Sarah Feist






There is something deeply satisfying about eating food from your own garden. The food is flavorful, nutritious and simply cannot get any fresher. My mouth is already watering thinking about the salad I will assemble with ripened, juicy tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, tender salad greens and sweet, grilled corn sliced from the cob. As an added bonus, gardening is a great way to save money. A $2 tomato plant can produce several pounds of produce.

The past few years my husband and I have managed to grow some beautiful vegetable gardens, harvest our goods and even can leftover vegetables to enjoy through the long winter. However, our labor of love wasn't without mistakes and a few dead herbs on my part. So where do you begin? With the help of local experts sharing great advice, here are tips for starting a vegetable garden in the Bismarck-Mandan area.

Choose a location
Determine an area that receives full sunshine but also some areas of shade in the afternoon, perhaps blocked by trees or large plants. Most vegetables require at least 6-8 hours of sunlight. You can also consider a tilled garden, raised beds or container gardening if you have limited yard space.

Plants should be chosen by determining which vegetables you eat most often. As a beginning gardener, you may want to stick to smaller plants until you understand gardening better. Remember to plan walkways (away from plant roots) or design planting beds so you can easily reach all vegetables for harvesting and pulling weeds. Your water hose should reach all areas of your garden. Think through how taller plants will overshadow shorter ones as they grow.

Susan Holland, a local garden coach who blogs at, stresses the first step of any successful garden is "Soil, soil, soil. Nothing matters more than getting that right." A local resource for soil testing is Cashman's Nursery in Bismarck. Cashman's will help you test and monitor your soil to develop the correct texture, pH, potash, phosphate and nitrogen levels. For a full garden, you will need a rototiller or digging forks to break up the soil to allow vegetable growth.

Visit a local nursery to purchase vegetable plants. Starting your vegetables from seed is also an option, but you would need to begin that process earlier in the year. Consider how much your family will eat and whether the plants will produce more than once each growing season. Many plants (tomatoes, peppers, lettuce) provide throughout the summer. Seed catalogs and websites can be valuable tools in providing information on plant height, spacing, yield, maturity and more. Don't forget to have the necessary tools and equipment on hand: tiller, hoe, gloves, rake, water hose, tomato cages, etc.

Make sure to water your garden regularly, especially if North Dakota experiences a dry summer. Use a slow, trickling hose or sprinkler to ensure the water reaches deep down to plant roots. Weeds compete with your vegetables for water, so pull them regularly. Consider fences if needed to deter rabbits, deer or even the family pet.

"Yard waste compost is nature's best fertilizer and soil enhancer," says Steve Tillotson, assistant director of the Division of Waste Management at the N.D. Department of Health. Simple compost materials include living and dead grass and leaves, dead twigs, pine needles, wood chips and even shredded newspaper, paper towels or cardboard. To build your own compost pile, allow for air, water, and food including vegetable and fruit scraps, bread, coffee grounds and more if allowed by local officials. The Bismarck solid waste facility (2111 N. 52nd St. at E. Divide Ave.) also offers residents yard waste compost. Bring your shovel and up to three large garbage containers, or take home a quarter pick-up bed full. Mix one part compost with four parts soil as an effective organic fertilizer and soil amendment. Learn more about composting at

Harvest frequently and visit your garden on a daily basis. You will be amazed to see how quickly your garden grows and changes. Picking vegetables will help stimulate new growth. As a general rule, if it looks good enough to eat, it probably is. Each year you will know more and more about your abilities, taste preferences and what you grow well.

The best way to learn any new hobby is to visit with others to gain tips and tricks. If your neighbor has a standout garden every year, visit with her or him. Locally, look for gardening fairs or classes. The Bismarck-Mandan Garden Club and Central North Dakota Daylily Society will be more than happy to share their education and information.

Sarah Feist is a lifelong North Dakotan who lives in Hazen. She blogs about her passion for food, travel, exercise and more at