On Tuesday, I let you all know that I welcome your questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them. Today, we’ve got our first reader Q & A.

Q: So, Robin, I'm a gardening idiot. I just moved into a new house in Iowa (agricultural mecca) with a big backyard and think I need to use some of this land to have a garden. But I don't know where to begin. I mean, literally, not a clue. What to plant, how to plant it, how to get the soil ready, how to decide where in the yard to put it, how to keep from killing everything . . .

You asked for questions! Can you help me out here?

A: I think you can approach starting a backyard garden in two different ways. The first way is to read a lot of books, visit a lot of websites, maybe take an adult education course in gardening for beginners, and plan for months to plant the vegetables that grow well in your region, doing everything by the book. The other way is to educate yourself a little bit, plant your garden with things your family would like to eat, and learn as you go. I chose the second way, but I think it depends on what kind of person you are.

If you’re someone who needs the assurance that you are doing everything correctly, then you should do a lot of researching and planning. I’d start at your local library and see if they have any general vegetable gardening books and regional gardening books. If you local community offers adult education classes, right now is the time they are starting their winter courses. Check to see if there is a beginning gardeners class that fits into your schedule.

Talk to your neighbors who have gardens. Ask them what they grow. Gardening is a great way for neighbors to get to know each other. The neighbor on one side of me keeps to herself most of the time, but this past summer when we were at war with the squirrels, we had talked more than we ever had in the ten years we’ve lived next to each other.

You’ll find that gardening is more than just a way to get food on the table. It helps you connect with nature. It gives your family a project to work on. If you want it to, it can make you part of a community. It’s also a helpful way to show kids that they don’t have to be dependent on the grocery store for their food. And, kids will eat things that they’ve helped grow and then prepare that they never would if you just placed it in front of them.

I know you’ve got a lot of questions, and it would be best to answer the rest in a separate post. So look for part 2 of my answer on Monday.

Thanks for asking! 

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Q & A: Starting a garden, part 1
"I'm a gardening idiot. Can you help me?"