Here is the plot as it might appear two months after spring
planting. The key below mentions late crops such as lettuce and
kale that you can plant in summer for a second harvest.
Your Starter Garden
6 8 7 9 10 11 3 15 14 12 4 5 3 S W E
garden center. If hand-tilling is too
much effort, pay a landscaper a one-
time fee to rototill the plot. Keep your
beds soft and fluffy by not walking on
them. In future years, if you keep the
beds weeded, you can fork in compost
shallowly and never have to till again.
FENCE OU T CRI T TERS
Most gardens need protection against
predators such as rabbits, ground-hogs, and pets. A good fence is a better
investment than repellents or scare
devices, whose effectiveness wears off
in time. The simplest fence is one with
metal stakes supporting wire mesh.
The gate can be mesh with a wooden
frame. Make the fence six feet tall to
keep out deer, and use a finer mesh at
the bottom to deter rabbits, extending
it below ground level to stop burrowers. Total cost: $150.
4. POLE BEANS
5. SWEE T PEPPERS
6. HO T PEPPERS
8. SUMMER SQUASH
9. CUCUMBERS OR
SUGAR SNAP PEAS
10. SWISS CHARD
12. EARLY CARRO TS,
13. SCALLIONS, THEN KALE
14. LETTUCE, THEN
15. ALPINE STRAWBERRIES
long time, such as Swiss chard and
pole beans, are especially economical.
When early carrots and scallions have
all been eaten, you can sow kale in their
place. Indeed, you could grow as much
as $500 worth of produce from the
small plot described here—and have a
great time doing it.
MAKE YOUR MENU
What should you grow? Start with
what you love to eat. About $50 worth
of seed packets will get you started.
Since you won’t need all the seeds in
the packets, and most stay fresh for
at least three years, the yearly cost is
about $16. In any garden, tall plants
such as pole beans should go on the
north side, to avoid shading the others.
Most vegetables are annuals, planted
anew each year, but I tuck in a few alpine
strawberries, too. These tiny, exquisite
plants bear fruit all season and remain
in place from year to year, to our grandchildren’s delight. They head for the
strawberry row the minute their parents pull up in the driveway. Our sugar
snap peas and cherry tomatoes are also
kid magnets, and I like to think our
small foragers are gleaning far more
than a healthful snack. They’re learning that growing food brings joy, and
that dividend is priceless.
I T’S ALL ABOU T THE SOIL
The very best garden investment is a
healthy, fertile soil that’s the consistency of crumbly chocolate cake. It should
be alive with worms, plant-nourishing
bacteria, and other tiny microbes that
help crops grow. You create soil like
that by adding plenty of organic matter;
the best and cheapest source is your
own compost pile of dried leaves, grass
clippings, and vegetable scraps from
the kitchen. Letting it all break down
into nature’s “black gold” takes time,
though. To get your garden started,
you’ll probably need to buy some organic matter to improve fertility.
As soon as the soil is no longer soggy,
till under any sod and incorporate a
complete organic fertilizer ($5), two
40-pound bags of compost or manure
($15), and, if your soil is acidic, as most
tend to be in moist climates, a bit of
lime ($3 a bag). Get a simple soil test
done through your state’s cooperative
extension service, or buy one at your
Barbara Damrosch writes a weekly column,
A Cook’s Garden, in The Washington Post.
An updated edition of her classic reference
work, The Garden Primer, was published
by Workman last year.
For black-and-white reprints of this article