The idea of beginning a garden is often appealing at this time of year and can be a wonderful experience when done properly. Who doesn’t love homegrown fresh herbs and veggies? However, the reality is that a garden can be more work than you initially expect and can seemingly need a lot of space.

Here are some tips to keep in mind and some essential oils you can use to keep the pests away!



1. Avoid overcrowding by knowing the difference between upright growing plants and vining crops (like melons or cucumbers).

Vining crops usually require more space: three to five feet between plants in rows at least three to four feet and sometimes more apart. Tomatoes usually need an area of at least two feet in each direction. Peppers can be closer together. When planting small seeds like beets, carrots, and turnips, thin them to about two inches per plant – they will ripen faster and have less problems caused by overcrowding!

Make sure to check other resources such as the seed packets for spacing info, a good seed catalog like Johnny’s seeds – they have online suggestions for growing a variety of plants, and their catalog has transplant and seed placement information – and also your state’s cooperative Extension Services (available in all states). They have good gardening information and know the local conditions.



2. Know how much water is the proper amount!

When watering your garden, start with well composted soil that will hold the water. Avoid watering in the middle of the day, and have your system on a timer so that it’s consistent. Check the soil on a regular basis by digging down a few inches and grabbing a small handful of soil. It’s best if you can make it into a small ball that sticks together and isn’t dry. If you can squeeze water out it is too wet, but if it crumbles and won’t stay together it’s too dry.

Keep in mind that different plants at different stages require you to give them more or less water. Melons with their large vines require much more water as they start to yield fruit. Check your plants often to pick up on when this is happening and up your irrigation. On the other hand, as some plants start to fill with ripe fruit, it’s often better to stress the plant a little by giving it less water. This helps bring out the flavor in some crops like tomatoes.

Gardens are kind of like pets, they are living after all! They need to be checked on and tended to daily.


person holding carrots


3. The rule of thumb is that plants that grow quickly and are good at sprouting should grow from seeds, while anything else can do well as a transplant, which is essentially a baby plant sold in a pot or a pack of four or six.

Seeds: Most of the leafy greens, carrots, beets, turnips, radishes and similar crops.

Transplants: tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. Broccoli, kale, cauliflower, and cabbage also handle transplanting very well.

Both: Melons and squashes can be transplanted. But, the only melon that is very difficult to grow from seed is the seedless watermelon which do better as transplants.

If you’re worried about your soil quality, get your soil tested by someone that can interpret the test for you and make suggestions for fertilizer. Most cooperative Extension offices offer soil testing for area gardeners. Here’s a tip: if you are buying compost rather than making it yourself, put a covering at least two inches deep over your soil and work it into the soil.

Home gardeners can improve their gardens by adding compost and letting part of your garden take a rest by planting cover crops (like oats, alfalfa, or garden peas) between growing seasons, then rake or plow the crop into the soil. This adds vital nutrients like nitrogen. Many organic gardeners use cover crops and composted chicken manure to add a greater variety of nutrients.


Container Gardens

Container gardens can be a useful option for those who live in an apartment and may not have a yard or any outdoor space to grow their own veggies. Here are some tips for container gardens:

1. Try growing herbs in a sunny spot in your home. Keep in mind when you’re looking for a good spot indoors that many herbs love as much natural light as possible. Find a south or southwest facing window for the best results. Use pots that have good drainage, (e.g. they have drainage holes at the bottom and quality potting soil.) Herbs that do well indoors include thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, and marjoram.

2. If you want to try growing vegetables, utilize a large pot or window box. Plants that like pots include peppers of all types, cucumbers, zucchini, and tomatoes, but don’t be afraid to experiment with other veggies. Keep the pot on a porch or an apartment balcony in a sunny spot. Don’t forget that you will need to water a little more frequently to ensure that your plant doesn’t dry out completely, but overall you should need less water.

3. Skip the typical chemicals used in fertilizers that you wouldn’t want indoors. Fortunately, you won’t need to worry about weeds with your potted or indoor garden (though vinegar mixed with hot water works well as a weed killer). However, fertilizer is still a must. You can meet this need by composting your organic waste like veggie peelings and egg shells to add to the soil.



Essential Oils

Now for the moment we’ve all been waiting for – which essential oils will help eliminate those buggies!

Find out what the “companion plant” is for your vegetables, and use that essential oil instead of the actual plant if you don’t have space to plant more. For example, tomatoes and basil work well together to create vigor for growth and plant resistance. So, water the tomato plant with Basil in the water for similar results.

The most general thing to do for any bug problem is to keep the garden area clean and free from debris and hiding places for pests. Peppermint, Clove, Cedarwood, Geranium, Lemongrass, Rosemary, and Arborvitae help to repel bugs naturally. Put 10 drops of any of these oils in a spray bottle with water (preferably when the weather is not very hot) and spray the areas of concern.



Growing your own food doesn’t have to be left to professionals or to those who have ample space! Using these tips and essential oils, you can grow a healthy and vibrant herb or veggie garden right in the space you have available! Click To Tweet

When it comes to specifics, here’s how to get rid of three main pests:

Aphids: Use a neem oil based spray. This natural method is easy on plants, but gets rid of the aphids. Aphids can also be controlled to a certain extent by planting some “trap crops” like alyssum, dill, and yarrow around the garden that attracts the aphids instead.

Squash bugs: Squash bugs can survive cold winters and hide almost anywhere. Check for eggs on the underside of the leaves of the plants (they are usually orange in color) and squish them before they hatch. Organic growers also plant on the outside of the squash or pumpkin crops other varieties that the bugs prefer. (Believe it or not, squash bugs prefer Hubbard squash.)

Spider mites: They love dry areas and dust. Try to control by misting the plants – water bothers them. Keep cars that stir up dust as far as possible from your plants.