces together.)  There is some controversy about whether pressure treated lumber should be used for edible gardening, but we read the research and weren’t concerned.  Total cost would be about $50 and it’s definitely going to last.   

Non-traditional materials:  I’ve seen raised beds grown in old tires, barrels, and straw bales.  I actually really like the straw bale idea because the straw itself will decompose and add to the soil.  Here’s a great example of this.  

When starting a raised bed, you will need to fill it with soil.  Assuming you are building a 4×4 bed that will be 1 foot off the ground (we’ve found a one foot height is perfect for keeping out rabbits and small pests,)  you will need  about 12 cubic feet of soil.  There’s a great calculator here: Soil Calculator

You can buy soil at any garden center or home improvement store.  If you buy bagged, it will be more expensive,but it is also more convenient.  Budget between $2-$3 per cubic foot for soil.  

Container Gardening

Lets say you really want to garden but don’t have a yard available.  Maybe you live in an apartment or condo, or dorm room, or on the sidewalk.  Regardless, you can still garden.  Just hit up your local garden store or hardware store and pick up the following:

 

4-6 window boxes

4 large round patio containers (12” diameter)

3 medium round patio containers (8” diameter)

These can be terra cotta or plastic.  You can also repurpose  what you have- old milk jugs, soda bottles and juice boxes cut in half are all great planters. I’ve also seen raised beds grown in old kiddie pools.   Be creative- all you need is a place to put dirt that’s about 6-12 inches deep.  

You will need soil- see above for that info.  You’ll probably need about 10 bags of soil to fill the containers.  

Other Equipment:

This is just the basics- you can go crazy but don’t think you need everything they are selling at the garden store!

Watering can or hose (buy the sprayer nozzle for $3 if you can)

Clippers

Trowel or small hand shovel

Tomato cages and twine

Okay, on to the fun stuff!

Plants

If you are growing your first garden, you will want to buy seedlings or small plants.  Seed starting is a challenge & is best left to the professionals.  The best time in zone 6a to buy and plant seedlings is Memorial Day weekend.  Clear your calendar Saturday morning & head out to your local nursery, plant sale (lots of school and church groups do these as fundraisers & their prices are great!) or home improvement store.  

Yes, you will pay more for seedlings.  You will also save yourself a world of aggravation.  You can start seeds next year, after the tip of your thumb is a greenish hue.  

You should only grow what you like.  For a small garden, you won’t have enough room for corn or plants that require a lot of space, like melons.  For the first year, I recommend keeping it very simple.

If you are going the 4×4 bed route, then I recommend you start with:

Two cherry tomato plants

Two regular tomato plants (like Roma, paste, or the larger sandwich type)

Two more tomato plants that are suited to patio containers (your nursery can advise you.) These will go in the largest of the containers you purchased.

Two summer squash plants

Two zucchini plants

Two pepper plants (hot or bell, depending on your preference)

One Eggplant…plant

I would also recommend that you buy some potted herbs while you are buying plants. Our first year, I grew:

Two basil plants (but you can really never have enough basil…)

One dill plant

One cilantro plant

One parsley plant

One rosemary plant

One pot of chives

These you will pot in containers.  We keep them on the back steps, where they get about a half days worth of sun and this works perfectly. Plus they are close to the kitchen!

In the next post I will go over the planting placement and initial watering plan.

If you are sitting here in March or April and feeling impatient for vegetables, you can prepare the bed or containers and plant some cooler weather crops in early April, like lettuce.  These you can direct sow, which means you plant seeds directly into the ground outside.

I hope this is helpful and you are getting excited about your first vegetable garden!