Grow Your Own Food
Starting a garden is not as hard as you think

February 19, 2009

Linda Lees
Victoria County Master Gardener Intern

edited by
Charla Borchers Leon
Victoria County Master Gardener
Photo Credit: Linda Lees/Victoria County Master Gardener Intern
As a first-time gardener, you may want to start with a small area and focus on one or two plants or vegetables. These broccoli plants are growing near another small bed of oregano in a back yard garden.
If you've looked over your neighbors' fence with envy at their salad patches and kitchen gardens, you're halfway to becoming part of that great American endeavor, vegetable gardening. But, the hesitant gardener will ask, "Can I do it?"

The answer almost always is yes. Proof of this was my father's uncle, Clyde McKenzie, whose passion was a large garden behind his Caddo Parish home. Nothing unusual you would think, but Uncle Clyde was a very unique gardener. He was blind, and his garden was designed to suit his needs. Just so, today's gardeners enjoy vegetable plots that fit their lifestyles and schedules.

In the beginning, there is AgriLife

Think of your first step as a learning experience. There is a wealth of gardening books and magazines in stores and libraries, not to mention online. Look for information pertaining to South Texas and the Gulf Coast region. Texans are fortunate to have an extensive Texas AgriLife Extension Service web site There you will find the "Texas Home Gardening Guide," a gold mine of material. Just click on "Extension Service for Public" and click again on "Home Vegetable, Fruit and Nut Production." Then go to the guide. Topics include selecting a garden location, crop selections, planting schedules, soil preparation, fertilizing, watering, mulching and pest control. You will return to this material time and again.

For those of you who don't have a computer at home, the Victoria Public Library, 302 N. Main St., has the equipment and the staff to assist you in your quest. The Victoria County Texas AgriLife Extension Office, 442 Foster Field Drive (near the Victoria airport), also can provide you with reference publications. If you have any questions feel free to telephone 361-575-4581.

Making a plan, making decisions

Draw Up a Plan
- Once fortified with facts, draw up a plan following instructions in the Texas AgriLife Extension or similar gardening guide. The area should receive full or nearly full sunlight, be well drained, apart from trees and shrubs and near a water outlet.

Decide on Size
- Next, decide on size. As a beginner you may seriously want to consider a small project, restricted to growing one or two types of vegetables, a first phase of that larger garden to come. This will offer you the opportunity to get acquainted with the principles of gardening you've read about. If, for example, you've selected tomatoes and bell peppers, then you will focus on successfully growing those two plants.

Type of Beds
- Another consideration should be beds. Is the garden location suited for flat beds, or does poor drainage and soil make raised beds desirable? What about pathways and fencing? Take a gander of the gardens of friends and family, and determine how you want your garden to look. Do you want a formal look, or a more informal functional appearance? A great place to go to for inspiration is the Victoria County Master Gardener Victoria Educational Gardens (VEG) at Victoria Regional Airport, 333 Bachelor Dr. VEG has an array of framing for raised beds and trellises, some designed with easy wheelchair access in mind.

Putting the garden to bed

For those who cannot physically install the garden, you may want to hire a contractor or draft family and friends. Larger gardens may require renting a tiller, while smaller ones need only a shovel to turn up the ground and maybe a hoe for later chopping. If you select raised beds, they should have a depth of 8 to 12 inches. They may be framed with stones, railroad ties, landscape timbers, concrete blocks and even 2-inch by 8-inch or 2-inch by 12-inch lumber.

Apply herbicide
- Prior to putting in beds, kill and remove all grass and weeds either by hand or machine removal or with approved herbicides. Remember to follow all label instructions. Then till the soil.

Add Organic Matter or Compost
- Organic matter, or compost, should be added. Since you likely won't have a compost pile ready and waiting, this material may be purchased through a garden center or nursery. The cheapest brands usually are not the best, so don't be shy about asking questions, or reading information on the plastic bags.

In adding the compost, a rule of thumb would be to spread a 2 to 4-inch layer over the garden surface. Till it in, or turn it over to a 6 to 10-inch depth.

Avoid overcrowding
- When planting seed, take care to follow the instructions on the seed packet and the tips provided in the planting guide. Many home gardeners also purchase plants ready to transplant into the garden. Avoid plants that look diseased or spindly. And, avoid overcrowding your garden. Plants have to have space for a healthy environment, and you need room to work.

Feed and Water as Required
- Lastly, treat your garden like a pet. Feed and water as required and take immediate action in the event of health problems.

Container and flower bed gardening

If you are an apartment dweller or have other space restrictions, then container gardening may be for you. According to several local nurseries, container gardening continues to grow in popularity. People use five-gallon plastic pails, bushel baskets, terra cotta pots and even fancy ceramics, placing them on walks, patios and flower beds. The Texas AgriLife Extension web site also includes information on this type of vegetable gardening.

You may also stick vegetables in flower beds. Gardeners have discovered how well vegetable plants enhance flower and foliage groupings. South Texans long ago discovered that pepper plants, cabbages and lettuces can be particularly attractive.

One good thing leads to another

No matter what route you take growing your own food, you will discover the learning process never ends, and you just may accept a second challenge. Victoria Master Gardener Association will begin its 2009 Fall Training Class on Thursday afternoons in August. Keep an eye out for more details later this year, and who knows, next year you may find yourself expanding your vegetable kingdom.
Photo Credit: Linda Lees/Victoria County Master Gardener Intern
Prepared raised beds 8-12 inches deep help alleviate poor soil and drainage problems in flat soil. This simple, raised bed garden with pathways is an informal and functional garden that adequately produces vegetables.

Presented by Victoria County Master Gardener Association

Pattie Dodson Health Center,
2805 N. Navarro St., Victoria

Monday, February 23
from noon to 1 p.m.

"Types of Vegetables
for Spring Gardening"

by Gerald Bludau

Free to the Public

Bring your lunch and drink
Photo Credit: Linda Lees/Victoria County Master Gardener Intern
Preparing small raised beds includes chopping up and tilling the soil with a shovel or hoe and outlining the beds with rocks, small concrete blocks, bricks or landscape timber.

Building raised beds

Planning the Garden

Soil Preparation



Seeds and transplants


Garden problem guide

Container gardening
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or, or comment on this column at