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15 June 2009

Vegetable gardening for beginners - the 3 x 3 method


When you first take up your trowel and fork and start planting vegetable seeds for the first time there is a very strong tendency to overdo it or to dive in with no thought of order, outcome or orthodoxy. When the gardening bug grabs you, you're in it for production, nothing else matters. Or does it?

It will help you considerably if you can think a little about what you're about to plant, because if you're in your early years of gardening and you over do it, or go through a season with few vegetables making it to your kitchen table, you might give up. And I don't want that to happen. NEVER give up because it's too difficult - in gardening or anything else. You just need to think about your planting in a different way, work out your strategy and start again. You learn the best lessons from your own mistakes or when times are tough.


The first thing to do if you're planning your first vegetable garden is to decide what you'll plant. To do that effectively, get yourself a good organic vegetable gardening book suitable for the climate you live in, a couple of pieces of paper and a pencil and a cup of tea. Your first step is to write a list of the vegetables you commonly eat over the course of a month. Your list might look something like this:
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Garlic
  • Leeks
  • Swiss chard
  • Pumpkin
  • Zucchini
  • Cabbage - white
  • Tomatoes
  • Avocado
  • Lettuce
  • Cucumbers
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Cauliflower
  • Kale
  • Asparagus
Of your listed vegetables, work out, by reading your book, what can be easily grown in your climate at this particular time of year. Remember, no matter how dearly you want something to grow, it won't grow out of season.

Your list might now look like this:
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Garlic
  • Leeks
  • Swiss chard
  • Cabbage - white
  • Tomatoes
  • Lettuce
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Cauliflower
  • Kale
This list is still too long for an inexperienced gardener. Of these remaining vegetables, which are the ones that cost the most when you have to buy them, and which ones are your favourites? Now your list might look like this:
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Garlic
  • Leeks
  • Swiss chard
  • Tomatoes
  • Lettuce
  • Celery
  • Cauliflower
So let's imagine that you love tomatoes, beans and peas, the others are vegetables you eat often and they are quite expensive. Let's take potatoes off the list, because although they're an excellent backyard crop, and it's much healthier to eat organic potatoes than store bought non-organic ones, potatoes take a lot of room and it's best to start off potatoes when you know a bit more about gardening. We'll put garlic, onions and leeks in the one category - they are all in the same family and can be planted together. We'll take celery off the list as well unless you have a lot of water to give them. Now our list looks like this:
  • Beans - favourite
  • Peas- favourite
  • Tomatoes- favourite
  • Onions - all
  • Garlic - same
  • Leeks - family
  • Swiss chard - easy
  • Lettuce- easy if you're not in the tropics
  • Cauliflower- easy
That, my friends, is a good novice vegetable gardener's list. They could be different in your garden but if you have three vegetables that you are really keen on, three from the same family, so they require similar care; and three easy crops, you'll be eating your own produce before too long with a minimum of fuss.


Our little French hen Heather (salmon Faverolles) with her best friend Martha (buff Orpington).

Before planting though, you have to work out how many of each plant you need. As well as being eaten fresh, your tomatoes, beans and peas can all be either blanched and frozen or made into delicious sauce or relish, so plant as many of them as you can manage. The onions and garlic will store well and when you harvest the leeks, just cut them at ground level and they'll keep growing. So plant plenty of garlic and onions and not so many of the leeks. Swiss chard can be frozen, as can cauliflower, as well as being eaten fresh, so plant plenty of them. And with the lettuces, if you eat two per week, plant six for three weeks, and plant your follow up seeds two weeks after planting. If you intend to grow lettuce all season, plant eight seeds every three weeks - throw out your two weakest seedlings.


And for the rest of it? Don't fret about what you can't grow. Appreciate your successes and focus on growing as many of your favourites as you can. Find a market where you can buy fresh inexpensive produce and buy what you can't grow. However, always keep in the back of your mind that as your gardening skills develop, you may be able to progress to the more difficult crops later. Creating micro-climates can sometimes protect a crop that normally might not grow in your area. Each year add a new batch of three, read your gardening book so you know what conditions they need and aim at producing good quality vegetables using organic methods.

Happy gardening everyone!

21 comments:

  1. This was well timed, Rhonda. My tomatoes are behind, apart from those in the greenhouse. My cabbage and broccoli get no further than the first leaves stage before the pigeons queuing on the fence and staring at it, with their heads cocked to one side, take their turns to gobble it up. Home made bird scarers and even a bevy of neighbours' cats don't deter these creatures. I was about to give up but I think better planning would have prevented some of my problems. If all I achieve this season is greenhouse tomatoes and a bird scarer that works, I will better off, and wiser, next year. Pigeon pie, anyone?

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  2. That's the spirit, Charis. You'll make a good gardener. Most things in the garden can be manipulated to get the results you want. You're already looking at what is happening out there, you know your problems, now you need to work out your solutions. And as you say, if all you achieve this year is tomatoes and a bird scarer that works, you'll be starting off next growing season in a better position.

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  3. Just brilliant Rhonda! A great way to figure out what to grow, I will definitely be putting this method to use.

    Charis, one bird scaring method that has worked well for me in keeping the birds off my strawberries, is hanging an old CD by some string on a stick, and putting it in the soil on an angle near to the plants. The flash as the sun catches it as it turns in the wind seems to do the trick. Hope it is one you haven't tried yet, and if so, good luck!

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  4. This is the first year we are planting a garden. Minnesota has a very short growing season and this year seems to be exceptionally dry. We are hoping for the best but we will have to wait and see. I will not give up and plant again next year in which I can use the compost that we started this year. I do think next year big fencing is going to have to go up.... I noticed bunnies in there today.

