Gardening Made Simple

Gardening Made Simple

Cultivate your own side dishes with these easy tips.

Starting a vegetable garden is easier than you might think, and planting early in the season can give you a jump-start on months’ worth of simple side dishes and salads. Even better, you don’t need a big plot of land. In fact, according to Doug Hall, senior editor of Organic Life, beginners often have great success planting in small containers. These simple gardening tips will help you get in touch with your green thumb.

  1. Start with hardy early-season veggies. Some crops, such as spinach, are easy to start from seed, grow quickly, and are reasonably resistant to surprise late-spring frosts. Leaf lettuce is another great spring crop, says Hall.
  2. Choose indoors or outdoors. Depending on where you live, you can either go right to an outdoor plot or start your garden indoors with containers. A good way to decide is knowing which gardening zone you are in. (Find your area on the USDA plant hardiness zone map.) For example, if you live in the Northeast, early spring still has a strong chance of nighttime frost, so you would likely want to start indoors.
  3. Pick a location. Once your plants are ready for the outdoors, you’ll need an optimal growing location. Vegetables do best with at least six hours of sunlight per day, so put your containers in the brightest corner of your porch or plant in the patch of your yard that gets bathed in sunlight for a good chunk of the day
  4. Find a suitable container. It should be the largest one that will fit in the space you’d like to use, as vegetables need lots of soil from which to draw nutrients and moisture. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be deep, but it should be broad,” says Hall. “Think dishpan size.” The container also should have a hole in the bottom for drainage.
  5. Get the right soil mix. Combine three parts bagged commercial potting soil with one part garden soil, which contains plant micronutrients and microbial life that commercial soil lacks. Fill your container or add the blend to your garden plot, and make sure it’s moist all the way through.
  6. Keep plants watered and warm. “The best way to gauge soil moisture is to touch it,” Hall says. “If it feels moist, don’t water. If it feels dry on the surface, then add a bit of water.” If a frost is forecast, move the plants inside for the night or cover them with an old cotton sheet.
  7. Harvest and enjoy your crop. Leafy greens, which reach harvestable size in 30 to 50 days, can be snipped back to a half-inch with scissors and left to grow again. Pop out to your garden for some arugula to make tonight’s salad, or add a bunch of fresh spinach to your post-gym smoothie or sauté it and toss with pasta.