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Gardening Knowhow From Shipton’s Big R
Jun 10, 2021

Gardening Knowhow From Shipton’s Big R

These days, more and more people are discovering the joys of playing in the dirt — or, as grown-ups prefer to call it, “gardening.”

We put together some tips not only to help you know your potatoes, but also so you can watch them grow. (Imagine the day you finally wave goodbye as they drive to Potato College. So. Proud.)

Good for the world

Whether it’s the cost-effectiveness, the environmental sustainability, or the sheer damn nutritiousness of it all, food gardening is becoming the frozen aisle of the future.

Renewed interest in gardening may be due in part to changing behaviors. Locavores are interested in having greater access to healthy and local foods, knowing where their food comes from, and supporting the environment and the local economy.

Good for your body and brain

Gardening doesn’t only boost the health of your geraniums. The simple act of pruning a hedge can also provide significant health benefits.

  • Growing a garden encourages people to engage in other behaviors and activities that promote wellness. For example, gardeners consume more fruits and vegetables than non-gardeners.
  • Home gardeners who choose to grow food organically reduce their exposure to pesticides.
  • People end up potentially eating produce with a higher nutrient content.
  • Gardening also reduces stress and improves your mental health.
  • A study showed that gardening also counted as moderate-intensity exercise and can help women live longer.

Rule umero uno: Relax and have fun. Gardening is often a process of trial and error, and we promise that it’s not as intimidating as it might seem!

Plants are like people, but better. Each type of plant has a unique “personality” and likes different things (water, sunlight, soil type, different hats, etc.). Some plants like it hot and sunny, while others like it cooler or moister (or both).

It’s fun, but meeting the needs of your seedlings can take a bit of experimentation (and internet research) to learn what works best for a particular type of plant. That being said, virtually all plants require a few basic ingredients:


Plants are pretty magical, as they harness energy from the sun and, through photosynthesis, convert that energy into their tissues.
(Try eating sunlight. We bet you can’t. Also we bet you look foolish trying to eat sunlight. Plants win this round, okay?)  Because plants need the sun to grow, many of them, including most fruits and veggies, need a good amount of direct sun during the day.

Have a shadier plot? Research which plants prefer shady conditions if you have less light available. (Also, stop hatching shady plots. You are not the supervillain you think.)


Plants also need water. Just as a fresh beverage keeps you from wilting in the sun, plants rely on there being a good amount of water available nearby to stay proud and healthy. In many places, it may be necessary to water your garden regularly in order to keep plants happy.  Consider your water sources. If they’re not close to your garden plot, it will be important to figure out a system for transporting water to your garden.  Water conundrum! Don’t forget, while you’re out tilling the soil this summer, you need water too.

Nutrients and soil

You need to eat as healthy as possible to stay at peak health, right? On a similar level, plants need nutrients, and lots of them.
In larger farming operations, different nutrients cycle through the soil as different plants grow. This is what they mean by “fertile” soil — nutrient-rich bounties of growth for new plants.

You might need to add nutrients manually if your garden isn’t already part of an annual crop rotation cycle (and if you’re reading an article about gardening basics, that’s not altogether likely — although if accomplished farmers are also tuned in, welcome!)

If you live in an urban environment, you might also want to test the soil for lead, especially if you have little ones that play in the garden and roll in the mud.  This is less important in terms of growing veg, although doesn’t help, according to research.

Growing season

The length of your growing season is another handy piece of information. It’s the average amount of time per year where the temperature stays above freezing during both day and night.  Knowing about the growing season is particularly useful for planting annual plants, including most garden vegetables and many flowers, which live for only a single year.

If you want to plant melons, for example, you’ll want to make sure that you can find a variety of melons that can grow fully within the length of your growing season.

Location, location, location

Gardens come in all shapes and sizes, so it’s just a matter of figuring out what will work for you and what’s within.

Community gardens provide another great alternative for people with limited space to get their hands dirty — or for those who’d rather not get their hands dirty alone.  If you’re growing plants outdoors, try to choose a spot that optimizes all those things that plants need — light, water, nutrients, and good soil.

You can choose to grow plants directly in the soil (which is an easy and affordable option), to build raised beds, or to grow plants in containers. Raised beds (which are basically large wooden boxes filled with soil) are often 6 to 24 inches off the ground.

They can be very productive, but it will cost extra money for the materials to build the beds. For smaller spaces or starter gardens, containers are a fantastic way to go because they provide so much flexibility. Watering is especially critical for containers because they dry out faster than garden beds.  Luckily, these gardens are often pretty small, so watering only takes a few minutes. If you’re feeling cooped up in a small apartment, here are some other ways to make your world feel more open.

The wonderful thing about gardening is that, with so many potential plants and vegetables to grow, you can paint your green patch pretty much any color you see fit.

If you’re to get the most from your garden, have answers to the following before kicking things off:

  • What types of plants are you most excited to grow? Many people want to see their salad sprout from the ground. Others may be more interested in giving their yards a makeover. Know your motive, and it’ll guide the rest.

  • If you’re food gardening, what do you most like to cook and eat? There’s no reason to grow a 5-pound zucchini if you don’t love the stuff. Grow things that are yummy to you. (And stop trying to grow Sour Patch Kids. That’s not how they work.)

