Garden Setup: building the beds and planting the vegetables

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Earlier this month I blogged about starting a garden.  I planted seeds and watched them carefully, hoping they would grow and thrive to later be planted outside.  Last week I had two of the three raised beds put in the backyard.  The third bed will be installed this week.  

This is the space before the work began.

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First, we had to mark out the area.  I say we, but really my landscaper did the hard work.  I just supervised.  Spray paint and a measuring tape are all the technology you need.

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Then, the beds have to be put together and set up on.

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We used some of the extra grass — grass that went under the bed was removed — to fill in a bare patch in the front yard.  Waste not want not!

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It takes a lot of soil, and a lot of trips from the front yard  to the back yard with the soil.

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One thing I learned about gardening is that is takes a lot of hard, physical labor.  After the third bed was installed we realized we needed a bit more soil.   The guys who helped me had to move on to another job, so I went to the local garden center to pick up ten bags of soil/compost/manure mix.   Hauling ten bags of soil from my car to the backyard, even with the aid of a wheelbarrow, was tough.  That was two days ago.

Yesterday I had to open up the bags and incorporate the soil mix into the soil that was already in the bed.   Then, rake it all.  And then plant.  Yes, I had to break up all those clumps.

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Here are some of the plants I have already planted, and some I have yet to plant.

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Various types of tomatoes in “cages” to support them as they grow.

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Last week I planted tomatoes, hot and sweet peppers, and eggplant.  Yesterday I put in onions, cucumbers, and zucchini.  I assembled the bean pole support thingie and planted the beans.  My peas are just starting to climb.  More pictures of those later.

Then there are the berry bushes.  They’re small now, but hopefully in a year or two I will have blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries.  This is my first time with berries, so wish me luck.

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Blueberry bushes ready to plant.

In the weeks I have been planning and starting my garden, I have learned a lot.  I promised one of my readers, Laura, that I would talk about my failures as well as my successes.  As I am a total novice at this, I’m fairly certain I will have some failures.  This is my learning year.  By failing , I’ll know what to avoid to do better next time.

Here are some of my early lessons:

Lesson #1:  While starting your garden from seeds is much cheaper it’s not as easy as it looks.  To get a good start for your garden, especially if you are a novice gardener, I  recommend buying already started plants from a reputable nursery.  Some of my peppers may do well enough to eventually transplant into the garden, and the peas did well, but everything else I started from seeds withered up and died.   Lesson learned:  while some things are easy to grow from seeds, others are really hard.

Lesson #2:  Don’t put your lettuce in the garden with the rest of the veggies.  Lettuce does not like too much full sun.  I actually learned this a few years ago from my local farmer’s market.  I bought some lettuce but I will plant it in a container and leave it on my deck in partial sun.  It can hang out with the strawberries and herbs.

Lessons #3:  Sometimes it’s better to invest in quality tools rather than going it on the cheap.  I ordered some really nice tomato cages from a garden supply website to support the plants as they grow.   They are square and easy to set up and efficient with space.  I then bought some more in a cheaper variety locally.   I decided to use these for peppers and eggplant instead as they are not as study and I don’t know if they can support heavy tomato plants.   I view this tools as an investment, like a reliable car.  It may cost more at the beginning, but when you need it to perform you know it will be there for you years later.

Lesson #4:  Putting in a garden takes a lot to time, energy, and some money.  If you aren’t prepared to invest all three, don’t bother.  I vastly underestimated how much physical energy I needed to do this.   I was lucky that I could afford to pay someone to bring over a truckload of soil and haul it to my backyard and put together the raised beds.  If I had had to do this myself, I would still be putting together the beds and trying to move soil.  Most days in the past week I spent hours a day on my garden, counting trips to the garden center and on the phone.  It’s work.

More questions . . .

As I contemplate my work to date I have some questions.  How many peppers will I get from each plant?  Should I have planted more peas and fewer eggplant?  Did I make a mistake by not trying carrots?  What about other leafy greens, like spinach?  Did I plant the onions too close together, and do I need more?  If I try garlic, is it better to plant it in the spring or the fall?  Can I put in a second crop after the summer veggies are done? I won’t know the answers to these questions until after the crop is gathered.  This will give me data to start over again next year.  For now, I have to concentrate on getting to harvest time.

As I sit here I am watching the rain come down.  The weather report predicts rain and clouds for the next five days.  While I am pretty confident that we won’t have a freeze, is this good for my fledgling plants?  Will they survive a week of overcast and wet weather?  Will I have to replace some of them if my soil doesn’t have enough sand, or doesn’t drain well?  I find myself thinking about how it was a hundred years ago when many people grew their own food.  They had to count on the weather and the soil and their two strong arms to support their families and to have enough excess produce to make it through the winter.  After hauling soil and bending and digging and carrying watering cans I can appreciate how difficult it is to feed yourself with your own labor.

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Sweet and hot peppers with peas growing in the back.

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