Want to Start a Garden This Year? Green Thumbs Not Required


Choose your site

You can really grow food anywhere. Begin by assessing what sort of space you have for your new food-producing garden.

Do you have a large, sunny, chemical- and contaminant-free yard? If so, you can put in raised beds and grow many different types of fruits and vegetables.

Do you live in a small apartment with limited outdoor space? You might want to consider container gardening, and the good news is that there are still many different crops you can grow with limited space.

Don’t have any space? Consider joining a community garden. There is one at Island Grown Initiative’s Thimble Farm. For more information, email Emily@islandgrown.org.

Wherever you choose to place your garden, make sure that your fruits and vegetables receive six or more hours of sunlight a day.

Gather your materials

Food will grow in just about anything. Choose untreated lumber and clean containers with holes for drainage.

A raised bed is an easy way to create a nutrient-rich growing space ideal for growing just about any crop. For a four-foot by eight-foot raised bed, you will need two pieces of four-foot untreated spruce and two pieces of eight-foot untreated spruce. Assemble your lumber into a rectangle. Two screws will go into each corner, one on the top and one on the bottom. Screw together all four corners.

If you are gardening in a small space, experiment with different types of containers with drainage holes. You could try growing food in old plastic milk crates, large pots that trees came in, reusable shopping bags, or an untreated wooden pallet.

You will need to fill your garden with good-quality soil, which is sold at local garden centers or from John Keene’s by the cubic foot or cubic yard. To figure out how much soil you need, just use the formula for volume (length x width x height). For reference, a four-foot by eight-foot raised bed will take about .79 cubic yards of soil.

Pick your crops

There are many different fruits and vegetables you can grow. Though there are rules of thumb about what can grow when and where, there are some simple crops that you can get started with right away.

In early spring when the weather is still fickle, it is best to grow crops that are frost-tolerant and hardy. For containers, choose hardy greens like mustard, arugula, kale, or spinach, all of which can be directly sown in your soil, then watered, and will start to grow in about a week. If you have a little bit more space in your garden, then try your hand at growing peas.

Once we are past the danger of frost in late May, you can plant the more warm-loving crops. Visit local nurseries or farms to find healthy starts for tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and basil to grow in containers or a raised bed. If you have enough space in your garden, consider growing zucchini from seed.

Make sure to read plant labels and seed packets to learn what soil, sun, or spacing your plants require.

Keep a garden journal throughout the growing season to learn which plants and varieties you like that do well in your space.

Tend your garden

Once you have planted your garden, set yourself up for a low-maintenance growing season.

Containers need to be watered daily so they don’t dry out, but a raised bed will only need to be watered deeply twice a week. Try setting up sprinklers on a timer near your growing space. To make sure you are watering deep enough, stick your finger into the soil to check (Tip: Plants have been watered thoroughly if the top 2 inches feels evenly moist and continues to be moist below that level. If the first 2 inches feels dry, you need to water more deeply. If the first 2 inches feels soggy, you are overwatering).

Weeds will compete with your plants for nutrients and water, so pull them out, and mulch around your plants with straw.

Gardeners love to share their knowledge, so ask a friend or neighbor if he has any advice for you as you start out on your gardening adventure.

Get your kids into the garden with you and see what you can grow together.

Emily Armstrong is the preschool coordinator for Island Grown Schools, the Vineyard’s Farm to School organization. Visit islandgrownschools.org for additional information about the program.