Help Me Grow a Garden

gardenI want to grow a garden.

I have never grown anything edible in my life.

I need your help.

Here’s the deal.  I am looking for volunteers to help me grow some vegetables and maybe some fruit.  I don’t have great land next to my house, and I’m not sure it gets enough sun.  The soil might be complete crap.  But I want to grow something.  Anything.  I’ve got 4 workers who happen to be my children, and they can help with the weeding and watering duties.

I need your help because I’m a complete ignoramus when it comes to growing things.  I don’t know how to fertilize or till or plant.  I don’t know what should be started as seeds in the house versus in the ground.  I don’t know what items require lots of sun and what can tolerate shade.  I’m clueless about watering.  And I won’t even begin to pretend that I have any idea about organic methods.  Be serious, people.

We can come up with a weekend day that we can commit to the Varmint Garden.  So, anyone willing to help me out???


24 Responses to Help Me Grow a Garden

  1. While this doesn’t help you grow a full garden you may also want to consider growing a few cooking herbs that you use frequently inside your house or on a deck when the weather gets nice again (like nice for the long haul). You could start with seeds, or buy a few small herb plants and put them in a larger planter and just nurture them to longevity. They’ll survive indoors in winter in a sunny spot so they’re great to keep around and add to your meals for a fresh kick of seasoning! (you can freeze them in canning jars as well so you dont miss out on nice herbs before they spoil…) Hope your garden comes out great!!

  2. Varmint – me an Mrs. PolitiPorn grow a small garden every year. I could lend a hand if you need or give you some “sage” advice if needed.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I had a huge garden for the eight or so years I lived in Five Points. I can recommend a great book for new gardeners called the Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosh. I remember mine being dirt covered and I found it very good for walking me through things…..until someone borrowed it and never gave it back.

    I remember the best thing being sweet corn, which never saw a pot….it was so sweet, I would just eat it raw straight from the garden.

    I will warn you that without plenty of sun, there is not much you can grow. I have tried it since moving over here and finally gave up. There are not that many veggies that grow well in shade. I remember when I first moved over here, I planted tomatoes in pots on rollers and tried to roll them around to follow the sun. They just never produced like my old plants (which produced like MAD) and it just wasn’t worth it.

    So, I say that if you can’t find a good patch in your yard that has sun at least most of the day, you will be in for a disappointment.

  4. VaNC says:

    Okay I posted a response. Where did it go?

  5. VaNC says:

    Why am I anonymous???? I need more coffee..

  6. Varmint says:

    I have two areas where I can realistically plant. One is out in front of our house and the other is along our driveway. Go to this link for Google Maps, and then click on Street View in the box.

    Now click on the arrow pointing to the left to get a good view of the two potential growing areas.

    This photo was taken in the early evening, when shadows are long, so it’s not indicative of the sun, but the area closest to the road is prime area for a small garden and the area along the driveway to the left would work well, too. They both receive a lot of sun during most of the day.

  7. Joe says:

    Tomatoes. However you can, wherever you get the most sun. You will not regret it.

  8. akaellen says:

    I’d be up for helping esp. if I get to share in the bounty. I love growing things but only have a townhouse so very limited space. I had a garden for a few years with a family I babysat for – our most glorious attempt was completely wiped out one summer by blight. I am not sure I can attribute much “scientific” expertise but I am pretty good at growing things.

  9. Jeff says:

    For starters, buy a rosemary plant. It seems to do well no matter what the conditions. Just dig a hole somewhere and drop it in. Nobody should ever have to buy rosemary in a store. As for veggies, buy some cuke, zuke, and yellow squash plants. Those seem to do well with not a lot of effort. Rent a tiller (rear tine tillers are easier to control, but not necessary). Till your intended patch. Add a few bags of manure, and till again. Smooth it out a bit, and you’re ready to put your plants in the ground. Water a bit and you’re in business.

  10. Jeff says:

    Also…tomatoes and peppers are great to do, but need more sunlight and fertilizer. Buy plants, and when you put them in the ground, put a steak next to each plant. As they grow, use pre-wrap to tie them to the stakes. Peppers don’t necessarily need support, but successful bell pepper plants sometimes do.

