Do you love vegetables? Are you tired of eating out every night? Then why not try growing your own food?
Growing your own vegetables is a great way to save money, get healthy, and live a greener lifestyle.
This guide will cover how to start a vegetable garden from scratch. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never gardened before or if you have the greenest of green thumbs. Learn everything you need to know to successfully grow your own vegetables.
Choosing the Right Location for a Vegetable Garden
Most vegetables need an open, sunny spot with some protection from the wind. As vegetable seeds need warm soil to germinate and full sun to ripen, you will need to pick an area with at least six hours of sunlight per day in the summer.
Some vegetables, like salad leaves, prefer partial shade and may need extra shade on particularly hot days. However, this can be achieved by hanging up sheets when necessary.
- Related article: Sun Requirements for Vegetables
Ideally, you should choose an area with level ground, although a slight incline would be ok.
You should avoid low areas that stay wet in the spring.
Avoid planting in sites at the bottom of a slope as these can be susceptible to frost pockets.
Access to water is also something to consider, as it can be hard work watering your vegetables on a hot day. Make it so your source of water is as easy for yourself as possible.
Deciding on the Vegetable Garden Size
The size of your vegetable plot depends on how much you want to grow. However, if you are just starting out with your first vegetable garden, I recommend starting small.
Gardening is hard work, and creating a vegetable patch takes a lot of manual labor – especially if you need to dig up turf and make the soil suitable for planting.
Another good reason for starting small is that you will limit the number of vegetables you grow. While it might be tempting to try and grow as much as possible, gardening can be a lot of trial-and-error with your first garden.
Concentrating your efforts on three or four types of vegetables is more manageable. You will be able to see which types do well in your garden and local climate.
You can refine the process and garden each year, adding more vegetables if you want more variety.
How to Prepare the Soil for a Vegetable Garden
The amount of soil preparation you need will depend entirely on what you’re working with. Healthy soil is essential for successful plant growth.
- Related article: How to Choose Soil for Vegetable Garden
Below I’ve listed the steps to prepare your soil for a vegetable garden.
1. Clear the Area
Dig up any turf and remove any weeds or slabs currently covering the area you intend to use as your vegetable patch.
2. Dig Over the Soil
Digging over the soil is important because it removes any obstructions that could prevent the growth of new plants. Remove any roots, rocks, or stones you find.
3. Assess and Prepare the Soil. Is it Clay, Sandy, or Loam?
If you are lucky enough to have light brown earth that crumbles between your fingers, then you have hit the jackpot. This is loam soil that is ideal for growing vegetables.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that you will happen to have loam soil in your yard. It is more likely that you will have either clay or sandy soil.
Clay soil will squish into balls and stick together when you squeeze it in your hand. Sandy soil will run through your fingers. Both soils have benefits, but you can add soil amendments to them.
The best way to amend clay or sandy soil is to dig in plenty of organic material, such as compost. Compost will help the soil structure, increasing both moisture retention and drainage, with the additional benefit of adding nutrients and microorganisms to the soil.
- Read more about the Best Compost for Vegetable Gardens.
Depending on your time frame, you might want to consider trench composting, where you dig a trench, fill it with organic garden and kitchen waste, and compost on-site. If you want a quicker method, you can usually buy large amounts of compost locally.
4. Plan Your Vegetable Garden Layout
Once you have successfully amended your soil, you can start planning where to plant your vegetables.
There are various ways to plan your vegetable garden layout that we’ll get into below.
- Related article: What is the Best Vegetable Garden Layout?
Choosing Vegetables to Grow
It may seem obvious when considering what vegetables to grow, but you should choose the ones you like to eat! It might be tempting to go for vegetables that are easy to grow, like lettuce or radish, but there is little point unless you like to eat them!
Below, I’ve listed ten of the best vegetables to grow for beginners and the easiest to grow when getting started. I recommend you choose no more than four of these initially to concentrate your efforts.
- Potatoes – Potatoes are easy vegetables to grow, especially if you live somewhere with a long summer. They store well, so you can harvest potatoes all season. They are also very nutritious. Potatoes contain vitamin C and potassium, and they are high in fiber.
- Tomatoes – Tomatoes taste great and are one of the most popular vegetables grown worldwide. They can be eaten fresh, canned, or dried. You can grow tomatoes from seedlings, transplants, or starts. They are relatively easy to grow and require only moderate care.
- Lettuce – Lettuces are an excellent choice for beginning vegetable growers. They are easy to grow, extremely versatile, and delicious. Lettuces come in many varieties, including romaine, butterhead, leaf, and green leaf. There are even miniature lettuces.
- Radishes – Radish is another easy vegetable to grow and fun to grow with kids. They germinate and grow quickly, even being able to grow in less than a month. They are small, round root vegetables that can be used raw in salads or cooked as a side dish. The flavor of radishes can range from mild to spicy.
- Legumes and Peas – Legumes are a group of plants related to peas and green beans. They help with fixing the nitrogen in the soil and can grow in poor soil conditions. They include alfalfa, clover, lentils, peanuts, soybeans, and vetch. Some legumes are edible while others are not. All legumes are rich sources of protein.
