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Earth Matters

Earth Matters: Keys to Backyard Vegetable Gardening

Nyack Community Garden

Jill Remaly at her Nyack Community Garden plot. Get your own garden going with tips from this week’s Earth Matters. (Photo courtesy Jill Remaly)

by Addison Chappell

Having a garden in the backyard can be a very rewarding experience.  Every spring, as the snow melts and the birds return, I start the process of preparing for the coming summer’s vegetable garden.  With enough patience and time, you could be harvesting a variety of healthy vegetables in no time.


Planning your garden is crucial.  What kind of vegetables do you want to grow?  How many?  What area of your backyard can you use?  Does it get enough sun?  How will you water? Having a plan can answer many of these (and other) questions. 

Every year, I begin by deciding what I want to grow. I look back to my garden journal from the previous years and review what worked well and what didn’t work so well.  I lay out the garden on a piece of graph paper (or using any number of drawing tools such as miro). I make sure to include what kind of plants, whether I want to start from seeds or seedlings, and when to plant. There are tons of resources online to guide you (I’ll list some below). Most include when to start sowing seeds, how to plant, and how to care for the plants once they get going.

Earth Matters focuses on conservation, sustainability, recycling and healthy living. 


When to start planting is tricky. Do it too soon, and you risk all your plants dying due to frost. Do it too late and you miss out on ideal growing time for some plants.  Trying to get it right can involve a number of factors. The most important one is knowing when your last frost date is expected.  For Nyack, this is right around April 27th. So, you are good to go at this point.  Many seeds can be planted 2 to 6 weeks prior to the last frost date but each plant has its own timetable so pay special attention to the label on the seed packet or consult the almanac.  

Use Nature

I’m a big believer in trying to make the garden as natural and organic as possible.  Instead of fertilizer, try compost. Pesticides? Not if I can help it. Companion planting (link below) is a great way to prevent diseases and keep bugs to a minimum. The idea is to plant different plants that work well together in the same immediate location to help stave off bugs or prevent certain diseases. It is not entirely foolproof, but it is better than the alternative (in my opinion). The Native Americans employed this technique using corn, beans, squash/pumpkin (3 sisters). The tall stalks of the corn provide a natural trellis for the beans to grow, keeping them off the ground where the pests and fungi are.  At the same time, the leaves of the beans help shade the roots of the corn/tomatoes helping to retain water. 

Keep Trying!

Having a garden is a constant learning process.  You need to be flexible and accept that sometimes, it just doesn’t work out.  Don’t be discouraged!  The more you garden, the more you learn to adjust.  Try different things each year such as different kinds of vegetables or varieties, planting locations, or different mediums such as containers (which have become my new favorite for some veggies).  Above all be patient and learn as you go.  Keep a good journal to record your successes as well as your mistakes and consult it frequently during the following years.  Finally, have fun.  Gardening 

More Resources:

Nyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is sponsored by Sun River Health.

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