  11. zy1125 says:

    I am putting in my first garden this year, too! I looked immediately to the Wake County Extension office – – call the master gardener, they are there to help.

    Three really great links that have given me the confidence to start this project:

    And a handy guide on what likes to be planted when:

  12. seahawg says:

    It’s been so long since I planted a garden, I’d probably mess you up. If you are tilling up part of your yard, be sure to kill off the grass good (Roundup), before tilling. Plan on amending your soil (our red clay barely grows grass). Use composted organic/vegetable matter, the more the merrier, work it into the existing soil as deep as you can. Formula: 1/3 existing soil, 1/3 composted organic stuff, 1/3 wood shaving/sawdust. If your tiller goes 6-in deep, put down 2-inches of composted organic stuff + 2-in of wood shavings on top of that, or just 4-in of comp organic stuff, and have at it. Till one direction (up/down) then the other (left/right).

    I’m guessing you’re going to need about 1 ton of dolomitic limestone per acre. Till it in along with your fertilizer. If you go with a 10-10-10 you’ll need somewhere between 800 lb/Acre to 1,000 lb per acre. You can side dress your rows later with calcium nitrate. There are 43,560 square feet per acre. Do the math for your plot. Better yet get a soil sample kit from the County Extension and have them test it.

    Another option where good sunny land is at a premium, is raised beds. Good size is 4x10x0.5ft. Google crop rotation and square foot gardening. You will have more advice than you can shake a stick at. You can even have fun with it and plant your bell peppers next to your jalapenoes, and learn about cross pollenation. Makes for some fun bell peppers to pawn off on friends!

  13. seahawg says:

    Whoops, make that side dress with ammonium nitrate.

  14. phoebe says:

    looks like by the driveway is going to be your best bet…and don’t over think it: you’d be amazed what can work with plenty of sun and judicious watering. do you compost? if not, start immediately… it’s a great way to reduce your waste and feed your plants. If you want some confidence builders I’d say start with sun golds: they don’t require too much staking and they produce FOREVER. kirby cucumbers and some varieties of musk melon also do very well with not much attention, but they require space. if you want to do mint, keep it in a pot as it is invasive…same goes with tomatillos which seem to come up year after year regardless of what you do to them.

  15. Fuzzy says:

    There just isn’t enough room here.

    I’ve been urban gardening since I left the farm in Granville county and moved to Boston, and continued when I returned to this area.

    This year we are expanding our raised bed gardening in our yard by adding 14 1’x2’x12′ boxes. You are getting a late start for this year, but there is still plenty you can do, particularly if you want to start an herb garden plus some basics like a tomato or two.

    Feel free to email me privately for more information than you’ll probably care to start with.


  16. Go Erin Go says:

    Hey Varmint –

    I completely agree with freelanceallison. If you do nothing else, do an herb garden, either as a container garden or in the soil. It is so nice to have fresh-cut herbs. Rosemary is next to impossible to kill, and basil grows like a weed. Chives, cilantro, parsley all do well.

    I worked at a plant nursery in high school and helped my folks with gardening growing up. I never had much luck with container gardens in Chicago aside from the herbs, so refresh my memory/learn with you. Definitely get some composted manuer to mix in with whats there to really get a nice soil going, especially if you have the lovely red clay in your yard. Rent a roto-tiller, your back (and kids) will thank you.

    Dont’ get too excited by this weather – wait until Mother’s Day to plant delicates like tomatoes. There’s at least one more frost coming which will zap the more delicate plants. Mother’s Day was the rule we told customers at the nursery I worked at in Fairfax, VA.

    Let me know when, and I’d be more than happy to come over and help, my balance hasn’t gotten thrown off yet by this baby belly. 🙂

  17. mkwewer says:


    Check this out.
    They have some great tips. Also, have you thought about a raised garden? You don’t have to till or add compost or test the soil. That’s what I am doing (me and the hubby). We are using landscaping borders to section off part of the yard, filling it with soil about 12 inches deep and there you go – insta-garden. Keep it small to start. You will produce WAY more than you think even for a family. Also, a raised bed will require more water so you may want to get a rain barrel….We live in Holly Springs and once you get going, I would be happy to provide you with some of our worm compost to fertilize the garden….let me know!

