Are you a gardener? Ever thought you might like to plan a vegetable garden? Maybe you’re just ready for a new project outdoors?
Let me just tell you that I do not have a natural green thumb. (I once saw a meme on Facebook that described me perfectly as one who’s home is a plant hospice ward, where they go to die.) Somehow I married an instinctive gardener and I have birthed kiddos that sense what an ailing plant might need to thrive.
Just so you know, I have always wanted to have a big vegetable garden. And, as these empty nesting years gift me with more time on my hands, the hubby and I made it happen last year. We (ok, mostly he) worked in the early spring to install a raised bed garden. We live in the desert west with eternal rocky soil. (When I say rocky, I mean rocks the size of your head.) Instead of digging into the ground and killing ourselves, we just built raised beds.
We also got ‘the growing’ going even quicker by using 8 foot water troughs (corragated steel) for a beginning bed. We filled them with soil and VOILA! Instant garden! Those became the middle section as we built the raised beds around them on three sides.
As I write this today, I still have 2 feet of snow in my yard. I’m tired of the white stuff and I’m needing some green along with warmer temperatures. I know it’s coming. While the sun is making its entrance more often these days, honestly, I’m struggling with patience. I want to get my garden going again.
Growing Vegetables Gives Control
Growing my own vegetables gives me more control over how they’re grown. As someone who deals with autoimmune issues, what I eat is central to keeping nasty symptoms at bay. The midlife craziness of hormone imbalance has recently resurfaced old symptoms that I thought I’d kicked years ago. Yay for menopause!
Eating organically grown food, free from contaminating pesticides, is important to help my body not freak out and turn on itself. BUT, organic produce is pricey!!!!!
So, we plant a garden.
I’d love to send you my free printable Menopause Foods: What to Eat and Avoid! Just shoot me your email at the end of this post.
What follows is just an easy guide if you might be thinking of starting a garden in your midlife years. I am far from an expert. Last year we spend a lot of time talking with our local nursery experts. They know what will grow well in your area, and can instruct you as to when things need to be installed in the ground. Explore Pinterest as well to find inspiration for garden bed layouts while also learning about region variety hardiness.
Assess Your Space and Your Time
Where do you want your garden to be located? Vegetable gardens generally need 6-10 hours of direct sunlight daily. Nearby trees can steal water from newbie plants as well as nutrients from the soil.
Unlike a flower gardens, vegetables require daily care for weeding, watering and then later harvesting. How much time can you afford for such things? (Let me just add here that tending to a garden at the end of a long day is a great stress reliever.)
If you are beginning with a garden, or have little time for upkeep, start with some easy varieties like radishes, potatoes, spinach, basil, tomatoes, mint, carrots, pansies, zucchini or marigolds.
Draw Your Garden Space on Paper
Grab some graph paper and draw to scale the area you’d like for your garden bed. Include what’s there already, vegetation, out-buildings, etc.
Is there shade to take into consideration?
Is there a pathway where there should be one? Plan a way to get between the plants easily?
What about water? Do you have a sprinkler system?
Know exactly how much room there will be for plants at maturity. Initially it may seem that they are spread far apart but you’ll be surprised how big they will get.
What Do You Like to Eat?
Now that you know how much room you’ve got for a garden, let’s think about what to plant. The most obvious rule to ask is, “What do you like to eat?” Start there.
Next, determine your zone to see what will grow well in your area. For example, when we lived in the northern tier of the country, the growing season is much shorter than in the southern states, and much cooler. Some varieties of tomatoes, for example, didn’t have enough time or heat to thrive or produce.
Another tip: Plant veggies that are more expensive to buy, like broccoli, for example.
Start Your Seeds
Are you interested in starting your garden from seeds? If you live in a cooler climate like me, you’ll need to start them indoors. Now is the time to think about this, as seeds will take time to sprout and grow (generally a couple of months).
It may take a little investment for the initial supplies to create a mini-greenhouse, but you can reuse what you purchase year after year.
Things to consider purchasing are a light source, seed pods, as well as the seeds themselves.
Read the seed packets to determine how long it takes for a seed to germinate and grow into a plant large enough to be transplanted.
Prepare Your Soil
While your seeds are cooking, so to speak, now’s the time to figure out what your soil is like. (If your ground is snow covered and frozen like mine, obviously this will have to wait.)
Preparing your soil is perhaps the most important part of installing your garden. Soil should be well-drained and loosened, not compacted. Before one single plant goes in, enrich your soil with compost or mulch like leaves or hay.
The beauty of raised bed gardening is that it affords you the benefit of creating exactly the soil content and chemistry that you want and need.
Which Plants Play Well Together?
After you’ve got your list of what you like to eat, let’s now plan where to put them on your drawing from above.
If you had a garden last year, be sure to rotate your crops in different places to help your soil fertility.
Avoid planting crops in large patches or long rows because this attracts more pests. Intersperse vegetables with flowers and herbs to aid and protect each variety.
As you are planning and choosing plants, consider how big the variety will be at maturity.
Here are a few guidelines of what plants work (and play) well together:
Radishes – pair well with cucumbers, carrots, spinach, onions, cabbage, kale or lettuce
Tomatoes – pair with cabbage, basil, asparagus, carrots, parsley, spinach
Carrots – (heat sensitive) work with tomatoes
Cucumbers – work well with nasturtiums or marigolds, also beans, celery, corn, and dill
Corn – pairs with green beans (the stalks help give beans a trellis), also cucumbers, peas, pumpkins, or zucchini **Keep corn away from tomatoes.**
Zucchini – plant near corn, beans, peas, radishes, dill, or marigolds **Keep zucchini away from potatoes.**
Onions – work well with carrots, beets, cabbage, lettuce and spices like marjoram or rosemary
Beans – plant near broccoli, rosemary or marigolds **Keep beans away from beets or onions***
Lettuce – tall flowers work well near lettuce as does mint, chives and garlic **Keep lettuce away from parsley.**
Peppers – work well with basil, onions or spinach **Keep peppers away from beans.**
Purchase Seedlings and Plant Your Garden
The last and most exciting step is planting!!
You may choose to purchase vegetable seedlings from the nursery or home supply store instead of starting from seeds. This is what we opted for last year. While pricier, it does save time.
There’s just something magical about seeing something grow from a tiny seed into delicious food that satisfies our hunger.
Even if you’re like me, a novice gardener without a green thumb, you can do this! Planning a garden is a meaningful pursuit whether we’ve ever tried it or not. We learn from our mistakes and move forward, just like anything else in our lives.
I’d love to see photos of your own gardens and harvest! Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Don’t forget to sign up for free access to my Resource Library below! In it you will find Menopause Foods: What to Eat and Avoid plus many other printables and goodies for your midlife adventure.