1. Know your zone
We live in agricultural zone 4b, that means that the last frost of the spring is around mid May and the first frost of the fall is around the end of September/first few weeks of October(who can tell really)
This mean we have about 140-160 days of reliably frost free weather in which to grow our crops! Keep in mind some of these days may still be too cold to encourage optimal growth for some plants.
2. Seeds or Plants?
Because of our limited number of viable growing days, some plants need a head start by being started indoors under grow lights and then be transplanted out. A prime example of this is the tomato plant, even transplanted into the garden the tomato plant probably won’t produce ripe fruit until end of June/beginning of July. These type of plants can be purchased from plant centers, or if you are adventurous started from seed in late winter/early spring.
Other plants require less days to maturity and can’t be transplanted. Root crops are an excellent example of this. Carrots tend to take about 70 days, they do not transplant well because the taproot will be disturbed and become stunted and weird.
3. Reading the Seed Packet.
The seed packet contains all of the information you need! The main things to pay attention to are spacing(how far apart to plant, how deep to plant), when to plant (some seeds hate cold ground, like beans, others prefer cold and can be planted even before last frost, like radishes), and “days” or “days to maturity”.
4. Draw out a rough plan or map
Take into consideration spacing and days to maturity. When gardening in a smaller area like a community plot, you just need to pay attention to the plant spacing, not necessarily the row spacing. The row spacing is for large format gardens to allow room to walk and move through the garden. Part of your plan should include at least one path through your garden if you can’t reach all areas from the sides, but you don’t need to leave large row spaces between plantings.
Some plantings can be harvested and then replanted with a second crop. Maybe plant a lettuce mix in spring, harvest, then plant some beans. Try to avoid leaving bare earth as it will probably start to grow weeds.
5. Prepare the Soil.
Loosen soil with garden fork or shovel. Dig out all weeds. It is very important to remove ALL of the roots of the weeds or they will regrow.
Use a large garden rake to smooth planting beds. Add a few inches of compost to the top. Make sure to break up any large chunks and get rid of any rocks.
You are ready to plant! When transplanting plants, carefully loosen the roots, plant firmly and water in.
For seeds follow directions on packet for spacing and depth. Carefully water in, making sure you don’t wash them away. Seeds will germinate the best if kept moist so monitor daily at this stage if possible.
Now you have your garden weed free and planted with all your veg. You must mulch! Mulching will prevent weed seeds in the soil from sprouting, and also slow down more persistent weeds(quack grass, thistle). Mulching also helps the soil retain water, so you won’t need to water as often. If you leave the soil bare, new weeds will sprout and you will very shortly have a weed problem and your plants will suffer. If you mulch you will still get a few weeds growing, but it will be much easier to manage and won’t get out of control.
Mulching can also prevent soil borne plant diseases from infecting plants. Tomato plants get a fungal disease from the soil when water splashes dirt up onto the leaves when it rains or when watered. Mulching keeps dirt down and helps slow down this disease.
There are many methods of mulching. The garden provides leaf mulch that makes a great organic mulch that also feeds your plants as it breaks down. The only downside is that you may have to remulch at some point as the leaf mulch degrades. Other options are straw, coco mulch, grass clippings(from untreated lawns).
8. Keep watered
Watering is important. The experts say that watering deeper less often is better than shallow watering. Do your best don’t fret too much. When starting seeds is the most important time to keep consistent watering. Also during very hot weather try to water more.
9. Plant spacing and thining
Knowing what seedlings look like is very helpful. Google is your friend with this, also other gardeners. I always leave tiny seedling until I am sure if they are friend or foe.
Many varieties of vegetables instruct you to plant more seeds than necessary and then to thin them after they have sprouted and grown a few inches. This is very hard to do because you won’t want to murder your baby veg! Be brave and follow the recommended spacing and thinning directions, otherwise your plants won’t have enough room to grow and will be small and pathetic.
10. Keep Weeds out and watch for pests.