  18. Varmint says:

    Wow, volunteers, and one of them is pregnant to boot!

    This is all a bit overwhelming, but what I first need to do is monitor how much sunlight each spot gets. I really don’t mind growing a garden right along the road, despite what my neighbors might think. We’ve never really cared about the looks of our yard (hell, we don’t even own a lawn mower).

    I then need to think about how “tillable” the ground is. This ground is probably rock hard, and we’ll need to do a lot to get it into shape. I’m not sure I want to build up a raised bed.

    Thanks for the info on the cheap compost. That could be very helpful.

  19. VaNC says:

    I recommend that you till and do raised beds. At least that is what I did. It was rock hard, so I tilled to loosen the soil and then built up the soft soil and wrapped most of it in plastic beds like, you see in many fields down east (this is not good for al things, but great for most). This would keep weeds at a minimum (I was lawyering full time then and had no free labor/kids. Although the neighbors did accuse me of always seeming to have plenty of available men to help work the tiller, etc. (Ahh, those were the days). So anyway, I would spend an entire day or two on the front end of the summer, but it saved me TONS of time in maintenance the rest of the summer. That and I put mulch in between the rows and it looked so nice 🙂 I could show you pictures. Anyway, all this is to say what others have said, bed preparation is everything. And yes, for your first year, go for those big producers, tomatoes, including cherry, squash, cukes, peppers, etc. etc. Work up to the exotic and those requiring lots of space, like corn.
    You are making me miss my garden.

  20. blewgo says:

    One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to look at the amount of sun available at a particular site during winter months. A place that basks in the sun in the winter could be covered by complete shade in the summer. My other advice is to start small. If your first crop is great, then you know you have the correct site.

    As an aside, with the economy in it’s current condition it would be nice for real estate developers to set aside some of their undeveloped properties for community gardens.

  21. mb says:

    Here’s an article that was in today’s N&O.

  22. andrea says:


    I’d be happy to help. Matt just planted all our little seeds yesterday in small pots and placed them before the big picture window. We get ours started indoors and wait until after the last freeze date (April 15 for us in zone 7) and then transplant the healthy ones outside.

    I got some great seeds that I’d be happy to share.

  23. Hey there, Mr. D.!
    What a delicious read!!! And feast for the eyes too—claypot catfish, wish I had some right now. But all I have to do is go to the store. You should be fine with the clay pot on the stove since you are keeping the heat low/slow/steady; the traditional Vietnamese kitchen would be using on a charcoal stove and they don’t get ferociously hot unless you wear yourself out with a big ol hand-held fan.
    Regarding a garden, good for you! I’m a novice, for many years in fact of novicedom, but it is such a pleasure and gives you back every little thing you put in to it. We too lack sun, so had a raised-bed-box built in our sunnyside yard area, about 3 feet wide and 12 feet long, and 2 or 3 timbers high. Fill with good dirt (bought and delivered) and planted mostly with starter plants from the farmer’s market. i always figure those fine folks know what grows around here and are full of wise advice and I feel like a daughter of Eden the very next day after spring planting. Is this cheating? Dunno, but I never knew i could grow the likes of okra, yellow squash, zucchini, lettuce, and little tomatoes, nothing gorgeous, but I do it for the all-around delight, not for the Best Tomato of my Whole Whole Lifetime. For those I go to the pros at the aforementioned Farmer’s Markets and roadside stands. Also sunflowers, and beans which wind around and go crazy. Easy stuff, things that don’t need a lot of tending and fertilizer, chasing the weeds on occasion is about all I’m good for so I like forgiving foods.
    But my great triumph is growing lemongrass. It is SO EASY, and quite beautiful to behold, you don’t even need to cook with it, you can give it away and just enjoy it. I root it in spring (i.e. right now and onward!), and by summer you will have glorious patches. It is very easy, likes some sun but not too picky.
    Congratulations on your new eating routines, inspiring and impressive–Go, cat, go!

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