I'm so glad you liked my plans for your new vegetable garden. No, I am not so smart! I just spend (waste?) a lot of time playing in dirt, surfing my favorite gardening website, or daydreaming about gardening! Sure, we should have started earlier, even back in the fall, but we swore we didn't have time to do it then. Let's plan a gardening shopping trip, and a "moms play date" in mid-March. This gardening stuff will all come easy to you with hands-on learning. Speaking of hands, put your hands on your weekly newspapers and get them OUT of the recycle bin. Save up a stack; we'll use them in the garden.

What about soil testing?

You couldn't resist some research! I know soil testing is a good idea...so good that I bet the lab is swamped right now. We'll be sure to test next year. Since we live close to each other, and our soil should be nearly the same, I'm going to use my judgement for your garden this year. Fertilizer is probably needed in our sandy silty East Coast soil, as my last soil test showed. Virtually every garden needs help with "organic content" too. Dirt around here also needs something called lime; that has to do with something else called pH...( I know, it's been a long time since chemistry class for me too. Ask your kids! ) Since we're running last-minute on this garden, I'll take a guess that three pounds of lime this year will likely help, and not likely hurt, your soil. I could just give you that from a bag my hubby gets for the whole yard. Come to think of it, if you do all your own yard work and have never limed the lawn, you probably should, too.

Next step, go shopping

Gardening is not all drudgery! And for heaven's sake, if I can just lend you some tools, and save you a few bucks, please let me. Here's our supply list for the 6 foot by 10 foot garden plan I suggested:

  • A shovel-- round pointed with a long handle
  • A hand trowel-- a sturdy one is a better value
  • Gloves-- I like the new style, knit with rubber coated grip
  • Tomato cages-- four tall ones
  • Garden stakes-- three of the 6-foot long ones
  • Twine
  • Bagged compost or composted manure--one or two, 40-pound bags, or one cubic foot size, bags of humus or compost (we'll have to see what's available and check the label to decide how many bags to buy)
  • Fertlizer-- four pounds of organic, 'vegetable garden' or 'general garden' blend, best with microbes or beneficial microorganisms (they're like the live cultures in yogurt)
  • Lime-- three pounds (small bags are sold but for almost the same price you can buy a 40 pound bag of pelletized lime and use it on the lawn too if you need it)
  • Mulch-- two, 2-cubic-foot," bags will make it, three bags are better

Your investment to start this garden? The list above might total to $60 or thereabouts. Thankfully, next year's list will be smaller. After we stop for lunch (Panera? Bob Evans? I'll look through my coupons) we'll unload at your house. Tools need to go under roof. The bags can be left by the garden spot. Now we need enough dry weather that the dirt won't be clumping together like mudpies, and a day when both of our schedules let us play.

Know anybody with a tiller? Even know what a tiller IS?

Most likely, there's something green to get rid of already growing in that nice sunny spot you picked out. Hand digging, even the scruffiest of barely tended lawn grass, is something of a workout. (And believe me, I do have the scruffiest of barely tended lawn grass in a lot of my yard. Kids and a dog; any more explanation needed?) To save our backs, and preserve our precious "schedules", I hope we can get our hands on a tiller. A tilller is like a food processor on wheels, for dirt! The best part is, big boys (husbands and teenage sons) are usually much more willing to run power tools than elbow-grease-powered tools. But if we have no luck asking the guys, we can run a mini tiller ourselves. (Girl Power!) (OK, Mature Woman Power!) A mini tiller worked fine for me a few years ago, just tough enough to mutilate the grass cover and mix it with a few inches of the top soil. We, or the Big Boy of choice, will till the area once to chop up all the grassy stuff. Then we'll spread the compost, fertilizer, and lime and till it again.

If worst comes to worst and we can't beg, borrow, or steal, (just kidding!) a mini tiller, we'll have to go mano a mano with the grass. Maybe Big Boy will literally man the shovel, and we'll sit and shake out grass clumps and talk. Like a quilting bee with worms and dirt instead of needles and fabric. And if the grass seems just too tough, we can try to mimize the digging. Did you see the term "lasagne gardening" in your research? We might get by without taking all the grass off, only what we need to remove in just the places that seeds or plants will go this year. Tomatoes need a shovel-sized hole dug and amended. Squash and cucumbers need a generous shovel-plus sized hole worked to accomodate planting a cluster of seeds (called a hill.) Peas and lettuce can get by with a shovel-width row dug up and fortified. We can mix in the compost, and slightly more conservative measures of lime and fertilizer, in those more specific spots. The remaining grass and weeds will be covered with a smothering mulch layer. (Lasagne; that reminds me: I should plan an easy dinner for digging day, or order a pizza.)

Once we've made the soil nice and pretty...

Garden plan, six feet by ten feet, each blue line is 6 inches

sketch of small garden plan

(Oh just wait, you'll find yourself talking about "pretty dirt " soon enough!) We'll mark just where each crop is to be planted. Look again at that plan I made. A tomato plant will go in each small circle marked "tomato;" stick a cage on each for now. That fourth cage is for the cucumbers, so put the last cage in that area. Stakes go at either end of the row of peas, with the third stake in the middle. Squash goes "next to" the cucumber cage. A row of lettuce will run along about a foot from that end of the garden. Oops, I forgot to add plant markers to our shopping list! I'll be happy to bring you a few, but to be honest I often mark with sticks or rocks that I always seem to have laying nearby (Yes, I am messy in the garden just like in the house. It's so sad.)

Now, we'll use those newspapers you saved as a mulch base layer. That keeps the chopped grass and weeds from sprouting up before anything intended gets going. Cross your fingers--even though this newspaper will help a lot, some grass or weeds will probably creep out from underneath. Let's lay the newspaper about ten sheets thick, and more if we have enough paper. Leave a seam down the line where peas and lettuce will go so we can "open it up" along the rows for planting. And we'll put a folded section smack on the spot for each tomato plant, the cukes and the squash hill. The bagged mulch goes on top of the newspaper to pretty it up and hold it down. (If we're not prepared for wind, we'll look like a scene from "I Love Lucy," chasing flying paper sheets across the yard. Cross your fingers again for some "out like a lamb" weather!)

I hope I haven't exhausted you yet. Let's break for a big glass of sweet tea. Putting in this brand-new planting bed is a bit of a workout. Planting and caring for the new veggies will be more rewarding, I promise. Wow, spring is zipping on by! I'll be back soon to help get your vegggies planted and maintain the whole plot. If you have any questions and can't reach me, you can always yell for help at davesgarden.com Beginner Vegetable Gardening. Time to stretch our backs, brush off our knees and contemplate your new garden, empty of greenery but full of hope!

School's out in ten minutes? I have to run! Call you later!


Note that fertilizer and lime recommendations will vary with regions and soils. Recommendations above based on information for Maryland gardens. More informational links are highlighted in the text.

Read the first in the series, Dear Sheila (1), You have to "pick" seeds before you can pick vegetables

Read the third, Dear Sheila (3), on learning planting tchniques by planting your easy crops

Post questions at the Beginner Vegetables forum