Ok, so it’s the end of the world. Chaos is raining down from the sky like manna from heaven. But you’re ready, right? You have everything you need including a large stash of garden seeds ready to go. You have meticulously saved hundreds of packets of seeds in air tight containers. You have all the tools for gardening and soil ready and waiting. You may have made one small error (ok, it’s actually a huge one). You have never grown a garden before.
Many people are under the impression that you throw a handful of seeds into good soil and viola’ instant veggies! If you are one of those people that thinks this is how gardens work you are in for a rude awakening come harvest time. Gardening like any other endeavor takes skill and practice to do well. Successful gardening takes years of experience, so the now is the time to learn, not when your life depends on what you can grow.
The very first thing you need to know is what’s in your soil. Moist soil is far from perfect. In fact many soils west of the Missouri river are so infertile they would not grow 95% of the vegetable seeds sold to gardeners. So you need to test your soil. Buy a good soil test kit or even better have your soil tested by a professional lab. Be sure to test the soil right where you are putting your garden. This is because there can be large soil differences just a few hundred feet apart. Your test will tell you just how “good” your soil is and whether it can grow a high yield garden.
Let’s assume you get your test back and your soil is completely depleted. Don’t panic, there are ways around this, the easiest of which are raised bed gardens. Build a rectangular box about 4 x 12 feet. Or whatever size you want. And fill it with good quality growing soil you buy at a reputable garden center. Don’t use potting mix. That’s for indoor plants. My raised beds, built in the size above took 15 bags of soil each. I used 10 bags of garden soil, 3 bags of store bought compost and 2 bags of store bought chicken manure. Mix it all together but don’t compact it.
Now that you have created good garden soil it’s time to talk about seeds. Not all seeds are created equally. Most of the seeds you buy at mega-stores are poor quality and have a very low germination rate. You want the best performing seeds for your garden when your life depends on it. Buy non-GMO seeds. That way you can save some seeds from this year’s harvest to plant next year. Check the Internet for vegetables that grow well in your region. Start with the types that are easiest to grow. Some easy grow veggies for most areas are garlic, potatoes, peas and beans. Try growing just a few varieties your first year. Don’t try to plant every seed packet you have. Concentrate on a few until your familiar with how they grow and what they need to be healthy plants.
My first year, I planted snap peas, carrots, lettuce, potatoes and onions. The onions and potatoes never grew. I had a little lettuce and peas. But I had carrots everywhere. I can tell you if I had to survive that first year off of what I grew, I’d be a corpse. Despite my best efforts I didn’t grow enough to feed us for a month, let alone until next season.
OK, now you have good soil and the best possible seed. What else is important? The third thing you’re going to need even if you have excellent soil is fertilizer. Buy a fertilizer made especially for vegetables. There are tons of different fertilizers on the market and everyone has their favorites. I myself have tried dozens with good and bad results. When you’re starting out stick to one fertilizer so you get to know how it helps (or hinders) your garden. Use a slow release organic vegetable fertilizer mixed into the soil at least 4-6 weeks BEFORE you plant the seeds. That gives the fertilizer time to “feed” the soil before planting. If you fertilize right when you plant you could cause harm to your fragile seeds.
Now you’re ready to try growing veggies. Don’t get discouraged if you fail your first year, or second, or third. Growing food for your table like any of the skills of our forefathers takes time. But it’s better to take the time now, when you have it. Because if you wait until the you-know-what hits the fan, your time has run out.