This will be a several post long series on the basics of gardening. I will go through what I think is important in the planning, planting and harvesting of a successful garden for the first time gardener.
Gardening is not rocket science, however it is a bit more than throwing seeds in the ground, letting them grow and harvesting your produce. Gardening and growing your own food can also seem like an overwhelming task to someone that has never done it . For those that are new to the idea or practice of gardening here are what I consider the important things to consider before beginning to garden.
First and foremost one must consider what sort of gardener you would like to be. By this I mean several things. Do you want to grow organically or do you want to use chemicals? Do you want to grow heirloom varieties or do you want hybrids? How much work are you willing to do in your garden and how much time are you willing to spend doing that work? What are your plans for your garden? Are you just supplementing your food or do you want to grow as much as you can to be able to preserve as much as you can? What kind of room do you have for a garden? Are containers the only option you have or is square foot or intensive gardening also a choice? Is conventional till gardening more your style?
Once you answer these simple questions you can then begin the second step of the gardening process. This step is learning and researching. Every region has a different climate and different soil. While you can control some of your environmental surroundings, your best bet is to take the advice of somebody who knows.
I would suggest getting in touch with your local cooperative extension service. Most counties in the U.S. have an Extension Service with volunteers ready to answer any of the questions posed to them at no charge.They also offer soil testing and other services for a small fee. Often times they also have a gardening club that has sales and trades through out the year. They are a great resource for you to use.
Most nursery employees are knowledgeable about the plants they sell, so don't be afraid to ask questions while shopping This is what they are there to do. they should also know and sell plants and seed stock that are known to do well in your given area. If you go to a nursery and the people have no clue then I would go and find another nursery.
Speak with the elders in you community. Even if they do not garden or haven't had a garden in many years, more often than not they have planted, grown and harvested their fair share of vegetables. Not having a home garden is a concept that is only 40 or so years old. Not only may you learn a lot from them, you could make yourself a good friend in the process.
Most every big city has at least one gardening guru with a regular newspaper column or radio show. Keep up with them to get the latest news on regional trends and tips as well as keep up with sale or trade sessions coming up.
Read, read, read. Notice I did not say buy, buy, buy. Books are a great resource to have and the occasional one is great to buy, however, near all are selling something or many somethings. No one needs a book telling them how to make pretty soil sitting forever more on their bookshelf. If you must buy books, then purchase ones that actually serve a purpose and will always serve a purpose. Through reading we gain knowledge but by doing we gain experience.