There is so much info/advice/help these days on how to be a better gardener that I’m concerned that a newbie could be turned off by the seeming complexity or hard work of the challenge. This note is to yell at you NO! NO! DON”T QUIT BEFORE YOU EVEN GET STARTED! Whatever it is you try, you’ll get something to eat out of it and the advice you are bound to get will be more understandable and applicable and you’ll be more ready to go ahead seriously and make a real try at it.
Pick some place to start a garden, wherever it is, even now in the fall. Sun beats shade. Level beats hillside. Good dirt beats sand. Right time beats being too early or late. But look at what you have available and pick what seems best to you, whatever and whenever, and get SOMETHING started, now. The only thing you could have to regret is another episode of putting it off! So go point your finger at the ground and say ‘Right there!’.
Now your second choice, to work with what’s there or bring something in, like a shovelful of better dirt from over there. Say you choose to stay with what’s there. So first you clear away, pull up, and cut down any tall weeds or brush over an area of at least two feet in diameter, so all you have left there is grass or the equivalent. Then put your trowel/shovel to work and turn over an spot about 8-10 inches in diameter, 4-6 inches deep, so your patch is now bare dirt, with maybe a few roots showing from what was there before, but now is buried.
Now you can plant a seed, bringing us to your third choice. Here some help could pay off big if it gets you a plant better suited to your choice of place and time to plant. Lettuce for example would do much better than squash for fall planting. But not enough space here to give you more possibilities. Ask a gardener friend for suggestions, then plant the seed/plant and water a little bit.
You’ve done it! You’ve started a garden. Now you can watch and wait, or you could invest a little bit more; your fourth choice.
If you chose to go ahead, you could repeat this process several times. And then you could engage in battle with whatever will be trying to come up between your plantings, like turning over the ground, or covering it over with newspapers or cardboard or thin rocks or slate. And then the next choice: Stop here or go on?
Above is one way to get started. Another would be, instead of digging, to put down newspaper, cover it with compost, and then plant your seed in the compost. An even better one would be to start getting your garden in much better shape for the next growing season, a great fall activity. Start saving newspapers for a lasagna garden in a place you haven’t thought of yet. Start a compost pile. The leaves you could collect this fall are good for mulch and for the compost pile. All are great for sharing with another new gardener, one who could help you in return. What really matters is that you PICK SOME WAY AND GO. And start NOW. Best of luck to you!
Don is a native of Schenectady (Mont Pleasant HS, '42) and graduated from Union in '48 (after three years in the Army). He then received a PhD in Physics from Princeton in '51. He joined the GE Research Lab in '52 and retired in '85. He built a passive solar house in '80 and then he and his wife Nancy built their present active solar house in '07 and '08. (They're really enjoying it!) They're both very active gardeners with Don having a special interest in ginseng and woodland plants.