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It's time to garden!

I first learned the basics of vegetable gardening at my job as a University Extension Educator, about 10 years ago. Before that, I knew absolutely nothing. I once tried to grow a tomato plant in the dirt on the side of my house: I just dug up the dirt and placed the plant in there. It lasted about 3 days before my dog took care of it. And over the last 10 years, it has been like that: a series of mistakes that I learn from and move on. You can read up on all the gardening you have time for and listen to the experts for hours on end, but until you actually get your hands dirty and do it yourself, you really aren't ready. Yes, it's a lot of work and more disappointment than I care to admit, but the benefits are amazing. I will seriously never forget the first zucchini I harvested, or the first tomato I bit into that came from a plant I started from seed.

I'm not an expert, but I came from where you may be right now. You want to grow your own vegetables but don't know where to start. So this is my advice to you, as someone who has been through good and bad growing seasons:

1. Decide what to grow. This needs to be something you (and your family) will eat. Don't say to yourself, "I'm going to grow zucchini because it's easy" unless you are a huge zucchini fan or you have many, many people in your life who will take your zucchini. It grows fast and produces a lot. Do you like tomatoes and/or enjoy making salsa or pasta sauce? Do you love sweet peppers or squash? Cucumbers grow well here and you could harvest them for pickles. There are many choices; you just need to decide what will work for you. Since summer is already almost here, make sure you choose a plant that is "heat-loving" (tomatoes or peppers, for example).

2. Make sure you have a good growing environment for your plants, which means healthy soil. It's important to know if your yard has clay or sandy soil, because this makes a big difference in what will grow well. And before you begin planting, be sure to add organic material (compost, manure, etc.) Soil provides your plants with the vital nutrients, water, and air that they require for healthy growth..

3. Start small. If you already have a garden area in your yard, then you're halfway there. But don't plan on filling up the entire garden; just start with 2 or 3 plants and see how it goes. You can plant on expanding the following year. If you're not able to plant in your yard, then use containers. Plants basically need 3 things: water, sun, and nutrients. If you have a patio that gets lots of sun, then that is where you'll put your containers. Just make sure the containers are the right size for whatever it is you're planting

4. Water, weed, and nourish. That is what the next few months will look like. Some plants require extra nourishment; others will simply take it from the soil. If you have an outside garden, you will be amazed at how fast those weeds grow! Have a plan to weed on a regular basis; otherwise, you will be overwhelmed. Remember that as your plants get bigger, they will require more watering, preferably early in the day before it gets too hot.

Remember, the more attention you pay to your garden, the more you will be rewarded. Plus you'll reap both the physical and mental benefits of working in the garden. There's nothing quite like watching a plant (or seed) that you started grow into a big, beautiful plant that produces healthy, delicious vegetables.

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