I've been promising Thomas (7) for ages we'd grow our own vegetables, I really couldn't face a completely new project last year as the baby was such hardThe two most important things to remember are 1) start small and 2) have early success. In other words don't set yourself up for failure. Make things easy for yourself.
work so I told him *definitely* this year, and I haven't a clue where to
I have a little garden, about 7 foot by 25 foot or so, with a raised bed, unfortunately a lot of it is in the shade most of the day. I don't mind using some or all (eventually!) of it for vegetables.
Where do I start?! I have no experience of gardening we never did anything like that when I was a kid, I've tried putting in the odd flowering whatever since we moved here with varied success, the very hardy stuff made it the other stuff died!
Thanks for any input!
Climate - You live in "the chilly Northeast" and your garden is in shade most of the day. That's going to be a tough place to grow vegetables. You can forget Mediterranean veg, such as tomatoes, bell peppers, tomatilloes, sweetcorn (not Mediterranean, but definitely hot climate) and so on. I wouldn't attempt herbs either, especially things like thyme and rosemary which are also Mediterranean plants, although we tend to forget it. To make allowances for your situation, add about a week to the earliest planting date on any packet of seeds you buy. If you have a sunny window ledge in your house you might get more success starting seeds in pots indoors, and only putting them in your garden when they are looking fairly big and healthy.
You don't mention your soil. Is is dark and crumbly and fertile? Does it drain well? Or is it sandy and poor, dusty and thin, clayey and heavy? Does it tend to get waterlogged and stand in little puddles? Now is your opportunity to get your soil sorted out before the growing season begins. You also don't say how big your raised bed is. Assuming it's not titchy, I'd start there.
Drainage - if your raised bed drains well, you can go on to the nest step. But if it tends to get waterlogged you need to sort that out. There should be a layer of rubble in the base of the bed, ideally covered with membrane to make sure the earth doesn't clog it up. Did you construct the bed yourself? Do you know what is in there? There should also be holes in the bottom course of brickwork (or whatever the bed is constructed from) to allow water to drain away. Make sure these holes are not blocked up.
Soil - Buy a load of well-rotted manure (not fresh manure - if you can get that, do so, but pile it up in a corner of the garden and let it rot for a year before you use it). Your local garden centre is a good place to start looking for well-rotted manure. Pull any weeds out of your raised bed, and their roots. For now, take the weeds off the site - your council may have a facility to compost them, but don't try to compost them yourself until you can identify perennial weeds from annual weeds, and you can build a compost heap that will get hot enough to kill seeds and diseases. Alternatively you could make them into weed tea, home-made plant food for your veggies. Fork the manure well into your raised bed - if the soil ends up standing in a heap in the middle of the bed, that's well and good. This will provide a naturally fertile growing medium for your crops.
Crops -Suitable crops for your situation (cold, shady) include
- radicchio (a tasty salad leaf)
- radishes (definitely grow these - they come up really fast and are trouble-free. They'll give you an encouraging taste of success. Such a shame they're not more useful, just a tasty addition to a salad rather than something you can build a meal around)
- potatoes (can take a lot of space. Try them in a potato barrel instead of in your raised bed)
- runner beans
- dwarf beans
- lettuce (these actually prefer shade)
- garlic (don't try planting garlic from the greengrocer or supermarket - get it from a seed catalogue or a specialist seed garlic producer and look for cold-climate varieties)
- cauliflower (will grow in your conditions but it's a tricky plant and not really good for a beginner)
- carrots (if your raised bed is deep enough for them to put out long roots, otherwise go for a short or a spherical variety. The raised bed will be helpful in deterring the blasted cabbage root fly)
- Brussels sprouts
- asparagus (it's a long-term project - if you establish a bed this year you'll begin really cropping in 2011)
When you've got more experience you can try branching out. You might want to try things I've said won't work. That's fine - you'll probably prove me wrong on some of them. And you might want to give over more of your garden to vegetables. You might even feel like getting a couple of chickens. But for your first season I'd stick to things that have a high chance of success.