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4.23.2012 8:20 AM

Answers to 3 Common Beginner Gardening Questions

Struggling to figure out which vegetabgles offer the best chance of success? Read this. Then, check out these other tips for beginning gardeners.

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Photo: Maurice van der Velden / istock

By Dan Shapley

The Daily Green's senior editor Dan Shapley asked Roger Doiron, a 2009 Heart of Green Award winner, and founder of Kitchen Gardeners International 13 questions about gardening for beginners and gardening for politicians. Doiron and Kitchen Gardeners International were a big part of the movement that convinced Michelle Obama to plant that organic garden at the White House. It was Kitchen Gardeners International that launched the Facebook petition drive you probably remember joining. So he knows a thing or two about not only gardening, but also politics and inspiration.

Here's what he had to say:

What are the most important things for new gardeners to keep in mind? Help me take the audience through these pre-planting months, assuming that the people reading are new to gardening and just want to grow a few simple high-yield vegetables, like tomatoes, zucchini and a couple others you'd recommend.

New gardeners come to it with great energy and resolve. It's important to hang onto that because there'll be pests, pestilence, and other natural and human-made disasters waiting to rob you of your enthusiasm, not to mention all your fresh veggies. My advice is to keep it fun, keep it in perspective, and try to look at it as an opportunity for some fresh air and healthy recreation with family or friends rather than a chore.

Also see Leslie Land's 7 secrets of successful gardeners.

Which vegetables should the beginner gardener try to grow? Which are the most likely to provide successful harvests for a typical gardener, who's maybe got an hour or two to spend in the garden per week at most?

I always tell people to start with what they and their families like to eat. We started by growing a lot of sweet peas because they were one on my youngest son's (our most vegetably-challenged child) favorites. Peas, for him, turned out to be the garden equivalent of a gateway drug in that they ultimately led him to green beans and raw asparagus.

Other ways to think about what you might want to grow are in terms of what's easy to grow, what costs a lot to buy, or what types of varieties are hard to find in stores or farmers' markets. If you only have an hour a week to maintain a garden, I'd recommend planting salad greens. They don't require much space, mature quickly allowing you to make several harvests over the course the season, and - at $7-$10 a pound at a natural food store - home-grown greens can help you hold onto to some green of your own.

See the most valuable garden vegetables, according to Roger Doiron's calculations, or check out these 6 high-yield vegetables recommended by Leslie Land.

What are the most common mistakes a beginning gardener makes, and how can they be avoided? For instance, are there types of vegetables that people want to grow, but take more care than the typical beginner is capable of?

One danger beginning kitchen gardeners face is biting off more than they can chew in terms of how big of project they start in their first year. It's better to have a small and successful garden in year one and to scale it up in subsequent years than a large garden full of weeds, overgrown zucchinis, and regrets. It's also important to know that certain crops are easier and quicker to grow than others. For example, it's easier to grow a number of bite-sized cherry tomatoes than a one-pound heirloom tomato. One thing every beginning garden should do is befriend an expert gardener in their neighborhood or town.

See more tips for beginning gardeners.

13 Questions for Roger Doiron

roger doiron

What are the most important things for beginning gardeners to keep in mind?
Which vegetables should the beginner gardener grow?
What are the most common mistakes made by a beginning gardener?

What should a beginning gardener do in March?
What should a beginning gardener do in April
What should a beginning gardener do in May

What are the biggest successes of the White House garden Michelle Obama planted?
Have there any disappointments in the White House garden project?
What's next after the White House? The Vatican? Goldman Sachs?

Is the kitchen garden trend taking hold?
What about the grow-your-own food movement do you find most exciting?
What's Kitchen Gardener International's next big project?
What one Earth Day tip would you want everyone to do?

Photo of Roger Doiron at the 2009 Heart of Green Awards: Doug Goodman

Roger Doiron's 2009 Heart of Green Awards Acceptance Speech


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