Welcome to part 3 of my answer to one reader’s question, “Help, I’m a gardening idiot. Can you help me?”

Yesterday, we covered what to plant and where to plant. Today I’ll answer the rest of the questions. Let’s get down to it so I don’t need a part 4.

How to get the soil ready

First of all, you’ll want to take a look at the area you’ve chosen to use. Is it flat or on an incline? If it’s on an incline, you might want to consider making a boxed-in raised bed garden instead of digging the soil.

If you are going to dig in the soil, then you’ll need to till the soil. There is some debate over whether tilling is the most beneficial way to prepare the soil; however, since you’re just beginning I would say till. It makes the dirt easy to plant in. Don’t run out and buy a tiller, though. See if you can borrow or rent one.

You can supplement the nutrients in the soil by adding compost (hint: call your local department of public works and ask if they offer compost or know a nearby town that offers it) and fertilizers – preferably organic. Remember, whatever you put in your soil will end up in the food you grow. If you use chemical fertilizers and pesticides, they’ll get sucked up by the plant roots along with the nutrients.

How to plant

Dig a hole, put a little water in it, and then put in the seed or plant. There’s nothing to be afraid of here.

If you are sewing directly from seed, the back of the seed packet will tell you how deep and how far apart to plant the seeds. If you are planting existing plants, you’ll need to find out how far apart to plant them. Distance is important because as the season goes on and the plants get bigger, you don’t want them to overcrowd each other when you’re just beginning.

One thing that you might not think about is the positioning of the plants. Take a look at where the sun will hit your garden first. Plant those things that will be low to the ground there and gradually work your way back (or over) to taller plants. That way tall plants like tomatoes won’t block the sun from lower plants like pepper plants.

How to keep from killing the plants

There will always be a plant or two that doesn’t thrive for who knows what reason. But if you are water, fertilize, prune and weed regularly, things will grow. Here’s where planting as close to your house as possible comes in handy. You don’t want your garden to be “out of site, out of mind.”

These are very basic steps and certainly aren’t the beginning and end of all you need to know. Hopefully, I’ve let you know that it doesn’t take a degree in agriculture to start a back yard garden. A little knowledge along with some early planning and then attention to the garden once its planted should yield you some fresh vegetables to put on your table this summer. You’ll learn a lot as you go and have an even better garden your second year.

If I’ve convinced you that this is something that you can do to, here two few books that might help you more:

Guide to Iowa Vegetable Gardening by James A. Fizzel

The Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch

Don’t forget to check out your local library for other books, particularly ones that are written for your region.

Image: WTL photos 

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

Q&A: Starting a garden, part 3
The last of three posts that helps the reader who says, "I'm a gardening idiot. Can you help me?"