Vegetable Gardening for Beginners — Expert Advice

Derek Fell gives vegetable gardening tips to beginning gardeners.

| January/February 1977

Rich Compost

Prepared correctly, using nutrient-bearing materials and compost can be a good soil conditioner and fertilizer.


Vegetable gardening for beginners can be downright confusing. And no wonder: Just look at the myriad books on the subject that have recently flooded the market. Some of these texts are so technical and long-winded that you have to be a Ph.D. botanist to understand them...while others are so general and superficial that they fail to teach anything of importance to anyone! And there seems to be little between the two extremes!

So this article will be a little different. It will contain no theory and no generalities. Instead, I'm just going to tell you how to garden. Mind you, I didn't go to school to learn gardening...rather, I asked a lot of good gardeners a lot of questions, so that — over the years — I've been able, gradually, to develop a "system" that gives me a good deal of satisfaction. It's that system I want to outline in this piece.

A Horror Story

My first garden was a disaster. I spent three days hand digging a 50-by-50-foot plot of ground...planted it with an assortment of vegetables (including melons, sweet corn, and the largest-fruited tomatoes I could find) that were too tempting to pass up...and waited.

The results were underwhelming. Most of my tomatoes contracted blossom-end rot and matured too late to be of any value. (Besides which, their outsides were hideously distorted, their insides almost hollow, the yield dismal, and the flavor terrible!)

Likewise, not an ear of corn was worth eating. Even the raccoons didn't venture into the patch to steal a bite, since the cobs were either too small to bother with, or else heavily infested with smut disease.

Not a single one of my cantaloupes grew bigger than a grapefruit...and they all tasted like cucumbers at that! Even such easy-to-grow fare as radishes, beets, carrots and lettuce were hopeless failures.

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