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Starting your first vegetable garden requires a little bit of knowledge and planning and a whole lot of can-do attitude. You have to be willing to learn as you go, but before you grab that shovel and say “Let’s do it!”, review these warnings. They’ll ensure your first garden rewards you with the sweet taste of success.

Fertilizer Mistakes

Beefing up your soil is a good thing, but adding fertilizers at the wrong time, or adding too much of it, can ruin a crop. Pay close attention to the instructions for amounts and timing. It’s better to test your garden soil months before planting so you can add the specific amendments it needs.

If it’s late in the season and you need to plant right away, you’re not out of options. Give a new garden site a boost by adding several inches of compost. Organic fertilizers are slower to release their nutrients, but will last longer. Most can be added close to or at the same time as planting, but as with synthetic fertilizers, pay close attention to instructions. If your soil is not ideal for a garden in one way or another (bad drainage, very poor soil), consider raised beds to which you can add purchased rich topsoil.

Overwatering

Many beginners wrongly assume that there can’t be too much of a good thing. Water, like fertilizer, should be applied correctly to produce healthy vegetables. Deep watering with sufficient intervals will coax plants to develop deep root systems. In general, a vegetable garden needs one inch of water per week. Avoid overhead sprinkling, which can promote fungus and mildew. The ideal watering system is a slow-drip method, as with a drip-irrigation system. If you can’t afford an installed system, water with a hose by moving it around the garden, positioning a slow flow of water at the base of plants.

Shade and Overcrowding

Choosing the right location for your garden is very important. Healthy vegetable plants need at least six hours of full sunlight per day, and most plants will do better with more hours of direct sun. When you plot out where each variety will be placed in the garden, make sure one tall crop won’t completely shade it’s neighbor. Plant in rows that align east to west, and place the tallest crops on the north and the shorter crops on the south. It also helps to space plants adequately, according to the directions on a seed packet or seedling container. Use trellises for vining plants to take full advantage of garden space.

Biting Off More Than You Can Weed, Eat, or Store

When it comes to fresh produce, it’s easy to get a little carried away in the planning stages. Resist the urge to buy every variety you love, or a whole flat of tomato seedlings. Tending a large garden can consume a lot of time and energy. Your first year of vegetable gardening is a chance to learn the basics and a few pest-battling strategies. If you did get carried away, consider donating excess produce to a local food pantry or homeless shelter.

As you enjoy your first season of vegetable gardening, keep a journal of what you’re learning, and what you might want to try next year. When you bite into that first home-grown veggie, you’ll be thoroughly hooked.

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