Ask the Expert

How to Garden: Secrets to Vegetable Success

By May 20, 2011February 24th, 201528 Comments

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Hi there! It’s me, Emily. I have someone I’d like to introduce you to. Her name is Trish and she blogs at The Kobialka Family. Trish’s world is pretty consumed with all kids, but one of her outlets is gardening. Gardening is one of those things that I always had on my “things I want to do this spring” list, but I never really get around to it. I think it can be a bit intimidating to a beginner, someone like me who has never really plunged her hands into the soil to harvest the earth’s bounty. Luckily, my very good friend is here to hold my hand and walk me step by step through the process. I love her idea of starting small, a great way of turning my desire into a reality.

I live where the tumbleweed roam in the low deserts of Arizona: brown, dusty, dry, and hot. Dust devils? Yeah, we had ‘em. Lizards, roadrunners, rattlesnakes? Yup, those too. Rivers? We had one great big one, but only after a monsoon storm. Unfortunately, it was salt water—you couldn’t drink it, but you could float in it like a boat! It didn’t rain often, but we knew what umbrellas were for—keeping off the sun. When the temperature dropped to 65 degrees, we all got excited to wear our coat and mittens. When Arizonan’s start a sentence with, “the grass is always greener…” it’s usually true.

I may not be able to keep a hydrangea alive for my life in this arid desert air, but I can grow everything it takes to make salsa straight from the garden, roast asparagus the day I cut it down, eat my grapes straight from the vine (if my chickens don’t get them first), or debate whether to eat the artichoke or wait for its majestic purple flower. Roses, irises, canna lilies, and koi ponds all thrive here.

Although I won’t be tapping my own maple trees, I have a lemon tree, which has taught me one simple truth: When you grow lemons, you get to share lemonade.

recipe for lemonade

My point here is this—it doesn’t matter how inhospitable your life or climate, there is room in it for a garden.

And now, without further ado, I give you a few things to get you started on your gardening journey. I’ll be back with more soon, but this ought to give even the most timid of you a place to start from. Don’t worry if it’s brown right now—remember, that means the sky is blue. And if your ground is soppy wet now, you can start some seeds indoors for later! Whatever you do, I promise it will lift your spirits and make you feel great to see something grow from your own efforts. Pinky promise.

how to grow a spring garden

How To Get Ready To Garden:

Prepare your water

If you have a drip system, run it and check it for leaks, clogged drippers and missing pieces, especially if you have a dog like mine that thinks that water tastes better chewed out of a drip line. If you don’t have a drip system or other irrigation, determine your means for watering and prepare it. Drip is an inexpensive and simple installation and I recommend it for anyone not living in a reliably rainy place that wants to still be able to go visit relatives (or Bermuda, as the case may be) for a week or two this summer.

Prepare your soil

Make sure your fall and winter crops that are finished producing are tilled under. You do not have to own a tiller. I don’t have one and have never really had access to one (that worked). However, I am thinking of renting one (less than $20 at Home Depot) to make my life a little easier. Container gardeners, wash out your pots and fill them with fresh garden material. This would also be a good time to decide the age old question: “To be organic or not to be organic”… that is the question of fertilizer. I don’t have any criticism one way or the other, I just want you in the garden. I will say this, though, as an organic gardener, organic is not the lazy-gardener’s method. There is more time and work involved. So if you end up with low production and survival because you were low on time, then you get a round of applause, but nothing to show for it. So, if Miracle-Gro and insecticides and weed killer will save you enough time to make gardening an option, then don’t feel guilty using them! I would rather you be a gardener than someone who wishes they had time to be a gardener.

Size Matters

Choose what you are going to grow this season based on how much time and space you have. You may only have time to grow a few potted plants, but even if you just grow a couple pots of tomatoes and strawberries, you are still a gardener. Whether you are planting a couple of herbs on your kitchen windowsill or ½ an acre of 40 different vegetables & flowers, the key is to not over extend your ability. You want your garden to be your joy. Overplanting causes feelings of failure and disappointment when we can’t keep up with it; I’m speaking from experience! To plant more in less space, google square-foot gardening.|

Choose your crops

Are you going to grow lots of cucumbers and pickle enough for a 3 years supply? Or are you gonna plant 3 or 4 of your favorite veggies to enjoy fresh but not “put away” (can) any for the future. Make a decision. For excellent ideas as to when and what varieties to plant in your area, look up your local County Extension office. They’ll be happy to help, and may even have example gardens to visit. Best of all—it’s free!

recipe for lemonade

All this talk about lemons has made me crave some Zingerade. I’ve left the recipe for you here.

About Francesca

Francesca has an extensive background in content marketing, public relations, and social outreach. She oversees all Operations at Sway Group, including our robust metrics capabilities. Prior to joining the online world, Francesca oversaw viticulture and oenology at various wineries in both California and Italy, and managed regulatory affairs and facility approvals at the biotech company, Genentech. Francesca has been featured on CBS Sacramento and Food Blogger Pro’s podcast. She has also hosted an AMA webinar and spoken at Social Media World.


  • The Root Beer Float cookies look super.

  • Gardening brings me such peace. Honestly. Nothing better than rushing home, bursting through the gate into the backyard and checking my litte plot…what new growth sprung up? How is everything fairing? I get so excited…this year I’m doing lots of squash and psyched about the recipes and possibilities. Thanks for a good read on how to get started!

  • Alia says:


    What a wonderful post! Very informative! Thank you so much both Emily and Trish! Loved it!

