hanging basket tomatoes

Containers, even hanging baskets, can be used to grow vegetables.

Is this the year you plan to start a vegetable garden? We hope so, because there are few outdoor activities that produce so much food, fun and satisfaction, and ask so little in terms of money, time and effort. Here are 6 tips for new vegetable gardeners to consider.

(And, if you want to learn more about vegetable gardening, consider taking the MSHS multi-week class on Beginning Vegetable Gardening, which begins April 2. The course will be presented by University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners from Ramsey County. These are real pros, and the course is sure to be packed with valuable information.)

Don’t go overboard! It’s tempting to clear a big swath of yard and imagine yourself growing all your own food. The most enthusiastic gardeners we know tended to start small — a few containers with patio-sized tomatoes or cucumbers, a small raised bed with lettuces and a tomato, maybe a pumpkin plant in the flowerbed to get the kids excited about growing things. That’s all you need to start.

It’s all about the soil. Great plants or seeds alone do not guarantee a productive garden. Good soil feeds your plants. If you plant in containers or raised bed, use a high quality mix, with plenty of added compost or composted manure. If you are planting in a new garden in the ground, consider having a soil test before you add any amendments. When in doubt, add compost.

It’s OK to buy plants. While many experienced gardeners start seeds indoors for tomatoes or peppers, buying plant starts from a farmers’ market, a garden center or the grocery store, is a great way to get started on vegetable gardening. For just a couple of dollars, you can get some healthy plants for your garden — and, if you buy from a farmers’ market, you can often find the unusual or heirloom varieties many gardeners like.

Sun, sun, sun. A vegetable garden needs sun — at least 6 hours a day for sun-loving plants like tomatoes and peppers — and more is better. For lettuce or other cool weather crops, you can put your garden in slightly less sun.

An inch a week. Investing in an inexpensive rain gauge is a simple way to ensure that your plants are getting the roughly 1-inch of water a week they need. (Besides, we’re Minnesotans and the weather is an endlessly interesting topic of conversation.) If we do not get the liquid in rainfall, supplement with the hose. Consistent watering is as important as the proper amount, so don’t let your plants get parched.

Harvest often. If you use the “cut and come again” method, you can harvest for weeks on the same batch of lettuce. Green beans (especially pole beans) want to be picked often — the more you pick, the more beans you will get. Enjoy the food you have grown! 

—Mary Lahr Schier

Leave a Comment