Beginning a new hobby can be invigorating. In your first year of vegetable gardening, you may be tempted to cultivate a large area so you can grow everything you’ve always wanted. However, you can set yourself up for success by starting small. Here are three reasons:
. Time. It may be hard to schedule two hours every week to maintain a spacious area, but it’s easy to find a few minutes per day or a half-hour per week to tend your small plot. As the old saying goes, a small garden is a tidy garden.
. Labor. Your garden will flourish if you get in the habit of visiting it every couple of days, but new habits develop gradually. During that first year, it’s likely that you’ll occasionally fall behind on the weeding. In a large space, it would take an exhausting amount of work to catch up on two weeks’ worth of missed hoeing; you can rescue a small plot without breaking a sweat.
. Budget. Whether you’re buying pots and soil for a balcony garden or lumber and truckloads of compost to install raised beds in the yard, your new hobby will have initial expenses. One advantage of a modest beginning is that it’s easier on the pocketbook.
Gardeners love variety, and you might have a long list of plants you’d like to grow. To keep your project manageable in that all-important first year, you’ll need a creative way to limit its scope. Try one of these ideas:
. Choose a theme for your vegetable venture. For example, you could post a whimsical sign in your veggie patch that says “Salad Bar” and grow lettuce, spinach, radishes, and cherry tomatoes for delicious salads all summer long. If you decide to focus on squash, you might plant a zucchini for summer eating, a delicata or spaghetti squash for winter meals, and a classic pumpkin for festive decorations.
. Pick five. Your project won’t become more than a handful if you select only five plants to grow in the first year: large ones like artichokes, broccoli, and potatoes might be good options. Alternatively, get five pots or tubs and fill each with a different type of small vegetable, such as scallions, carrots, and bush beans. However you choose to interpret it, the number five is your muse.
. Set boundaries. The simplest strategy is to grow any plants that fit within a small plot. You could build a raised bed that’s 4 feet square, as described by Mel Bartholomew in his classic book Square Foot Gardening. If you want to arrange the plants in rows, you might prefer a larger area, such as 5 feet by 8 feet.
One last tip: Site the garden close to your home so you can view it from a window. If you see your plants every day, you’re more likely to step out for a minute to pull a few weeds or turn on the sprinkler. Your garden thrives when it receives your attention, so choose a spot where you’ll notice it often.
In your first year as a gardener, start small. By the end of the season, you’ll have found that keeping your plot lush and weed-free takes minimal time, and you’ll be ready to take on a larger space next year, if you so desire. However, the advantages of a modest garden are many, and you may find that keeping it small is the best way to achieve continual gardening success.