What about raised beds? Are they better? Why or why not?
There is tons of debate about this, but I think, if you’re a beginner gardener, raised beds are definitely the way to go. It is easier to weed, get your soil just right, and it is easier to organize. As you get more experienced and assuming you have the room, I think more traditional row gardening makes sense for certain crops, but start with a raised bed. Here are some pros and cons for further reading. Here are directions on how we made ours, and here is how we prep the site ahead of time.
When we built our new beds this year, we first had the cardboard on the bottom that will smother the grass and breakdown over time. Then we added shredded leaves from the yard, then some shredded paper, then compost with some top soil mixed in. Here are some more precise recommendations.
What about mulch?
You want to mulch in some way or another because 1) healthy soil is covered and 2) you don’t want to spend all of your time weeding. Here is a helpful article on the benefits and drawbacks of various kinds of mulches. In our garden, we use straw (or even spoiled hay – many say not to use hay because of the seed heads in it, but we’ve noticed that, if we keep the hay heavy, we don’t have weed problems. Plus, spoiled hay is free), shredded paper (I ask my office to save the white paper only rounds for me), and shredded leaves mostly. We also chop and drop once things really start producing, and we don’t want to walk to the compost pile.
Do I water differently when the plants are starts versus mature plants?
You want to keep seedlings moist, but then, once your plants are transplanted, they should only need about an inch of water a week (except during really hot weather). I keep a rain gauge and a few empty tuna cans around the gardens to keep track of rainfall.
When do I plant the starts in the ground? How deep?
It depends on what you’re planting, but go back to this chart for more specifics on when to plant what. For most transplants, you want to plant them to a depth equal to the depth of their growing container. With tomatoes, I typically plant them quite a bit deeper than their growing container because their stems will becomes roots underground, giving them more stability for the growing season. Here is a helpful video that better explains it.
How do I know when the fruits/veggies are ready to pick?
It depends! Here is a really helpful list. We grow some weird varieties of stuff, so I have to make sure I take good notes when I plant so that we know what “ripe” looks like for certain plants. We grow a green tomato, for example, that isn’t ever going to turn red. Some of this will come with experience, so don’t stress about it too much!
What about rotating lettuce so that I have some all summer? How do I schedule that?
With greens, radishes, beans, peas, cucumbers, and green onions, I try to separate out batches of planting about every five days to ensure I get a longer time on continual harvest. This takes scheduling and good note taking (neither of my strong suits necessarily), but, when you commit to it, it is great to have stuff continuing to pop up. It also helps because, if you lose a batch to bugs or disease, your next batch of plantings may do better.
I’m out of questions, so ask more in the comments!