KENNEWICK -- Last month, my niece sent me a note asking for advice in starting a vegetable garden from the ground up.
It wasn't as easy to answer her question as you might think.
While I considered my answer, it dawned on me that this type of question is one that more adults will be posing.
Surveys reveal that garden seed sales are up between 30 percent and 50 percent. National Gardening Association survey indicates edible gardens have increased by a whopping 19 percent in one year.
Edible gardens includes vegetables, herbs, berries and tree fruit.
I've had a little time now, so here are my thoughts on the first three steps in starting a vegetable garden:
LOCATING THE GARDEN: Most vegetables and fruit do best in sites with exposure to full sun. Find a nice sunny spot with at least eight hours or more of full sun for the best production.
GARDEN SIZE: With a trend toward smaller homes and yards, many gardeners don't have space available for sizable areas dedicated to growing produce. Instead they grow veggies intensively in raised beds, rather than in rows in a large garden plot. Some choose to locate their edibles among their ornamental plants. Given the busy lifestyles of today, I would recommend the use of permanent raised beds to minimize the amount of space, time and effort required for a vegetable garden.
Raised beds don't need to be contained with constructed edging, but an edging out of wood, brick or landscape timbers makes maintaining beds easier. However, all you really need is to mound the soil up about 6 to 12 inches within the beds. Beds can be as long as you want, but it's best to make them no wider than three feet for easy access for planting, weeding, and harvesting. If you have more than one bed, situate them at least two to three feet apart.
New gardeners who decide to start with raised beds should check out Square Foot Gardening. The "square foot" concept was developed by a gardener named Mel Bartholomew. The concept involves raised beds that are divided into a grid of square-foot spaces, marked with string.
Different crops are planted in each square. The number of plants in each square depends on the size of the mature plant. The spaces are used intensively, planting first with cool season veggies and followed with warm-season crops once they're harvested.
BREAKING GROUND: If you're starting a totally new garden, you'll need to "work up" or till the soil to a depth of 8 to 12 inches.
You can use a regular garden shovel to dig up and turn over the soil or rent a tiller, if the space is sizable.
If the area is in lawn, you should remove the grass first. Use a flat spading shovel or if the area is large, rent a sod cutter to remove the turf. Preparing the area is easier, if you first kill the grass. This can be done by treating the grass with glyphosate, a common herbicide known to many as Roundup. (It's also found under other label names too.)
You also also smother the grass using a mulch of overlapped sections of wet newspaper. This is an organic way to kill the turf, but because it may take several months, it's best to do this the year before you plan to establish a garden.
In the next column, we'll move onto steps four and five.
* Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for the Washington State University Benton County Extension Office.