  • How much space and light do you have available for gardening (whether at your place or at a community garden)? Know whether you’re gardening in the ground or in containers, how much light the area receives each day, and whether the area offers any shade. You can pretty much garden anywhere though.

  • How much time are you looking to spend gardening? Plants require care, so be realistic about how much time you’ll be willing to spend weeding, watering, and so on. It’s generally a good idea to start small and learn the ropes before taking on a huge commitment. If you love it, you can scale up from there.

Now you can stop digging for answers and start digging for real.

The ideal amount of water they need varies and depends on a few factors. Hotter and drier air will pull moisture from plants and soils more quickly, so more watering will be necessary as the temperatures climb.  The type of soil you have in your garden will also affect how much water is available to plants. A good rule of (green) thumb is that plants should guzzle up enough water to cover the ground with an inch of water every week.

It’s also better for plants to get all the water one or two times per week rather than a little bit each day. Think of it as intermittent fasting for plants.  An easy test to see if plants have enough water available is to stick a finger in the soil and make sure it feels moist 2-3 inches below the soil.

When watering, it’s best to use a watering can or sprinkler, as dumping a lot of water on the plants all at once can damage them. If your area gets a lot of rain, however, this won’t become that regular a chore. 

The larger the scale of your gardening, the more tools you’re likely to need. One of the major reasons people are interested in gardening is its impact on bringing down food costs. Adding unnecessary equipment costs to that may feel counterproductive.  If you’re in this camp, start with the minimum and add things as you go.

Container gardens are very easy to get going. For these, you’ll need the following:

For raised beds, or an in the ground garden it’s helpful to have:

You might need heftier equipment for a larger garden, such as a rototiller for preparing the soil, but this is by no means necessary if you’d prefer gardening to be more of a workout.

Finally, it’s time to put some plants in the ground.  When purchasing plants, You’ll have the option to purchase seeds or small, starter plants that you can transplant into your garden. Many vegetables and flowers are easy to grow from seed, making this the simpler (and more affordable) choice in many situations.

Buying plants, rather than seeds, is especially useful when:

  • a plant is difficult to grow from seed
  • the growing season is particularly short

To combine the best of both worlds, lots of seeds can be started inside in pots and later transplanted outdoors.  The directions for planting will depend on what’s being planted. The packaging of the seeds will usually tell you everything you need to know. And the internet is always there, no matter how at one with nature you feel.

You can plant seeds in rows or patterns that use space more effectively. Just put seeds in the soil (how deep depends on the plant) before covering them back up with dirt and water. If you’re using starter plants, dig a hole big enough to fit whatever you’re transplanting so that the roots have lots of growing room. Gently pack soil around the roots so that the plant stays the same level above the ground as it did in the container. After planting seeds or starters, be sure to give the soil a hearty watering.

Once your plants are flourishing, one of the biggest challenges is keeping weeds, pests, and diseases out of the garden.  To a certain extent, weeds are inevitable, and that’s okay — so long as they don’t start choking out your plants. The best course of action is to weed every week and keep them from getting out of control.

In general, it’s easier to pull weeds out of the ground when soils are wetter. Hoes are more effective for dry soil. Covering the soil with mulch or straw can help reduce weeds while keeping the moisture in. Garden pests (including bugs and meddlesome critters) and diseases challenge even the most experienced of gardeners. But you can fix many of these issues with a little planning. Many bugs and diseases that cause damage to plants are more likely to occur when plants are stressed, so a good supply of sun, water, and nutrients will reduce other gardening issues.

How many vegetables to plant in your garden to feed your family

All amounts are based on fresh eating, so adjust accordingly if you want to preserve any of your harvests or you have an extra long growing season.

Number of Plants to Grow
1 to 2 per person
5 per person
5 to 10 per person
Bean (bush)
5 to 10 per person
Bean (fava)
4 to 8 per person
Bean (pole)
3 to 5 per person
5 to 10 per person
Bok choy
1 to 3 per person
2 to 4 per person
Brussels sprout
1 to 2 per person
2 to 4 per person
10 to 20 per person
2 to 4 per person
2 to 6 per person
2 to 3 per person
2 to 3 per person
Corn (sweet)
6 to 12 per person
2 to 4 per person
3 to 6 per person
1 to 2 per person
10 to 15 per person
3 to 5 per person
4 to 8 per person
10 per person
5 per person
2 to 3 per person
Mustard green
5 to 10 per person
2 to 3 per person
Onion (bulb)
10 to 20 per person
Onion (scallion)
15 to 25 per person
Onion (shallot)
10 to 20 per person
5 to 10 per person
Pea (shelling)
15 to 30 per person
Pea (snap or snow)
3 to 5 per person
Pepper (sweet)
3 to 5 per person
Pepper (hot)
1 to 2 per person
5 to 10 per person
Radish (spring)
15 to 25 per person
Radish (winter)
5 to 10 per person
1 to 2 per person
5 to 10 per person
Squash (summer)
1 to 2 per person
Squash (winter)
1 to 2 per person
Sweet potato
5 per person
1 to 2 per person
Tomato (cherry)
1 per person
Tomato (slicing)
2 to 4 per person
5 to 10 per person