After a long winter, many of us are ready to get out into our yards tackle some small home improvement projects. One popular project that many American homeowners will be taking on this spring is putting in a vegetable garden. With many of us looking for ways to trim back our budgets and our waistlines, growing your own produce at home is gaining in popularity. Not only can you grow an array of healthy, fresh foods at a fraction of the prices you’d pay at a grocery store, but you also have the peace of mind of knowing exactly where your food has come from. In this article, we’ll cover the ten basic steps to take to cultivate a productive vegetable garden in your yard this year.1. Choose the best location. For a vegetable garden, you should seek out a spot in your yard that receives at least 6-8 hours of sunlight per day and that has well drained soil.2. Prepare the ground. After you’ve cut away the sod and tilled up the soil, an important step before planting is to amend the soil with some organic matter like peat moss or compost.3. Start your seeds early, if possible. Having the longest and largest harvest in the summer means you want to get your plants started as early as possible in the spring. If possible, use a small home greenhouse. Coldframes in your garden can also be quite useful for protecting young, delicate plants from late frosts.4. Mulch after planting. Once all your plants are in the garden and have started growing, be sure to spread a thick layer of mulch over everything. This will help the soil retain moisture and will keep weed growth at a minimum.5. Regular maintenance is important! Don’t neglect your garden for weeks at a time. Get out regularly to water, thin weeds, and trim or pinch back plants as necessary.6. Fertilize at the right time. Different vegetables will require fertilizing at different times. Consult a vegetable gardening book or authoritative website to find out when to apply fertilizers to each plant. Fertilizing is critical to getting the biggest and best harvest from your plants.7. Deal with pests right away. If you see damage to your plants caused by insects, rabbits, birds, or other garden pests, take action immediately. Install cages to keep rabbits and birds away and apply insecticides (either chemical or natural, as you prefer) to kill insects. Pests can damage a crop very quickly, so it’s important not to delay.8. Remove diseased plants immediately. If you notice that one of your tomatoes is beginning to blight, pull the entire plant from the garden right away. Removing a diseased plant from the garden quickly may save the rest of your crop.9. Harvest produce promptly and regularly. With most vegetable plants, you’ll get the largest and longest harvests if you keep picking produce very regularly. Bean plants, for example, will stop producing very rapidly if you leave them for a week or two without picking the pods.10. Don’t forget the year-end maintenance. At the end of the season, be sure to remove all plants; don’t let them die and overwinter in the garden. If possible, add some compost or other organic matter to the soil at the end of the season, as this will have the most benefit for next year’s crops if it sits over the winter. Last but not least, cover your garden beds with black landscape cloth. In the spring, when the snow melts, the black fabric will attract the sun’s heat, helping to warm your soil faster so you can plant even earlier next year.
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