- Kale – Kale is considered by some people to be the king of greens for its nutrition and ease of growth. They are able to grow in a wider range of temperatures.. It has a slightly bitter flavor and looks like dark green curly hair. Kale is a member of the cabbage family and it grows quickly. It’s a good source of vitamins A.
- Beets – Beets are a good source of vitamins A and C, and calcium. They are also low in calories, making them ideal for weight loss diets. Beets are easy to grow, and they don’t need much space.
- Swiss Chard – Swiss chard is a nutritious and flavorful leafy green vegetable. It is high in vitamin A, B6, iron, magnesium, potassium, folate, fiber, and antioxidants. It is best eaten when young because older leaves tend to have more chlorophyll which can cause an upset stomach.
- Zucchini – Zucchini is a summer squash that has been grown for thousands of years. It is usually harvested before it reaches maturity, but it is still delicious. It contains many nutrients including vitamin C, folate, potassium, and magnesium.
- Carrots – Carrots are one of the most popular vegetables around the world. They’re easy to grow when in loose, sandy soil. They’re sweet, crunchy, and full of Vitamin A. Carrots contain beta-carotene, which helps your body absorb other important nutrients.
After the first year, you will find that some vegetables do well, while others might not. Keep going with your successes the following year and maybe introduce one or two more.
Consider your favorite vegetables, but also consider the climate in your local area. If you have hot weather in your area, you won’t want to plant cool-season crops like lettuce and kale.
Seed saving is a fantastic way of ensuring that you will have strains that do well in your garden and an effective way of spreading the cost of seeds over a couple of years. This way, you will only ever need to buy seeds of new vegetables that you want to try your hand at.
When and Where to Plant
Each vegetable will have a planting window for when to plant to get the most out of your vegetables. Seed packets will usually give you the best planting times and strategies, such as staggered planting.
Make sure you note how much sun your vegetable patch gets, as plants that need full sun require at least six hours in the sun per day. Partial shade means plants require between three and six hours of sunlight, and full shade is anything less than three hours of direct sunlight.
Be sure to research the type of soil your different plants require and amend the soil as needed. You can help this by growing them in pots if different soils are needed, but some tricks can help.
For instance, when planting parsnips, drill a hole in the earth and fill it with compost before planting your seeds. This preparation will help the parsnips develop. The same can be done for carrots if you exchange the compost for sandy soil.
How to Create a Vegetable Garden Plan
The best way to start creating a vegetable garden plan is to research companion planting to maximize the space available. Also, consider the height of your finished plants.
For example, don’t plant legumes where they will cast shade on other plants once they have grown. Alternate root and surface crops to grow as much as possible in the area you have.
Ideally, every gardener would love four or five areas in which crops are rotated yearly to prevent pests in the soil and maintain nutrient levels. Crop rotation is not always possible, but it is a good idea to try and avoid planting the same plants in the same spot every year.
Garden Planning Tools
Your garden can be planned with just a measuring tape, a piece of paper, and a pencil, but nowadays, plenty of online resources can also help.
Apps like GrowVeg, SmartGardener are available for an annual subscription fee and will help you plan, plant, and look after your garden. There are also some free options, like VegPlotter and Kitchen Garden Planner.
Planting Your First Vegetables Step-by-Step
All vegetables are different and require different ways of starting them off as well as different conditions to germinate and plant out. Below is a rough guide to planting your first vegetables.
Step 1 – Prepare the Site
What this entails will depend on what you are planting and how you start them off. If you are growing from seed, you need to get some soft earth and prepare your seed trays or propagator.
Some vegetables, like peppers and tomatoes, need a long growing season and warm temperatures to start them off. In cooler areas or places with a relatively short growing season, you may need to germinate the seeds indoors or in a heated greenhouse.
Vegetables like lettuce and parsnip can be sown directly into the spot where you’re growing them. In this case, break up the soil and remove stones from the area.
Step 2 – Protect your Seedlings
If you have started your vegetables off indoors, they will need to harden off before planting them outdoors. You should also harden off seedlings brought from a nursery if you aren’t growing from seed yourself.
- Start by taking your plants outside on sunny days for a few hours, first in the shade, then in full sun.
- Increase the length of time they are out each day and leave them out all day by day five.
- Take them in that night, and the next day, leave them out all day and night.
- They will then be ready to plant outdoors.
Keep your eye on your seedlings in case any hungry birds feel like snacking on them. You can also use cloches or nets to keep away pests like snails and slugs who like to munch in the night.
If the weather is still a little cold at night, you can use cloches or other heat-retaining covers to keep them warm.
It’s a good idea to find out your area’s growing season, which is usually the last and first frost dates. This will help you know when the best planting time is for your region.
Step 3 – Keep your Vegetable Garden Well-Watered and Weed-Free
While most vegetable gardening will be waiting for your plants to grow and develop, there is still a surprising amount of work. And your plants will benefit from daily checks and monitoring.
Mulching around your vegetable plants will help suppress weeds, or a small hand hoe can make getting rid of tiny weed seedlings a lot easier.
