But when I mention the possibility of including a vegetable garden in with my clients’ yards, I’m often met with a fair amount of hesitation. I can see their eyes rolling as they envision countless hours turning soil, pulling weeds, managing pests, and harvesting the crops.
But it really doesn’t have to be that complicated. In fact, its one of the more simpler tasks I undertake. And trust me, if I can find the time to work the garden, it certainly can’t be that time-consuming. The rest of my ornamental gardens? Well not so much, (they’re kind of a mess, to be honest), but the veggie garden is so simple to maintain, and the payoff is so great it’s really a no-brainer.
And yes, like anything you can make it as complicated as you’d like, but for those of you who don’t have the time (I’m guessing most of you?), it can really be quite simple.
Here’s what you need to get started; a small corner of the yard with moderate to ample sunlight, a few cages or support screens to support the plants as they grow, and a little bit of loose pocket change (OK, maybe some loose pocket cash).
If you’re just starting out as a hobby vegetable gardener, I’d like to suggest limiting your growing season to just the summer crops. Tomatoes and peppers alone will give you a great crop, and are about the easiest of the veggies to
grow. Depending on how you enjoy the experience, or how much time and space you have, you can always add to
your crops down the road.
You don’t need a dedicated space. Sure, if you’re starting a small suburban farmstead you might want a dedicated space, but if your intention is just providing some fresh vegetables for the summer dinner table, its actually quite easy to incorporate a few vegetables in with your existing beds.
Interplanting vegetables amidst the ornamentals is a great way to make sure you don’t have large barren swaths of dirt during the non-growing season. And I think you’ll be amazed how many visitors to your garden will comment on how fun it is to see an edible tomato plant tucked in between the ornamentals. It invites you to interact with the garden, and after all that’s half the fun, right?
The vegetables don’t have to overtake your yard. Tomatoes in particular do have a reputation for being rather “leggy” plants. But there are plenty of varieties out there that are meant for small spaces without crowding out the surrounding gardens. Some are even meant exclusively for small or medium sized containers. A few tomato varieties worth looking into include Better Bush, Husky Cherry Red, Bush Goliaths, and Sweet ‘N Neat Cherries.
There’s plenty more out there, just look for varieties labeled for container gardening.
It doesn’t have to entail a large-scale construction project. We’ve built plenty of raised beds with extensive pathways allowing access to the gardens, but that doesn’t mean it has to be that way. The time involved in getting your garden started can be as straight-forward as a few minutes just to plant the 4” containers
It’s not a costly endeavor. Most big box stores and gardening centers sell 4” starter plants that run about $2 to $3 per plant. Selling vegetable plants is also a popular fundraiser for garden clubs and schools, so you can support your local community while getting your garden started at the same time. Pre-fab tomato cages also run just a few bucks per, and can be re-used every year down the road. If you want to forgo the cage costs, you can even get a bit artsy by using old garden tools, sporting equipment, window frames – you name it – and tying some twine as
support cables to hold the plants as they grow.
Pests and disease aren’t that big an issue. Most tomato varieties that are sold in retail outlets are engineered to be disease-and-pest-resistant. The biggest issue I have with pests is the native deer population and even that isn’t that big of an issue. Rabbits are another fun little creature to deal with, especially when the plants are young, but even their damage is typically minimal to the plants. And the burgeoning fox population in my neighborhood has worked wonders to solve this problem.
There’s really no excuse not to give it a go. Put the plants in the ground in May, and by mid-July you’ll be enjoying
the fruits of your labor. Literally.
And trust me, if your only experience with summer vegetables is eating what they sell in the stores, you’ll be amazed at how much more flavorful the homegrown ones are.
Get started with the tomatoes and peppers, maybe a few herbs like basil, and once you get this down you can experiment and add new crops as you see fit. Depending on the space you have available, beans, peas, lettuce, eggplant, and squash varieties are also quite easy to grow with tremendous payoff.