Some things bear repeating: Plant vegetables.
The tastes of fresh-picked beans, lettuce, and tomatoes, grown from seeds of varieties bred for flavor rather than commercial appeal, will knock your socks off. Not to mention the satisfaction of doing "work" that puts food directly into your belly. Planned correctly, the most basic vegetable garden takes little time or effort. Here's how to plan and plant this most basic garden.
First, the site. For the plants' sake, full sun – at least six hours daily – and well-drained soil are a must. If water stays puddled on the ground more than a few hours after rain has stopped, roots will suffocate.
For your sake, locate the garden as close to your house as possible – ideally, no farther from your door than you can throw the kitchen sink. With the garden close by, you'll have no qualms about running out to grab another pepper for roasting or snipping some basil for a salad. And while you're there, you might even stop to pull a weed or two.
The traditional way to create the garden is to till the soil a couple of times, wait a couple of weeks, till again, wait again, and then plant in rows, between which you till or hoe through the season. All that takes time and effort.
The quickest and easiest way to start a garden is to merely smother the existing lawn or weeds. One reason most gardeners till is to aerate the soil, but your soil won't need aeration if you lay it out in permanent planting beds, each 36 inches wide, and paths, each 18 inches wide. Make a plan on paper, and keep the beds and paths in the same place year after year. Walk only on the paths; never set foot in a bed.
If your garden is to be fenced (which is necessary if rabbits or deer roam nearby), extend the garden's boundary about a foot outside the fence. This gets the garden edge away from under the fence, where weeds would become tangled and too hard to pull.
After you have mapped out your garden, search the Internet or Yellow Pages for local "Compost" and "Arborists." You want compost for the planting beds, and wood chips from an arborist for the paths between the beds. (Some recycling centers give these valuable materials away free for the hauling.) Plan on spreading a 3-inch depth of either of these materials, which works out to about a cubic yard for every 100 square feet needed. Before you lay down the chips and compost, mow or knock down existing weeds or lawn, then smother them beneath paper. Use newspaper – blackand- white pages four sheets thick – or commercially available paper mulch, such as Horto Paper. Wet the paper as you lay it down to soften it and keep it from blowing, and overlap the edges. Before the end of the season, the grass or weeds will be dead, and your plants' roots will have grown into and though the nearly decomposed paper.
The paper is needed only to start your garden, not in future years.
Now plant, right into the compost. When planting in beds, space the plants closer together than usually recommended. You can crowd 3 or 4 rows down each bed because you'll be doing all your weeding and harvesting from the paths, rather than having to walk between the rows. As soon as you lay down your compost, while the weather is cool, plant pea, radish and spinach seeds, onion sets, and small plants of broccoli, lettuce and parsley. When the weather turns reliably warm, about when honeysuckle, wild cherry and locust trees bloom, set out tomato and pepper plants, and plant seeds of cucumbers and bush green beans. In early summer, make another planting of green beans and cucumbers, and in late summer, plan for fall by sowing lettuce again, along with beets and turnips.
Following this season's successes, you may be prompted to improve your garden next year, perhaps installing automatic, drip irrigation, perhaps starting some of your own transplants. This year, though, vow to weed. Just a few minutes a week is all the time needed, as long as you do it regularly.
More details about easily beginning and maintaining a vegetable garden are in my book “Weedless Gardening” (Workman Publishing, 2001).