The Q&A Archives: vegetable garden

Question: my ten year old son and I would like to start a garden but don't know where to start? We have a problem with ants around the house so I was thinking of making a large wooden box to put our garden. Again we don't know where to start on that project. Should we buy soil to put in it? Will the box protect it from the ants or is there a way to keep the garden safe? It would be nice if we could add an orange tree but I think we may be too late.Any help from you would be great! We really don't know much about starting a garden.

sincerely, Irene and Daniel

Answer: I think it's wonderful that you and your son want to grow a garden. Raising vegetables is a rewarding project. Building a raised bed can solve a lot of gardening problems, but it won't keep ants from exploring your garden. Raised beds are often easier to garden in and the soil warms up faster in the spring so you can plant earlier, and filling a raised bed with 3 in 1 topsoil will make gardening easier because the soil won't be compacted and full of weed seeds. On the other hand, it will cost more to build a raised bed than to garden directly in the earth. So the decision is yours. Ants by themselves are not a problem to plants in the garden but they can be annoying to the gardener. You can set out bait traps which will reduce the numbers of ants but probably won't eliminate them completely. Ants do attack other insects, though, so they may be helpful in keeping other pests out of your garden.

Whether or not you decide to build a raised bed, here are some things to keep in mind about garden placement. Most plants will need 6-8 hours of direct sunshine so situate your new garden in the sunniest spot you can find. Plants appreciate soils amended with organic matter (compost, aged-manure, etc.). Organic amendments loosen the soil, drain quickly, and as the organic matter decomposes, it releases nutrients into the soil. So, choose the sunniest spot you can find and either amend the soil by spreading 3-4" of organic matter over the top and digging it in to a depth of 8-10", or fill your raised bed with 3 in 1 topsoil (which has compost already incorporated into the mixture).

I'd start out small and expand the garden as your interest and energy allows. A 3' by 3' plot, for instance, is large enough to grow radishes, lettuces, and carrots. Peas and beans need more room and need to be staked upright or given a trellis on which to grow. Tomatoes, peppers and squash need lots and lots of room.

Since it's late in the growing season you'll have better success with short season varieties or veggies that take less than 60 days to mature (look on the backs of the seed packages for days to maturity). I'd suggest planting radishes and leaf lettuces now and beans and peas in late August. Beans and peas prefer growing in cool weather. Next spring you can plant heat loving, long season veggies such as tomatoes, peppers and potatoes. Grow the kinds of veggies you especially like. In subsequent years you can trying growing unfamiliar veggies, just for fun. Who knows, you may decide you like Bok Choy or Broccolli when you grow it yourself.

Hope this information gets you started on a rewarding gardening experience!

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