Few things are as satisfying as sitting down to a table laden with foods you grew yourself. Salads rife with tomatoes, romaine, and carrots grown in your garden; homegrown jalapeño peppers stuffed with bacon and goat cheese; homemade blueberry ice cream with berries right from your backyard; and so on. Sounds amazing, right?
Even if you've never gardened before, it's easy to get started. We consulted our resident expert, Neil Moore, who has over 30+ years of horticultural experience, on what tools and tips a novice would need to get their garden started. Using his advice, we've created a list of 5 things you'll need to become the Johnny Appleseed of your neighborhood. The best part? Two of them are absolutely free! Check them out, stock up, and then get out there and start planting the earth.
1. Your Hands
When it comes to planting your garden, there is no better tool. Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty, and don't be surprised if you get hooked—digging in the dirt can be cathartic. Studies have shown that gardening can be a mood booster, keep you in better shape, and lower your stress levels.
Most vegetable plants come in packs of 4 to 6, and are small enough that the holes you'll need to dig for them can be created by hand anyway. And your plants should come with handy tags instructing how big you'll need to make your hand holes. So consider your hands your go-to multi-tool—you'll use them to mix soil conditioner into your soil, loosen your plant's root ball once you remove them from packaging, pack the dirt firmly around your veggies once in the ground (make sure and fill in the sides to avoid any air pockets), gauge the moisture of the soil (more on this at #3), and harvest the fruits of your labor. Unless you have really hard, rocky, clay soil, your hands are better than any trowel.
2. Organic Soil Conditioner or Fertilizer
Two words: Chicken poop. Seriously, you're going to want to mix this into your soil before you start planting. More so if you have sandy soil, as it needs some added organic content for your plants to really flourish. Add chicken poo and your veggies will thank you in the form of faster growth and heartier harvests. Bonus: This will make your soil quality better in general, which brings worms. Worms eat dirt and then poop out more fertilizer, so it's kind of a soil-circle-of-life win-win.
3. Watering Can
It seems silly to include a watering can as it's understood that plants need water, but a lot of people out there can't keep plants alive because they're either giving them too much water, or not enough. Even if you have a succulent garden, your flora need some high-quality H2O to survive. Not sure if it's time to water? Stick two fingers down into the soil. If it feels moist or wet, your plants are good so no need to overdo it—overwatering is just as bad for plants as not watering. If the soil feels dry and moisture-free? Break out the watering can! And be gentle when watering; it can be easy to wash the soil out of a bed or pot with too much water pressure. Give your plants enough water that the surface dirt rises slightly, ensuring that you've provided enough water to reach deep down into the roots. Depending on where you live, you may even have to water twice a day in the summertime. In order to keep my garden going here in the Alabama heat, I usually water before I go to work and then again when I get home. Like us, plants get thirsty—keep 'em hydrated.
4. Peat Moss
If you can't see yourself having the time to water as much as your plants might need, peat moss is a somewhat viable solution. You can buy it in bags and mix it into the soil, same as your chicken poop. While it won't add nutrients to the soil like fertilizer will, it should absolutely increase the quality of soil in its ability to retain water and nutrients. That's not to say you should buy peat moss and forego watering, but adding it to your dirt will make it more likely the soil is moist when you apply the two-finger test from #3 above.
Another entry that might seem silly, but good sunlight is vital to your burgeoning beginner garden. As our expert says, "You can't grow a veggie garden in the shade. It ain't gonna work." Make sure whatever area of your yard you've designated as Vegetable Ground Zero is bathed in sunlight, and your plants will thank you.