Grow some of your own food by starting a vegetable garden. You'll eat better and save money.
Step 1: Decide on a garden type Decide between a raised-bed garden or an in-ground one. Raised beds, which consist of purchased topsoil that sits within a wooden frame, are ideal if your soil is stony or sandy. The main advantage of an in-ground garden is that it needs less watering.
TIP: For an in-ground garden, test your soil to find out what nutrients it needs. Garden centers sell do-it-yourself kits, or you can arrange a test through the Cooperative Extension System, a national agricultural network. Find a nearby office on the USDA web site.
Step 2: Pick a good spot Pick a spot that gets a lot of sun and isn't obscured by tree or hedge shade.
Step 3: Prep the land Prepare the land by building your raised bed or clearing and tilling a patch of land to a depth of about one foot. A 10 foot by 10 foot parcel is a good size for a beginner. For an in-ground garden, install a wire mesh fence three to four feet high to help keep out critters.
TIP: Leave the top foot of the fence unsecured so that if an animal attempts to climb it, it won't support his weight and he won't be able to get over it.
Step 4: Seeds versus seedlings Decide if you want to plant seeds directly in the soil; start growing seeds in small containers, like egg cartons, and then transplant them into your garden when they take root. Or, buy seedlings from a nursery that are ready to go into the ground. If you start with seeds, you'll wait longer to harvest your vegetables.
TIP: In colder climates, the shorter growing season makes some vegetables impossible to grow directly from seed.
Step 5: Plan your veggies Plot out what you'd like to plant, taking into consideration what grows well in your area. Orient the rows east to west with the tallest plants on the north side so they won't shade the shorter ones.
Step 6: Sow your seeds Start your seeds following the instructions on the package. Plant your seedlings when it's appropriate to do so, which depends on both the crop and your climate. Your local garden center or nearest Extension office can give you this information, or you can find it on the web.
TIP: Maximize output by planting a warm-season crop after harvesting a cool-season crop.
Step 7: Try companion planting Plant compatible vegetables near each other. To find out which veggies grow better together and which are best kept far apart, type "companion planting" into a search engine.
Step 8: Put in some flowers Plant a few flowers among your crops. They'll attract bees, which will help pollinate your plants.
FACT: Guinness World Record holder Charles H. Wilber harvested 1,368 pounds of tomatoes from just four plants.