    Have a great day! :)

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  5. The Global Gardening zine has a planting list that might be useful here: http://www.global-garden.com.au/ggplantguide.htm
    There is a northern Hemisphere guide too.

    At this time of year in Sydney I'd suggest peas, lettuce and radishes and spring onions for novices.

    Potatoes are supposed to be good for breaking up heavy soil in new vegie beds, but this is at the expense of a good crop.

    Do you really find cauliflower easy? I get small heads that tend to bolt quickly on both cauliflower and broccoli.

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  6. Another Minnesotan here... yes it is a very dry Spring and my garden is a bit behind also. My husband has been putting up eight foot deer fencing around the whole garden which measures 40 foot by 50 foot. It looks a bit intimidating, but it will keep the critters out... hopefully.

    Our garden gets bigger every year and we learn new things every year. Last year we mulched our corn with weeds from the lake and ended up with 11 foot tall corn - most of which fell over because it was too tall! What we salvaged tasted wonderful, but it was a hard lesson in what happens when you give your corn too much Nitrogen. Our sunflowers also topped out at about 13 feet! We are wiser this year and will use a different mulch for the veggies. :)
    Happy gardening to all

    Jodi

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  7. I like your 3x3 method, and am so envious of how much land you have. My whole back yard is as big as one of your plots.
    My experience with coastal sand taught me not to try to improve it and plant in the ground. After years of trying I got big pots (those $100 size ones - not frugal! - but now you can buy those mini rainwater tank things, which would be even better - an easy height for older gardeners) and used some of my sand mixed with peat, cow manure and pea straw. Much better, the earth worms are thriving.
    Another advantage of containers, close to your back door is that when you come home at night and it's already dark, you can go out with a torch, as I did tonight, and cut some broccoli and spinach, and you don't have to step into a garden patch and trek dirt inside.
    I mostly just grow lettuce and tomatoes because I use them everday and they're so much better than shop-bought.
    Also, though not a vegetable, beginners should try strawberries - they're so easy and so productive, and in pots the pests don't get to them.

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  8. We are having a wet spring in Virginia so my garden is more like a jungle. I keep having to tie up my plants. This is my second year to plant a garden. I have herbs, tomatoes, a pepper, and am trying cucumbers and leeks for the first time. I ate my first cucumber this weekend, have a bunch more growing, two little peppers, and about 50 green tomatoes which just need a little more sun to ripen. :) I keep thinking about the idea of being a producer rather than a consumer because of your blog, Rhonda. Thanks for all of the encouragement.

    Joy (VA)

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  9. What a timely article, Rhonda! My partner and i had little success with our new garden over summer, mostly due to our inexperience and a string of extremely hot days. However we discussed this very topic on the weekend, as we were debating whether to have another go this season and try not to repeat our mistakes. You have renewed my enthusiasm and reminded me that starting small while we are learning and becoming more confident of our skills is a good idea. Thanks for a great post!
    Bronwen

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  10. This is a great posting. I could use it for next year.
    It seem some years we over do one thing or anther.
    It looks like it could be the celery this year.

    Coffee is on.

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  11. For those who have little room, but would like to grow potatoes: an elderly ringer told me once to try stacking old tires. He said to start with one or two tires and as the plant grows and needs more dirt to cover the crop, just add another tire and more dirt (keeping some of the plant above the dirt). When it's time to harvest, just push the stack over. I've not tried this myself, but he said it works really well.

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  12. My garden is doing weird things this year. But...I finally have baby tomatoes and my husband and I shared a large cucumber last night. It was the most wonderful raw cucumber God every put on this earth! (In case you're wondering Rhonda, I over-fertilized and a lot of stuff is not doing well, lesson well learned by me!) Thanks for inspiring us some more, Elaine from Texas

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  13. I was so excited yesterday. I've been following your blog for a while though don't comment much. However THIS I have to share. I put in two tomato plants this year. Yesterday I was out watering them and discovered some of the flowers had turned into green tomatoes. I was so excited. Fresh tomatoes from my own garden (well, two pots anyway). Truly a very big deal for me. Thanks for the ongoing inspiration you provide to us all.

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  14. Another excellent text from you!
    I love gardening and so do my partner from Australia. We are dreaming of a big garden one day, but for now were helping our family's and our grandmothers with their big gardens here in Sweden. When were in Australia we have Chris family's fruit farms to keep in a good shape. Its a pleasure. Keep up the good work Rhonda! Regards Ida Sweden

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  15. Thank you so much for your tips. we're just started gardening and we really love doing it. Especialy in this time of season. Longer days, not to much sun and not a high temperature. Hope to get more tips from you in the future!

    Greats from Holland

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  16. Your garden is beautifuL! And gotta love a little hen named Heather ;)
    I have a very modest little 6x6 veggie bed, but it is already giving us plenty for our dinner table.
    I love the idea of being more self-reliant and am trying to educate myself. A friend suggested your blog and I'm so glad! Its wonderful here :)

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  17. LOL! because I went a little wild in this my first year. That, along with the fact that I'm not living there yet to tend to it every day, and the RABBITS, has not given me all the results I wanted, but I am excited about what is growing, and know that next year will be even better.

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  18. I read this post to my husband...I just wanted you to know how much help your blog has given us with our garden.

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  19. Thank you for such a perfect post for a beginner gardener - it's given me a great way to work out what to start with!!

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  20. This post will be perfect to show my Mum, who has been unsuccessfully trying to grow her own vegetable garden for such a long time. This is a great post to know what to start with, and hopefully we can continue reading further posts for more great information. Thankyou again, your knowledge will definitely be useful in our household

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