Planting a garden probably isn't as hard as you think it is. Dorinda Jones, garden manager with Utah State University Extension Services, said those who start small, prepare the soil, plant at the right time and water properly will likely have a very productive and enjoyable garden.
The best advice Jones has for beginning gardeners is to start with a manageable space.
"Try to start in an area that's not too big. People get so excited in the spring and clear a huge area and take out sod. They start tilling, weeds start popping up and they get discouraged. Weeds take over and they forget about the vegetables," she said.
Jones recommends starting out by planting something easy, like radishes.
"I'm a big advocate of radishes. They are the easiest. They take 21 days from the time you plant to harvest. You might not like radishes but it's something you can do to show you can do it. The kids get excited to see something go from seed to plant," she said.
Jones knows from personal experience that a small garden can be a productive garden. When grass started taking over some of her flower beds, she decided to use the area as a garden.
"In a space 3 feet wide by 15 feet long, I grew everything I ever needed.
I was able to control the weeds and keep the grass out. I produced a ton. You
can do a lot with a little space," she said.
Prepare the soil
Another big mistake is planting in the soil you have without adding organic matter.
"Plants need more to nourish them," Jones said, pointing out that the Weber County compost facility in Ogden has inexpensive compost that will help the soil.
"It's some of the best compost. A little extra goes a long way," she said.
Jones said tilling will work the organic matter into the soil and get rid of weeds. She recommends getting all of the weeds tilled while they are small and before they set seed.
She also recommends a 2- to 3-inch mulch layer of compost once the seedlings come up, and she likes landscape fabric for transplants.
"I'm a strong advocate for a mulch layer. I use landscape fabric for transplants. Cut out Xs and plant them there. That way I don't have to weed the pathway around tomatoes, peppers or anything from a transplant," she said.
Timing and watering
Some plants need warm soil and others don't mind cool temperatures. Jones said lettuce, peas and radishes can be planted as early as March. Potatoes can be planted in April if the soil isn't too wet. Then from mid-May to mid-June, if the soil has dried out, you can plant most other crops, including tomatoes, pumpkins and squash.
"If the soil is too wet, like our last two springs, wait until June 1. If it's too wet, it will rot the seed. Wait until the temperature warms up and soil dries up," she said.
Appropriate watering is the key to getting a harvest from the seeds. Jones recommends a soaker hose, because it is porous and allows the water to trickle out.
"It is drip irrigation simplified. It sweats water. It gives a deep watering that stays at ground level. You can lay it on the soil or on top of landscape fabric. Lay it along the row and turn it on barely. Let it go for one to two hours once a week, or if it's really dry, twice a week," she recommends.
Jones' last piece of advice is to ask for help if you need it. She will be teaching a class on the tricks of growing each type of vegetable at 5 p.m. Saturday during the Home & Garden Show.
Beginning in March, the extension service also takes phone calls about gardening questions from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at 801-399-8080.
To spray or not to spray
Spraying for bugs in a vegetable garden should be a last resort, according to Dorinda Jones, garden manager with USU Extension Services.
"I'm not an advocate of not spraying, but I like to avoid it, especially around vegetables. You're going to be consuming that. At my own house, I spray as little as possible," she said.
Instead, identify the insect and then look for help online at utahpests.usu.edu or at the Ogden Botanical Gardens, 1750 Monroe Blvd.
Jones said the extension service holds diagnostic clinics at the Botanical Gardens every Wednesday during the growing season.
"A lot of times people see an insect and say, 'OK what can I spray? I need to spray and kill it.' Before you spray, see if you can identify it," Jones said. "Take it to the Ogden Botanical Gardens' free diagnostic clinic. You can bring any plant question before you spray. You can find out what it is and find a way to control and kill it."