First-time gardener, plan a vegetable plot

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If you have never had a vegetable garden before, this year is the year to do it. Grocery prices are encouragement enough; gas prices are high and grain reserves low, so food prices won’t be coming down anytime soon.
Getting started
The first thing to do is to choose a spot in the yard, in the neighborhood or at the local community garden that is in full sun (or the fullest sun possible with at least six hours of full sun each day). Design the garden plot in sections, like a grid.  A series of 3 x 5 or 2 x 4 beds arranged in a rectangle works perfectly. The advantage of this plan includes easier management in terms of prep, planting, watering and weeding; inter-planting of different vegetables aids in pest management and allows for easy crop rotation and it allows us to grow more vegetables in a smaller place.

Next step
Once you have plotted your scheme, it’s time to start prepping the planting areas. I recommend first laying out a layer of wood chips, mulch or gravel where you want your walk ways between your individual beds. Let the wood chips be the positive space in the grid while you work up the negative space of the beds. Cut the edges of the beds out cleanly with your spade, then take the spade or garden fork and turn the soil, add composted manure and mix well.

Recipe for success
I cannot stress enough what a difference a well-prepared garden makes. We want good tilth, drainage (with moisture retention during a drought) and an organic source of nutrients to slowly feed our plants—composted manure and gently worked soil will deliver this.  Some of us have good soil; some of us do not, so the amount of work this will take depends on what you have to work with.

Ready to plant
Once your garden plots are laid out and prepped, we are ready to plant. I typically put taller plants like pole beans and tomatoes on the north side of the garden so they do end up shading shorter growing crops.. Lettuces and peas can tolerate a little shade so no need to worry about them, but they will be finished by mid summer and can be replaced with a late crop of beets or kale or some other green.  Early crops that can be planted before our May 10 include greens, lettuces, peas, onions, potatoes, leeks, carrots, beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and broccoli. Save some room in the garden for your favorite summer crops like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant (to be set out as seedlings) and squash, beans and cucumbers (to be sown directly into the garden). More details to come.

(Jeneen Wiche is an avid gardener from Shelbyville. She can be reached at JWiche@shelbybb.net.)