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Posted by on Mar 14, 2011 in Commentary | 0 comments

Six quick pointers for starting a vegetable garden

Six quick pointers for starting a vegetable garden

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I just started planting some basil outdoors after starting it indoors a month or so ago. (Jeff Quackenbush photo)

I‘m taking the plunge, starting a garden in my underutilized backyard. After 10 years of having no idea what to do with the space, I’m planting some Korean vegetables and a few of my favorite herbs. That beats driving three hours one way to the nearest major Korean produce market.

I’ve already learned a few things I can pass on to you. And I’ve barely started planting yet.

1. Size up your space. You must know the dimensions of the space you have available for planting before you purchase planting boxes, raised beds, bags of topsoil and other gardening supplies. What a waste of time to drive to the gardening store, purchase an 8-foot-by-12-foot raised bed and topsoil for it then realize at home you only have enough space for a 4-by-8 gardening plot. Fortunately, I took measurements first.

With the measurements, you can diagram your space to make sure what you want to do will fit, have enough sunlight or not too much, and be feasible for any automated irrigation system. Such a diagram also helps in developing a budget for the gardening project, so you can make purchases in phases.

2. Get your bearings for your botanicals. Observe the piece of land you want to use for a garden. What direction does the plot face? As Matt James told the Sunday Times in 2006,

The direction your garden faces determines how much light it gets. Sun-drenched, south-facing gardens support totally different plants from those that face north. Pinpoint your garden’s direction with a compass. If it is small, note the orientation of boundary walls and fences, as it is along these that you will grow most of your plants.

Whatever spot you pick, it’ll need at least six hours of sun per day to keep most vegetables and herbs happy.

3. Know your enemy. In The Art of War Sun Tzu philosophized,

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

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Notice the trail left behind by my enemy, the gopher.  (Tammy Quackenbush photo)

This is true not only in the art of war geopolitical but also against the plagues, insects and critters that want a piece of your produce. My enemies include snails, aphids and gophers. I have to plan for dealing with each one.

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The screen at the bottom of the box is my second line of defense against gophers. The first line of defense is weed-blocking permeable plastic sheeting my husband laid out across the ground and covered with gravel. (Tammy Quackenbush photo)

4. Scrutinize the soil. Where I live, much of the ground has about a foot of clay-heavy soil on top of a thick layer dense gravel. Together, the ground retains too much water or blocks roots from reaching moisture. It’s OK for building houses but awful for vegetable gardening. So, my garden has raised beds filled with fortified topsoil.

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This particular container, originally a livestock trough, is deep enough to give large Korean radishes plenty of depth to grow without the risk of gophers. Layers of gravel then sand at the bottom allow excess water to drain out the trough bunghole.  (Tammy Quackenbush photo)

5. Plant what you’re going to eat. If you can’t stand tomatoes, don’t plant them. I’ll be putting in kkaenip, Korean radishes, Korean peppers and some cabbage and lettuce as well as basil and thyme.

6. Fetch the frost forecasts. The frost date is the estimated final day your area may experience frost. The National Atlas of Korea has tips on how to estimate the frost date for most areas of Korea. Since the United States is a much larger area than Korea, there are websites we can access to find our frost date by ZIP code.

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