How to create a vegetable garden

MANISTEE COUNTY — With inflation making going to the grocery store a costly endeavor, now might be the time to start your own little vegetable garden.

To help those interested in developing a green thumb, the News Advocate reached out to Lorraine and Mark Schwendner, who have been members of the Spirit of the Woods Garden Club for 13 years, for advice on how to get started with the cultivation of own products can begin.

MANISTEE NEWS ADVOCATE: Is there any special equipment that someone needs to start their own vegetable garden?

LORRAINE: The first thing you would probably need would be a tiller – something to turn over the soil.

MNA: Does it make a difference if you plant vegetables in the ground or use raised beds?

LORRAINE: Because we’re seniors and can’t bend down very well, raised beds have really been a boon to us. If they’re about 2 feet tall, you won’t need to bend down or get on your knees as much. But then you want to make sure you can reach the middle of the bed from the sides, so the widest you want is about 4 feet wide.

MNA: When it comes to choosing a spot for your garden, do you just make sure it gets plenty of sun, or are there other things to consider?

LORRAINE: You definitely want as much sun on it as possible – put it away from your trees. And then you have to have a water source. You want to have a spot where you can water them fairly easily as they absorb a lot of water. Especially the raised beds – if they dry out you will lose your plants so you need to make sure they get water.

MNA: Are there any specific vegetables that you would recommend for a beginner?

LORRAINE: Zucchini is always a good choice to start with, especially since they tend to produce so much. It makes you really excited to grow vegetables. Potatoes are good. Again, very prolific producers, and fun to dig up in the fall. Green beans are always a staple. They give you loads of produce and you can climb these either as a bush or on a trellis or string.

MNA: When is the best time to plant your vegetables?

MARK: You never know here – I saw a severe freeze the first week of June. Usually when June rolls around I just take my chances and start planting stuff.

Some things won’t actually germinate if the soil isn’t warm enough – like corn or even beans. It’s kind of a waste of time. You can put it in the ground and it just rots there. But you can always start indoors where it’s nice and warm and then you know it will sprout. Then you put them in the garden after they have sprouted.

LORRAINE: There are some vegetables that really like cooler weather, like lettuce. You can plant some lettuce and spinach in your border in late spring, and when they finish growing—because they stop after a while if it gets too warm—you can replace them with a plant that needs warmer weather, such as maybe a green peppers or a tomato.

MNA: What can you do to protect your yard from animals, bugs, and other pests?

LORRAINE: Of course, in Michigan, your biggest nuisance will be the deer. The only thing we find that keeps the deer out is an electric fence or 6 foot fence. You really don’t want to jump. They will do it when they get really hungry or you have something in there that they really want, but they don’t like to jump, so a 6ft fence will usually keep them out.

You really just have to be careful with bugs – especially with potatoes. You have to remove the bugs from the plants when you see them there. If you don’t, you’ll get maggots, and the maggots will come down there and eat the potatoes.

MARK: You can also buy praying mantis eggs online. If you plant them in your garden, praying mantises will prey on all kinds of bugs. And I would put a thrush house near your yard because thrushes are very voracious insectivores. Even if you don’t have bluebirds in the house, chances are you’ll get tree swallows or wrens, and both are large insectivores.

LORRAINE: We avoid chemicals whenever possible. Chemicals also harm the birds and the good bugs.

MNA: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

LORRAINE: It’s always fun to grow a vegetable and then eat it after you’ve made it yourself. If you have kids it’s a great learning experience. You can see that you don’t just go to the grocery store to buy your veggies; You can grow them right in your own garden.

MARK: Someone planting a garden where grass is now growing can lay newspapers with rocks to hold them down to kill the grass, but I’ve been pretty lucky to just rent a rototiller to just do the grass work. The roots are not that deep and I have never let the grass grow in the garden plot that I have laid out that way.

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