    P.S: Trish, u look like Angeline Jolie, maybe a li’l better! 🙂

  • Anne Galivan says:

    I do a lot of landscape gardening…I have a butterfly garden, a shade garden, azaleas, hydrangeas, etc. But we essentially live in the woods so, unfortunately, it’s impossible for me to have a vegetable garden. You need lots of sun to grow fruits and vegetables and we’d have to cut down quite a few more trees to make that happen…so it’s not going to happen! I subscribed to Organic Gardening for years with dreams of growing an organic vegetable garden but finally realized it’d take a LOT of cutting of LOTS of HUGE trees to get enough sunlight on our property to grow veggies. Oh well, the woods are beautiful, and there’s a great produce section at our grocery store (the best grocery store in the world – Publix!) I’ll just have to be content. But I do love working out-of-doors, except for the poison ivy. I got it bad a few weeks ago. Hopefully tomorrow when I’m out doing my spring pruning I can steer clear!

  • I have a container garden for the first time this rear. We are even doing hanging tomatoes! We have lots of stuff blooming so we shall see how it goes!

  • Angie says:

    Last year my mom helped me plant my first garden and although it was a lot of work I LOVED it. This year I planted it all by myself and every day I check on it and feel just a little bit proud of what I have done. 🙂 My mom thinks it’s just great that all of her kids have gardens…we grew up with them and couldn’t have it any other way! Now it’s my turn to pass this tradition on to my daughter. 🙂

  • Kat Eden says:

    I LONG for the day when I can grow my own organic veg … having said that, I suppose I COULD start one despite having no real garden … perhaps I need to try a boxed veggie garden in my courtyard 🙂 great inspiration, thank you!

  • I’m very overwhelmed by gardening, but you’re tips are really helpful. Thanks! 🙂

  • Lady Jennie says:


    Our climate here has been as dry as Arizona. Or worse. Luckily we have a well so what we don’t spend in water, we spend in electricity to run the pump. But your garden is just so neat and orderly and pretty!

  • Lisa says:

    Love these pictures! Especially the tasty looking lemonade. I guess everything is really relative, because here in the Boston area, when the temperature hits 65 degrees, no more coats and mittens. It’s time for shorts! ; )

  • My husband has an amazing green thumb. We have over a dozen LARGE raised beds in our back yard and he grows just about everything. It used to be a team effort, but now that we have 3 kids, he does most of the work and I help when I’m not wrangling the kiddos. We’ve already been enjoying asparagus and peas are soon to come!

  • Heidi says:

    Your vegetable garden’s looking so good. I wish I had a green thumb and time to grow mine!

  • Deidre says:

    What a lovely post! yay for gardening.

    Today, my partner and I are going to pick our FIRST lemon from our tree. So excited.

  • Tammy says:

    Oh how I would love a lemon tree in our yard…yum!

  • PatriciaD says:

    I wish my veggie garden were ever worth taking photos of…but, sigh, it’s not. Now that I’ in Alaska the only way to have a decent garden (unless you just want potatoes, cabbage and broccoli – maybe strawberries) is to have a greenhouse. Oh, well!!

  • LBDDiaries says:

    It is so sad – we just moved and had to leave the most incredible dirt and large garden plot in our huge old home. It was half vegetables and half flowers – *sigh* – I miss it.

  • I wish I liked to garden because I definitely love to eat fresh veggies!!! Luckily my husband likes to garden:-) Thanks for sharing all this wonderful info!!

  • Grams says:

    In South Texas our gardens were planted in February. This year we’re only growing herbs, tomatoes and peppers; just what fits in the flower beds and pots. Parsley is doing great this year, but most of my basil died after a really, really hard rain a couple of weeks ago. Basil is my favorite herb to grow. If I can find some starter plants today, I’m going to replant it and try again.

  • Alexandra says:

    Ahh, I’m nostalgic! My garden is abandon and it used to be lovely. Now that is vacation season I should bring it back to life.

  • Lamb says:

    Great tips! My husband does all the gardening (I just eat the veggies!) so I’ll forward this to him 🙂

  • Luci says:

    Wow, these are beautiful pictures! I wish I liked to garden. But, alas, I dislike dirt under my nails! I LOVE fresh veggies and fruit though!! Best of luck to all of you starting one this year 🙂

  • I’m a little behind schedule, but I’m hoping to plant some tomatoes this weekend. I’m envious of Trish’s lemon tree!

  • I planted my first garden this year; cukes, tomatoes, onions & peppers. I’m hoping to have enough cukes to pickle some. I’m so excited! They are growing nicely so far.

  • Leah says:

    Gorgeous photos! You inspire me to garden (or at least get my husband gardening again).

  • Kelly says:

    Great tips! I wish I had the patience to develop a green thumb! 🙂

  • I love the pictures of your garden. There’s just always something so magical about a garden to me. We’re tilling up our soil now since the snow if finally gone, so I’m hoping our garden turns out as well as yours!

  • Vinobaby says:

    Wow–absolutely beautiful veggie garden. I am insanely jealous. I have great luck with flowers and roses but I am constantly struggling to get my veggie garden in gear. I have some tomatoes almost ready but all of my squash & cukes look pitiful. {sigh} Thanks for inspiring me and showing it CAN be done.


  • Kelly Deneen says:

    I LOVE that we finally put in a couple of raised bed gardens over the last couple of years (one per year). However, I have determined I will be going more low-maintenance this year. I over-did it last year. 🙂

    Fun post!