The beginnings of Elida S. Perez's back-yard garden.

I’ve never fancied myself a “green thumb.” If anything, I would say I’ve had an indifferent thumb when it comes to gardening.

Quite frankly if the novel coronavirus hadn’t reached a pandemic level I may have never given gardening a second thought. But as concerns about food supply began growing I thought that instead of simply worrying about it, I’d take action.

So I decided to start a vegetable garden in my back yard.

Since I have no experience and the extent of my skills are keeping succulents alive, I decided to go to an expert.

The author placed her new garden in an area of her back yard with plenty of direct sunlight. (Elida S. Perez/El Paso Matters)

Denise Rodriguez, Texas Agrilife Extension Director, walked me through the basics for starting a vegetable garden.

Rodgriguez said I’m not alone in being interested in growing my own food source.

“There have always been people interested, but now on this global scale we are seeing a renewed interest on ‘how can we grow our own food,’” Rodriguez said.

8 steps to starting your garden

These are the steps I took with the information Rodriguez shared:

Step 1: Find a space. It may sound simple enough, but the first area I chose was not getting enough direct sunlight. I initially chose an enclosed patio area with a shade tarp. What I noticed the day after I set up the garden was that this space was not getting enough direct sunlight.

I relocated the garden that afternoon to a different space in the open backyard that gets plenty of direct sun the majority of the day.

Step 2: Decide which vegetables to grow. Rodriguez said as a beginner, it’s important to choose vegetables that you like to eat and that will grow in the warmer months. Based on the calendar I opted for two varieties of radishes, golden wax beans, yellow squash, cucumbers, tomatoes and yellow bell peppers.

The initial seeds planted in the author’s new garden. (Elida S. Perez/El Paso Matters)

Since it was late in the season to plant the tomato and pepper seeds, Rodriguez recommended a transplant that I could place in the garden beds. The other vegetables I planted with seed packets.

Step 3: Get creative. Rodriguez said there are several materials that can be used for garden beds as long as they have drainage holes in the bottom so that the plants do not drown.

I tried to scour the house and backyard for neglected tubs or bins I could convert into garden beds, but did not have much luck. I opted to acquire matching green plastic bins that can be easily moved — a decision that has already paid off.

I also chose this system so that I can add more types of vegetables as I gain confidence in this gardening endeavor.

Step 4: Make drainage holes in the garden beds. I used my power drill to make small holes in the bottom of the bins and started packing in the soil. As I was on the third bin, the deep square-shaped one, I came to a horrible realization: I think the drainage holes are too small.

I did a quick internet search for how big the drainage holes are supposed to be and my fear was correct. The initial holes were too small. I had to remove the soil from the already potted beds and drill a larger hole for proper drainage. Once that was corrected I finished filling the beds.

Step 5: Water the soil. This was another quick internet search for whether the seeds can be planted in dry soil. The answer was no from what I gathered, so I watered all of the beds.

Step 6: Plant the seeds. Rodriguez said all of the seed packages have instructions for how to plant them and other useful tips. I read the instructions for each plant and buried the seeds in the damp soil.

Step 7: Transfer the transplants. I opted for three varieties of tomatoes and one yellow bell pepper plant that had to be transplanted into the garden beds. I also placed latices for those plants in case they grow upward and need support.

Rodriguez said the cucumber plants also grow upward so I placed a wooden triangle lattice above its pot.

Because it was late in the growing season, the author chose to transplant tomatoes rather than growing from seed. (Elida S. Perez/El Paso Matters)

Step 8: Have patience and water. Now that the beds have been planted and placed in an area that they will get bountiful sunlight, I have to make sure they are watered properly and I have to wait. I can be very impatient, but if this vegetable garden pans out and I don’t accidentally kill everything, my family will have fresh garden vegetables for years to come.

I won’t know if I did everything right for a few weeks. I can already say I made a few mistakes out of the gate, but the process will hopefully be worth the sweat equity.

The Texas A&M Agrilife Extension has numerous resources and tips for anyone wanting to try their hand at starting a garden.

Don’t want to garden? Here are other veggie options

If you aren’t ready to take the veggie gardening leap, here are a few options for farm box delivery:

Desert Spoon Food Hub –

Provides weekly farm boxes for delivery – check website for availability and prices

Taylor Hood Farms –

Provides weekly farm boxes for delivery for $22

Honeybee Distributing – 

Deliver farm boxes, also for pick up. Orders can be placed by phone or text at (915) 867-4903. They’re at 12797 Sparks Drive.
Skarsgard Farms – delivers to El Paso every Friday. Farm boxes begin at $25.

Cover photo: The beginnings of Elida S. Perez’s back-yard garden.

Elida S. Perez is a senior reporter for El Paso Matters. Her experience includes work as city government watchdog reporter for the El Paso Times, investigative reporter for El Paso Newspaper Tree and communities...