On Friday, I started to answer a question by one of our readers who is a self-professed “gardening idiot.” I began by talking about what kind of gardener the reader wanted to be — one who needed all the info first to be sure to do it right or one who could take it a little bit easier and learn as she goes.

Today, I’ll answer some of the specific questions.

What to plant

Plant the things that you want to eat. Granted, you’re in Iowa so you’re not going to be able grow bananas if you want to eat bananas, but most vegetables and many different fruits will grow in your state. Let’s say you want to be able to make pasta sauce with the ingredients in your garden. You’ll need to grow tomatoes — one or two varieties (definitely Roma for sauce and one other of your choice), peppers, and herbs like oregano, parsley and basil.

If you want to start your plants from seeds, start looking at seeds now. A great place to get organic seeds is Seeds of Change. They have a lot of useful advice on their website, also.

Of course, if you really think you are a gardening idiot, you might want to start off your first year with plants instead of seeds. In that case, figure out what you’d like to plant now, and inquire locally about where to buy plants. A farmer’s market is always a great place to buy plants early in the season. A plus to buying plants instead of seeds — if the plants are being sold in your region there's a really good chance that they grow in your region.

Where to plant

I think it’s best to decide what you want to plant before you decide where you want to plant. What you want to plant will determine the size of garden you need and that can help you with the location. Generally, however, you want a plot of ground that isn’t on any kind of an incline (although an incline could be handled with a boxed-in raised bed).

Next, you need to take into consideration the amount of sunlight that different areas of your back yard (or your front yard – no reason you can’t garden there) receive. Most vegetable gardens need many hours of sunlight each day, so you will need a good sunny spot. Find a sunny spot that will be large enough to accommodate your needs, and you’ve likely got your garden area.

I would also suggest that you chose a spot as close to the house as possible. You are much more likely to take care of a garden that is within easy sight. Something in the back of a property or behind a shed or other structure is too easy to ignore.

Looks like this second post answering this question is running long, so I think I’ll do a part 3 on Tuesday.  

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

Q&A: Starting a garden, part 2
More advice for the reader who says, "I'm a gardening idiot. Can you help me?"