The 4 Essentials To Start & Maintain A Vegetable Garden By Yourself
I'm a simple all around guy. This includes my vegetable garden where I rarely use any fancy tools or pesticides/fertilizers etc., except when necessary.
If you're contemplating beginning a vegetable garden, do not be overwhelmed or intimidated by the wide assortment of gardening tools you see on hardware store shelves or aisles. Sure, there are numerous specialty tools for any given need, but you can purchase those along the way as needed.
The biggest concern you should have for operating a vegetable garden is how much free time, patience and sweat you're willing to give towards this new endeavor.
The following are the four essentials I can't do without to help maintain my 24 X 63 foot garden:
1.) Tiller: Unless your garden is the size of a coffin (or you're willing to work yourself to death), you'll probably be wise to invest in some type of motorized tiller.
For normal non-farm purposes, motorized tillers are usually guided (self propelled) and/or pushed by hand and come with a variety of options. These include whether to get a unit with single or dual tines (these are the rotating blades at ground level -- dual tines offer a wider tilling length), whether the tines rotate in reverse (which works the soil better), and whether it comes with the ability to adjust the tilling depth (deeper is better).
Personal Note: I use a reverse rotating dual-tine tiller (similar to unit pictured above right). Without it my 1500 sq. foot garden would be a miniaturized. This behemoth, though self-propelled), still requires a good deal of muscle to turn & maneuver and to keep straight & steady, giving me the much needed exercise I don't otherwise give myself.
One cost-effective option (pictured to the left) is the small, more compact tiller you may have seen on TV. It's the affordable Mantis Tiller, more suitable where space is limited and where the soil is not too hard.
On average I use a motorized tiller every few weeks, depending on the growth rate of weeds in-between rows. Two to three passes over each area is usually sufficient during season.
Even more compact and manual, consider using a tilling device such as the Garden Claw(pictured to the right, these are made by many companies using a variety of different names). Requiring a bit of upper body muscle & leverage, the Garden Clawworks by manually twisting the handles at the top which creates a tilled hole at the precise spot where you need to insert your plant. I actually use one of these in addition to my motorized tiller, and love it.
BUYING HINT: Wait until late in the season (around September?) to buy a re-conditioned/re-furbished tiller from Sears (the one's they display outside the store). These tillers are marked down weekly until they are sold and come with a full warranty, as if you're purchasing a new model. We bought a $900 tiller for about $250 (no kidding!) in 2009. It has run flawlessly!
2.) Garden Rake:
This is the standard tool that belongs in any tool shed (no picture
necessary). After tilling, you'll need to use your rake to smooth out
& flatten the soil surface (this helps prevent pond-ing of water in the crevices left behind).
3.) Garden Hoe: Anyone who uses a garden hoe knows the importance of this tool. It is especially vital for me since I grow several rows of potatoes. There is no better tool to help mound up dirt around my potato plants as they grow skyward.
HINT: Avoid the cheap Big Lots garden hoes! Whatever you do, get yourself a good quality name-brand hoe from the hardware store -- you won't regret it.
4.) Action Hoe: I just discovered this under-rated, magnificent tool at work last year.
Like a garden hoe, this tool requires a minimum amount of bending, and is used to undercut the soil to remove weeds. Sure it won't completely remove deep rooted weeds, but the action hoe will knock 'em out for a few days at which point you can repeat the process. Just walk through your garden a few minutes each day, and the action hoe will help prevent tedious lengthy weed-removal sessions later.
BUYING HINT: At the store, you may notice that the end of an action hoe seems loose and jiggles a bit. This is normal & perfectly OK. This "give" actually makes this tool perform better.
Gardening does not have to be expensive but if you plan on operating a tiller by yourself, you need to be in good physical condition.
A good tiller may set you back some financially, as may the cost of fertilizers etc.
But if you go completely organic like I do, it's cheaper yet.