Gardener's Guide to Getting Started

T.Kates

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Visit Goose Cove Gardens online.

Find information about soil testing at UMass Extension Online.

Check out our illustrated guide to the invasives hiding in your yard.

Find tips for making your garden carbon neutral.

Ready to get started growing your own vegetables? We asked Barbara Dombrowski from Goose Cove Gardens in Gloucester for her top tips for first-time growers:

  1. Be realistic. Gardens take time, love, and care. For every hour you have to garden, says Dombrowski, you have can have 200 square feet of garden space. Think about how much time you have, and plan accordingly.

  2. Do a soil test. Now that you’ve determined the size of your garden, you need to find out how healthy your soil is. Visit the UMass Extension Service website to find information about how to take and submit a soil sample for testing and analysis. After about two weeks, “you’ll receive comprehensive results that tell you what your soil contains and what it needs,” says Dombrowski. If your soil is acidic, you’ll need a different fertilizer mix than if it’s more base, for example. It’s well worth the $13 cost of the test to ensure that you’re nurturing your soil with what it needs.

  3. Talk to your family about what they want to grow. “It’s easy to get excited by the pictures in the seed catalog,” says Dombrowski. But you don’t want to end up with too much cauliflower that your kids won’t eat. “Ask what everyone’s favorite vegetables are that you could try that year,” she says. Dombrowski also recommends diversifying a little: “Don’t get carried away with tomato plants. Four plants are perfectly sufficient for most families.” Once you and your family have agreed on what to grow, get some graph paper and make a plan. This will be your guide, so that you don’t get overwhelmed when you actually visit a garden center like Goose Cove.

  4. Don’t forget about the winter. It’s wonderful to have fresh vegetables to eat during the summer and fall, but you’ll want fresh vegetables this winter, too! Choose vegetables that freeze well, like green beans and broccoli. “It’s January, and we’re still dipping into our green beans from last summer,” Dombrowski says.

  5. Ask your local grower. Growing conditions differ even across Massachusetts, so your local grower is your best source of advice for what’s right for where you live. Goose Cove, for example, offers workshops for first-time and experienced gardeners throughout the spring and summer. And The Trustees’ Long Hill Horticultural Center offers lectures and workshops year-round to help you make your garden grow.