We always have questions about our garden set up, so here's a quick rundown of our strategy and a few tips.
1. Ground cover- our weed situation is horrible. We tried weeding and mowing, but we just didn't have time to keep up with it. We are now in our 3rd year of using this ground cover. We cut small holes where we put plants or seeds, but we leave the flap of fabric attached so we can close the holes we don't use if we the same layout from year to year. It is awesome at keeping weeds out! We actually leave it out all winter to keep weeds down. Then we take it up in the spring, till the ground, and lay it back down. We do have 1 strip of fabric that is starting to break down a bit, but even if it only lasts ~5 years, it will be worth it. This is similar to what we use- 20 year weed barrier.
2. Water!- This has been trial and error for us for sure. We started with sprinklers. Bad idea. Since we water with well water, the salts in the water did major damage to all the leaves on our plants. Next we tried soaker hoses at the base of the plants. Well, the salts clogged up all the hoses really quick. Now we use drip tape under our ground cover. We like this system a lot. If they get clogged up, we just poke new holes. The material is relatively cheap and so far works really well. We use our well pump to fill up 6 rain barrels. Then the water seeps out the drip tape throughout the day. We run 2 rows of tape in areas that use more water. This is what we use- drip tape. Here are some pics of our setup.
3. Plants or seeds?- both! Things we grow from seeds- corn, beans, okra, all squash family plants (zucchini, cucumbers, watermelon, honey dew, cantaloupe, all squash varieties.) We have bought seeds from Lowe's, Walmart, and farm stores. We like the prices of bulk seeds at our farm store :) Plants we buy- tomatoes and peppers. We have never been able to grow these from seed very well. We buy heat resistant varieties of tomatoes since it's so hot here. Think about your weather and length of growing season for tomatoes and buy accordingly. We put potatoes in the ground to grow potatoes- ha! We just save some from the previous year, store them in our refrigerator over the winter in a brown bag, and plant them in early spring. We haven't done a cool season garden here, but hopefully we'll grow some broccoli and cauliflower from seed at some point.
4. Bugs- Yep, we struggle. Squash bugs and grasshoppers are pretty bad. If you have a great solution, let us know! We use insecticide for squash bugs before the plants put out fruit and try to get all their eggs when we see them. We haven't yet decided to take the plunge on chickens or guineas for the grasshoppers, but that may be our best bet.
5. Tomato support- Our plants get too big for most cages, so we use t-posts set at an angle to create a V shape. We do several sets of Vs down the row of tomatoes. Then we secure fencing material to the posts and shape it around the plants some in the middle areas using wire. It's a bit hard to explain, but this system seems to work pretty well. We put the whole thing together when the plants are pretty big and starting to lean. If we cage them too early, the wind whips the little plants against the metal and beats up them up too much. We just set them in place in this picture. The plants are pretty bushy, starting to fruit, and about 1 1/2 - 2 feet tall. Maybe you can see it a little better here.
6. Fertilize- This can be tough. How much, how often, what kind? I'm no expert here, sorry! Josh buys fertilizer granules from the farm store, and I put it in panty hose pouches. Then we drop 1 in our rain barrel every few days so that it dissolves in the water and gets dispersed to the garden through the drip tape. We have had issues with over fertilizing when we put granules on each plant, so this seems to work best for us. When we were in Washington, I don't think we fertilized at all. Talk to local people who know something about soil type and nutrients for advice.
7. Grow what you'll eat!- It may take a few years to figure out what and how much your family will eat. We have cut out several things that we just weren't using much. We never have the same garden twice, and I really like that. Some years we grow okra; then we get sick of it. Sometimes we experiment with different varieties of plants like squash and peppers. Sometimes we give stuff away because we have too much of it or too little freezer space (or because people beg us for something). It's fun to play around with all the options and try new things!
7. Preserving- We do some water bath canning, but we don't have a pressure cooker that's big enough for pressure canning yet. We do a lot of freezing, especially squash casserole and peppers, to eat throughout the winter. We also recently got a food dehydrator, so I'm looking forward to experimenting with that more this year.
That's all our tips I can think of right now. Feel free to ask more questions :) Maybe Josh will have more to say...