tips for beginning gardeners

Tips for beginning gardeners, Part 2

See previous: Beginning Gardening, part 1.

Growing the garden

  1. Fertilizing
    When it comes to fertilizing your garden (or yard) more is NOT better. Plants can absorb the "vitamins and minerals" they receive from fertilizer only so fast. Too much fertilizer, released too quickly, can burn and dehydrate plants or cause them to grow in undesireable ways. It's best to start with a soil sample to see how much (if any) and what type of fertilizer is needed for the specific plants you are growing.
    Organic: If using manures, aged manure should be incorporated before planting. During the growing season, supplement with compost or packaged products.
    Non-organic: A granular fertilizer can be worked into the soil before planting (ex: 2 lb. 10-10-10 per 1000 sq. ft or 3 cups per 100 sq. ft.) Avoid excess nitrogen on fruiting vegetables (beans, tomatoes, peppers, etc.).
  2. Water
    The vegetable garden needs 1 inch of water each week -- either from rain or irrigation. Water more frequently while seeds are germinating and after transplanting. Run sprinklers in the morning so plants dry off quickly. Consider using drip irrigation or soaker hoses.
  3. Mulch
    Organic mulch helps maintain soil moisture, reduces soil temperature and reduces weeds. Do not apply too early -wait for the soil to warm up adequately. Most commonly used are straw or chopped leaves. A disadvantage can be slugs.
  4. Trellising
    Some vegetable plants grow best with support, such as tomatoes, beans, peas and sometimes cucumbers.
  5. Weed control
    Mulch helps. Hoe early (even before weeds appear) and frequently (every week or so) until your vegetables are large enough to create shade, which the weed seeds need to grow. Otherwise, be sure to pull weeds before they set seeds.
  6. Disease control
    Keep foliage dry as much as possible. Mulch helps for some things. Remove diseased leaves and plants. Sprays are preventative, not curative.
  7. Insect control
    Scout regularly. Hand-pick beetles and caterpillars. Use insecticidal soap for mites, aphids, whiteflies. Bacillus thuringiensis formulations are useful for caterpillars, other BT formulations for Colorado potato beetle larvae. Be careful with products such as carbaryl (sevin) and malathion, which can be very toxic to bees. Encourage beneficial insects and learn to tell the good bugs from the bad bugs.
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Reaping the harvest

  1. Harvest regularly
    Another reason to keep the veggies close to the house. Nobody really uses zucchini as baseball bats. Some, such as beans, squash and peppers will stop producing if not picked.
  2. Young and tender
    Most vegetables are most flavorful and nutritious when young. There are some exceptions. Ripen tomatoes on the vine if possible. Melons and eggplant must also ripen on the vine.
  3. Early in the day
    Vegetables are at their freshest when the morning temperatures are still cool. Get vegetables in the refrigerator (except tomatoes) or processed as quickly as possible.


  1. Record keeping is important. Next season you will want to know what was planted where so you can rotate crops, what worked and what didn't, which varieties you liked, etc. Learn from your mistakes.
  2. Every year is an experiment. Next year try a new crop or new variety.
  3. Keep it fun. Gardening should be enjoyable. Get the whole family involved.
  4. For more information on gardening. Check out

When to Harvest

Bean, snaps Every 2 days. Before seeds develop in pods. Snap easily when bent.
Broccoli Head dark green, buds shut tight, before flowers open.
Cabbage Heads feel hard and solid.
Collards, kale Break off older leaves when they are 6 to 10 inches and still dark green. New leaves will grow from the center providing continuous harvest. Whole plants may be harvested.
Corn, sweet Silks turn brown, liquid in kernels is clear.
Cucumbers Every 2 days. Pickling types 3 to 5 inches long. Slicers 5 to 8 inches long.
Peas, green Pods well rounded, still dark green.
Peas, edible-pod Pods begin to swell, before seeds swell much.
Peppers, bell Green peppers feel very firm when squeezed. Can be left to mature to red (or other colors).
Peppers, hot Allow to attain full red color.
Squash, summer Every 2 or 3 days. Fruit is soft and tender, 6 to 8 inches.
Tomatoes For best flavor allow to attain full color on the vine. Store at room temperature.

Back to: Beginning Gardening, page 1

Linda Blue, Agricultural Extension Agent, North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Back to Basics: Starting a Vegetable Garden

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Join in our discussions:
Showing comment(s)
November 15, 2013
For weed control, you say to wait for the soil to warm up before applying mulch. Why is that? I have good luck by smothering the entire garden with cardboard in the fall so that weeds don't get an early start in spring. Then, when I'm planting, I peel back the cardboards just enough to create rows for my seeds. (Ironically, cardboard doubles as a great food for earthworms. A friend of mine grows red wigglers in rubbermaids his basement and has great success by feeding them nothing but water-soaked cardboard all year long.)
Freddie at Raleigh Health
November 16, 2013
Hi Jim, Organic mulches like straw, leaves, newspapers and cardboard can slow the warming of the soil in spring. As an alternative, some people use rolls of weed fabrics or black plastic for mulch. This not only keeps weeds from getting the light they need but absorbs energy from the sun -- which speeds up soil warming so you can get an earlier start at spring gardening. The downside of plastic, however, is that it makes it more difficult to water and fertilize. If you're going to fertilize, do so before applying the plastic and consider using a drip hose for watering.
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