First Time Gardener

Updated on June 03, 2012
J.L. asks from Brainerd, MN
16 answers

This is the first time I've ever had a garden of my own to completely start and finish, so I need some basic tips to get me going. I have a large garden, probably 25 x 30 so I have more than what I need. The landlord tilled it a few weeks back so weeds have started popping up. Do I need to buy any special tools? Since I'm 5 months pregnant I'm not going to go too crazy, probably a few tomatoes, peppers, beans, spinach, zucchini, squash... I live in northern MN. The dirt here is real sandy but last year I guess the other tenant brought in about 6 inches of black dirt. I'm worried there's no nutrition in the dirt, but I can't afford a big load of compost. I'm not looking for a big beautiful garden, just a productive one that can deal with some weeds. Any tips would be appreciated. We're about to go shopping for plants, so I need to start figuring things out. Thanks!

What can I do next?

  • Add yourAnswer own comment
  • Ask your own question Add Question
  • Join the Mamapedia community Mamapedia
  • as inappropriate
  • this with your friends

More Answers



answers from Columbia on

make your own compost from food scraps. Easiest - toss them directly into the garden. Harder - pile them in a mound in a corner for a few months.

Don't worry about nutrition. You have no idea what your ground is like. Besides, Miracle Grow cures all. :)

tools - tomatoes need cages/stakes
peppers need stakes.

hints: Plant at the top of the row (hill). Plants need drainage.
weeding is the ultimate punisher of procrastination. Hit it once a week, and it's easy. Wait for once a month and it's a chore!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

When you go to buy tomatoes, buy the tallest plants you can for the money. Plant the tomatoes in the soil up to the bottom set of true leaves. If you can plant the tomatoes with the long stem horizontal and bend the top gently above the soil, the entire stem will sprout roots. The more roots the more nutrients that go into the plant and therefore the fruit.

I like raised beds so I can sit and weed or tend the plants. I find raising the bed about 18" above ground level is the best for me. Make the beds about 4' wide. That way you can sit on the raised bed and reach all the way across the bed to maintain the garden (2' reach from both sides = 4')

Tools: a hand held claw, a trowel, and a hand held hoe.

One zucchini plant will give you all the zucchini the average family can eat. The day before your first frost in the fall, pull your tomato plants up by the roots and hang them upside down in your garage. Most of the tomatoes will finish ripening. I don't know why you need to hang it upside down, but it works.

Good luck to you and yours.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

raised beds are SOOOO much easier to tend! but since you've got a tilled plot, you need to work with that. it may be that without some soil enrichment you don't have a really bountiful crop this first year, but you should still get some nice fresh validating produce. newspaper is not pretty but makes great compostable cheap mulch. if you can afford it, anchor it down with some storebought mulch spread on top of it, if not, just weigh it down with some rocks. it will be mushy and blow around some, but that's okay. it will still largely keep back the weeds, hold in some moisture, and improve your plants' growing medium.
pull (or hoe, i prefer pulling) weeds after it rains when the ground is still pudding-y. weeding in dry weather is frustrating and difficult. if you need to do it, soak the garden well first.
in the fall 'lasagna' layer the garden with kitchen compost, well-aged manure, and straw or more newspaper, and let it all percolate together over the winter. next spring you'll have lovely starter soil.
happy gardening!
:) khairete

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

We have had a vegetable garden for about five years now and love it. It is really much easier than it appears. My husband had read about a way to keep the weeds away and it worked amazingly well. You lay down four layers of newspaper, just don't use the shiny ads. Then on top of the newspaper he put a layer of grass clippings probably about an inch deep. We did not weed one single time last summer and our garden did and looked fantastic. No need for preen or anything really. We do use a little miracle grow about once a month. I buy the kind that hooks onto the hose. Have fun. You will be amazed at the amount of produce you get.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

You can actually buy bags of compost very affordable from home improvement stores. Soil is the MOST important thing in your garden. get a cheap soil test kit and see what nutrients your soil is lacking. Don't put plants in your soil, until you amend it. You won't have any success with bad soil. Also, you need to research before you plant. Some things don't go well being planted near each other. Tomatoes don't do well with many other plants, for example. Once you have maturity...plants like Zucchini, squash, cucumbers, pumpkins, melons...are very susceptible to mildew. Don't water from above. Place the hose below the plant line, and water directly on the soil. The same with tomatoes.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

Walmart and Menards sell organic manure for like 2 dollars a 40 pound bag. I was told to buy a few bags to enrich the soil in my garden. So far so good.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Bismarck on

You can make your own compost. Even some dried egg shells or coffee grounds are simple. You could buy composting worms, but basically buy bait/fishing worms and they aren't much different.
I have considered composting, but haven't done it yet. I may just add one thing of bait worms to my garden plot since they will move the dirt around.


answers from Los Angeles on

Its true that soil is the most important thing. But, If the soil has already been amended then you can get by with minimal amendments this year. I'd through a few bags of steer manure in and just make sure to use a little bit of liquid fertilizer like fish emulsion or miracle grow after planting every few weeks. I have always gardened in clay soil so have always had to amend. Sandy soil has never been something I have had to worry about. But for where I garden, the point is to have your soil loose enough that roots can move and grow. I once had a garden patch that would start off great, but never produce a thing! It was bad soil. Do you know that the former renter had a successful garden? If so no need to test, but there are all kinds of test kits available if you really want to make sure its good soil.

tools: Large shovel, hand shovel, Large trowel or hoe, and short handled trowel.
and maybe a wheel barrow and some kind of saw and hand clippers as well if you need to do much clearing, which it sounds like you don't.



answers from Minneapolis on

I like to buy tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, eggplant, and peppers plants. This year I also bought 1 zucchini.

