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How to Get Your Family Into Gardening

interested in starting a new hobby?

From choosing the right crops to watering, gardening requires daily upkeep. But that shouldn’t steer you away from starting your own. With its ability to improve your diet and reduce stress, gardening is one of the most rewarding hobbies to dig into. 

Now that growing season in North Texas is in full swing, it’s time to start your own vegetable garden. With our tips and pointers, you’ll be proud to say “I grew that” at the dinner table.

Choosing Your Crops 

First, decide what you’d like to grow. According to the Farmer’s Almanac’s “Vegetable Gardening for Beginners,” it’s recommended that you focus on fruits and vegetables your family would enjoy most, while keeping in mind what veggies you can easily buy at the grocery store.

Once you’ve narrowed your list, make sure your choices can flourish in your area. Texas A&M’s AgriLife program states that more than 100 different kinds of vegetables can be grown in North Texas. The program even has a Vegetable Variety Selector, where you can input your city and it will find all vegetable varieties suitable for your area. 

Texas resources to guide your crop choices:

Planning your garden

Next, determine how much space you need. The Farmer’s Almanac recommends a 16-by-10-feet plot (or smaller) for beginners. This size will feed a family a four for one summer, with leftovers for storage. 

The almanac also recommends planting in a location that will get at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. If you’re planting herbs, greens and root vegetables, they will grow in partial shade. Open space is ideal to ensure air circulates freely. The almanac stresses that a sub-par location can result in less than optimal veggies. 

And it’s suggested that you keep in mind how you will access the garden. The almanac recommends avoiding placing your garden in areas you don’t tend to go in your yard (what’s out of sigh is out of mind). Further, consider how close it is to any children’s play areas and places your pet frequents to avoid any accidental garden damage. 

Overcrowded garden beds make it difficult for plants to thrive. Texas A&M’s AgriLife suggests planting vegetables at least 3 feet apart to ensure each plant has ample space to grow. 

Building and Testing Your Soil 

In Texas A&M’s EARTH-KIND Gardening Guidelines, it’s stressed that you understand the quality of your soil. The pH of your soil determines how well your plants grow. “If soil pH is too high or alkaline, essential elements such as phosphorus and iron become unavailable for the plant to use,” the guidelines explain. The absence of these elements will cause serious strain on your garden. 

If your soil is lacking certain nutrients, the guidelines also suggest the best way to add those elements back is through a compost pile. To ensure a fertile soil, add organic matter—like your kiddo’s banana peel, grass clippings or shredded newspaper—to your soil, making sure to bury the matter beneath the surface. 

The guidelines also note that supplementing organic matter with fertilizer is OK, so long as you use slow-release fertilizers. This will decrease the risk of fertilizer burn, commonly associated with heavy applications of fertilizer. 

The Planting Process

Before you begin, know if your chosen plants are better from seeds or transplants. (You can even grow your own transplants if you want specific varieties.)

If you need to garden on a budget but still want results, the Farmer’s Almanac favors high-quality seed packets over purchasing transplants. “Seed packets are less expensive than individual plants,” the almanac explains. “A few extra cents spent in spring for that year’s seeds will pay off in higher yields at harvest-time.”

Below are general guidelines for planting from Texas A&M’s Agricultural Extention Service:

  • Plant seeds when the soil is moist. If it’s too wet, the soil may crust over and prevent seedlings from breaking through the surface. 
  • Use a string stretched between two stakes to keep the rows straight. 
  • Thoroughly water transplants before planting. 
  • If you can, transplant on a cloudy day or when the sun is down. This will give the plant time to recover from the transplanting process before it’s exposed to sunlight.  
  • Wait until frost season is over to plant heat-loving plants. 
  • Younger plants are easier to damage than older plants, so pay extra care to your new plant baby. 

Watering Tips 

Not sure how much water you should apply? Texas A&M’s Agricultural Extension Service recommends you apply an inch or two of water once a week during growing season (early May to late September). The garden soil should be moist at least 6-inches deep. 

While each plant is different, most require similar water levels. Over-watering and under-watering will do equal levels of harm to your plants. 

Harvesting

There is nothing more satisfying than watching your plants go from seed to harvest. 

The Farmer’s Almanac suggests you be gentle when you harvest your veggies. Don’t yank your crops from their stems, instead use two hands to pick. If the crop is ripe but doesn’t pull away, use pruning shears to harvest. 

Also not all fruits and vegetables are harvested the same way. Follow Texas A&M’s Harvesting Guidelines for specifics on vegetables typically grown in North Texas. Veggies—such as okra, beans and squash—won’t produce on a regular basis if they aren’t harvested right away. 

Enjoy the Experience

Starting your garden can be as simple or extravagant as you choose—but watching your plants turn from seed to food is well worth it. 

While some plants may not survive the entirety of growing season, remember to enjoy the process. Gardening isn’t an exact science, so don’t fret if a plant doesn’t sprout!

Image courtesy of iStock.