By looking over your plants daily, you can nip any issues in the bud for a constant supply of fresh veggies.
Watering Your Vegetable Garden
The best time to water your vegetable garden is in the early morning before the day heats up.
Give your vegetables a really good soak at least once a week, rather than a little bit every day. This will help the water get right down to the roots rather than sitting on the surface.
Some vegetables, like squash, will develop powdery mildew on the leaves if they have water on them, so make sure you water at soil level rather than from above.
Rainwater is usually preferable to tap water for watering your vegetables, so get a couple of rain barrels to harvest water during rainy days.
- Related article: Watering Vegetable Garden Guide
Dealing with Vegetable Garden Pests and Diseases
Each type of vegetable is susceptible to different pests and diseases. Although many modern vegetable varieties are bred to be resistant to disease and problems, there are a few things you can do to help.
- Check your plants every day – Most pests are best dealt with before they become an infestation, and there are many natural ways of pest control without needing chemical pesticides. Caterpillars can be picked off by hand. Aphids can be knocked off by a jet of water. You can also soak orange peelings in water that you sprinkle over your plants to keep away most bugs.
- Keep your plants watered and fed – Plant diseases occur for various reasons, but healthy plants will be able to fight off infections easier than weak ones. Make sure your plants are watered and have the sufficient nutrients they need. Some diseases, like blossom-end rot, can be caused by a lack of calcium; a good solution is to use eggshells. Soak them in water to create a calcium-rich liquid.
- Cover your plants – If you are struggling with pests, consider covering your plants. You can use netting or fabric row covers that allow light in, but still keep bugs out.
Top Tips for Starting a Vegetable Garden
If you’re new to vegetable gardening, here are some top tips to get you started:
- Start composting – Turn your garden waste and kitchen scraps into rotted organic material that you can dig into your vegetable patch each year to keep the soil in tip-top shape and reduce landfill.
- Buy open-pollinated seeds – Seed saving is really easy for many vegetables; it helps you get varieties that will do well in your garden and save you money. Read more about Open Pollinated vs Hybrid Seeds.
- Start small – It may be tempting to go all out with a large garden bed, but it’s best to start small as it will give you the best chance of a successful harvest. Mix vegetables and herbs to give yourself some range if you want to grow lots.
- Don’t be afraid to get a bit obsessed – If you want to get a good crop and enjoy lots of tasty vegetables, you will have to invest a lot of time. Check the plants, keep on top of weeds, and keep them watered.
- Feed the fruit – Heavy feeding plants like tomatoes and squash will need extra nutrients when they start to bear fruit. Adding fertilizers can help vegetables grow healthy.
Other Types of Vegetable Gardens
There are other types of vegetable gardens besides the usual outdoor vegetable gardens. Both novice gardeners and experienced gardeners can start in them.
1. Starting a Container Vegetable Garden
Container gardening is not as limited as you might think, and any vegetables can be grown in a container. Container vegetable gardening is perfect if you are short on space or have a patio garden.
The added benefit of growing vegetables in containers and pots is mobility. If you have a garden that doesn’t have any one place in full sun, you can move your plants around throughout the day to make the most of the sun you do have.
You can even buy plant stands with wheels to make the job much easier. The only downside is that plants in containers can dry out quicker, so make sure they get regular water.
- Read more about How to Start a Balcony Vegetable Garden.
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2. Starting a Raised Bed Vegetable Garden
Raised bed vegetable gardens have many benefits. They are easier to work and weed, the earth will warm up quicker in the spring, and they can make a vegetable patch look a lot neater than just planting in the ground.
Raised beds lend themselves to easy crop rotation systems as you have designated beds for individual plants and each type of vegetable.
A great way to build raised beds is with lasagna composting, and they can be edged with bricks, wood, or even old tires.
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3. Starting an Indoor Vegetable Garden
Indoor vegetable gardening is only really limited by space, but plenty of dwarf varieties of vegetables will be great for an indoor vegetable.
- Learn more about Growing Vegetables Indoors.
Salad leaves are perfect for an indoor garden, as they can be harvested as and when you need them.
4. Starting a Hydroponics Vegetable Garden
Hydroponic vegetable gardening is another option, as it does not require soil. You can use gravel, sand, pebbles, or even plastic bottles to create your own nutrient rich hydroponic environment.
This method works well for leafy greens, such as lettuce, spinach, and kale. You can also grow smaller vegetables like cherry tomatoes.
Read the Complete Guide to Hydroponics.
5. Growing in a Greenhouse
Greenhouses are a perfect way to extend your growing season if you live in a cooler weather area. You can use a greenhouse to germinate seeds before planting them or grow vegetables like peppers and tomatoes successfully.
However, it is essential to keep on top of watering your plants, as they won’t have access to natural rainfall.
Starting a Vegetable Garden Final Thoughts
Starting a vegetable garden is very simple and can be a relaxing, enjoyable activity. All you need is some good quality seedlings and a little bit of time.
Whether you are new to gardening or a seasoned gardener, there’s something for everyone here.
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