I plant seeds of green beans, peas, lettuce, spinach, carrots, raddish, and beets and swiss chard.

Squash takes a TON of space, I've never tried it although my parents (who live near Walker) have a huge garden and grow tons of squash every year.

I'd start with some plants and some seeds. I wouldn't add much to your soil. We have sandy soil here too and this is my second year and my garden looked GREAT last year and so far this year we are looking good too.

You'll have to weed. Go out and pull them and remove them completely from your garden space (don't just leave them on the ground, they can re-root). I like to use a small hand held metal rake, but a hoe is a good investment. You'll also appreciate a trowel for digging the holes to plant your plants in.

When in doubt, ask at the garden center for advice on fertilizer. I've never used any.

Also, if you plan to plant broccoli or other cole crops, expect to use a de-bugging powder to keep the little white moths and their babies off. They are nasty, and poop all over your vegi's. It's worth the cost of the powder, and it washes off completely (so it's safe for vegi's).

Good luck!


answers from Dallas on

Look around online in your city. Our city has a community garden program, as well as gardeneing classes and resources - including free compost and manure!! There are also organic farms in our area that offer free manure and compost to anyone that wants to pick it up.

I don't know about your soil or conditions, but I've had great luck with tomatoes and all sorts of peppers, hot and sweet. Peppers are very low maintenace.



answers from Minneapolis on

The most successful 1st-year garden experience will benefit most from lowered expectations. :)

The 1st year is usually the roughest.

Haven't read the other responses, but if I were you, get a handle on weed control asap. Weeds will make you CRAZY, and choke out your veggies.

Every single place where there aren't vegetables, lay down at least 5 layers of newspaper (non-glossy) or layer of brown grocery bags right on top of the soil. Over that, lay down straw.

This fall, tell your husband to save bags of raked leaves. (Ask your landlord if you can store bags of autumn leaves behind a shed or building all winter and assure him that you'll be dumping them in the garden in the spring.) Then next spring, you can use the leaves instead of straw. Then, every spring after that, till in the old leaves and lay down new paper and new leaves. Old leaves make compost like god intended. Compost from straw is not so good.

I've started and maintained lots of veggie and flower gardens in the last 20 years, and this method works best (and is cheapest!) for me. I garden in Minnesota.


answers from St. Louis on

Buy some Preen and sprinkle it around. It won't do anything for the weeds that already popped up but it will stop more from popping up.

If you haven't put the plants in then buy yourself a bag of compost, maybe two depending on how much you are going to plant. Dig a hole and mix the compost with the soil. As you plant dig a hole much bigger than you need, create a circle with the extra soil, plant the plant and fill the hole with the compost soils mixture. That way you aren't going through the work of working compost into the whole garden but you are getting the benefits right where you need them, the plant. The added bonus is the ring helps divert more water to the plants when it rains.

Oh my husband's favorite go to tool for planting is a post hole digger. Once you get them planted there isn't much you need besides something to keep larger plants upright, like tomatoes.



answers from Denver on

You need to get a hoe. Then plant your veggies in rows and keep in between your rows hoed. It isnt really that hard you are basically just scraping the weeds out. Then pull the weeds growing on your rows. As little seedling come up don't pull anything, if you aren't sure, just hoe between the rows. I have a 25x35 garden and it is big, so either dh and I will start on opposite ends and work to the center or I will do it in two chunks. It needs done about once a week. Don't worry about your soil being a little deficient. It takes time to get better soil. Actually root veggies like carrots, and beets LOVE sandy soil. My soil is hard packed clay with lots of rocks and my garden still grows :)



answers from Minneapolis on

Depending on how rich the black dirt was you are probably fine for another year. But you might want to investigate free sources of compost for the future. If your area has leaf collection sites in the fall, then they probably have free compost in the spring. If so, just take a couple buckets and a shovel to get a little to mix with the soil when you plant each plant. Don't try to start with seeds for plants that take longer than 50 days to mature the fruit or vegie at this point. In a short growing season area you really have to start the seeds inside well before now. Buy some decent size tomato plants. You can do seeds for short growing crops like lettuce, spinach, peas. You don't need to have any tools other than a hand tool to dig a hole and a way to water them. I you are planting rows of seeds then having a turning fork or renting a tiller will help you break up the soil. But when I just plant individual plants, I only break up the soil with a hand trowel around where I am planting. If you mulch around the plants you will have fewer weeds to worry about.



answers from Columbus on

I would not go too crazy with lots of tools - just the basics is all you'll need. I use a hand shovel and rakes and that's it. I also put down a layer of newspaper to help control the weeds. As for what to plant, don't plant too much or you'll be overwhelmed; especially because of the weeds. Try and pull weeds on a daily basis or they will take over in an instant! Also, you might want to look on the internet for "natural" insect repellents - like making a spray using garlic, etc. Stuff like that.

Good luck and have fun with it!! It's a great feeling to pick your own stuff!! My kids and I have been doing it for a long time and love it!!



answers from Duluth on

Two suggestions: one, make sure you plant in accordance with the fact that you'll be harvesting with a newborn. :) Second, buy small tomatoes (not small tomato plants, but plants that produce small tomatoes). We live on the Range, and garden quite a bit, and have had to find plants that have short growing seasons and do not require heat. Peppers might struggle in Brainerd, and big beefsteak tomatoes will freeze before they ripen in the fall. Go for cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes or plum tomatoes. I had a lot of trouble with spinach last year, but it might have been us, not the area. Lettuce will grow well for you; so will peas and cool weather crops (ask at a gardening center if you're not familiar with that term). Carrots grow well in sand, but you have to thin them. Definitely make sure that what you grow doesn't require a long growing season--we just don't have it up here.

For Updates and Special Promotions
Follow Us

Related Questions