So you want to start a vegetable garden!! Welcome to the gardening ranks. Gardening can be a rewarding and satisfying experience for gardeners of all levels. Whether you’re interested in growing your vegetables, herbs, or flowers, gardening can be a great way to grow your fresh produce, connect with nature, and develop a -new hobby. However, if you’re new to gardening, it can be overwhelming and a bit daunting. In this article, we will provide a step-by-step guide on how to start a vegetable garden and the important factors to consider.
Choose a Location For Your Garden
The first step to starting a vegetable garden is choosing the right location. You’ll want to choose an area that receives plenty of sunlight, is easily accessible, and has good soil. Avoid planting under or too close to large trees as their root systems will compete for water and nutrients as well as possible increased shade concerns as trees grow. Consider the size of your garden as well. Those new to gardening may want to start small with a 4×4 or 4×8 foot garden bed, and then gradually expand as you gain more experience.
Another great option is to use raised garden beds, this way you can add additional raised gardens as you expand your garden. Raised gardens have many benefits making them a perfect way to garden. Raised gardens have improved drainage, which prevents waterlogging and allows plants to grow more vigorously. Water drains quickly from raised garden beds, reducing the risk of root rot. You add a mix of soil and compost, giving you more control of nutrients and soil quality. This will provide a better-growing environment for plants.
In addition, raised gardens are not only off-ground level and can be covered with a protective mesh or netting to keep pests such as rabbits, squirrels, and deer from munching on your growing veggies.
Finally, raised gardens can add an attractive feature to a yard or garden, and can be designed in various shapes and sizes to complement the surrounding landscape.
If you don’t have a yard, don’t worry! You can start a vegetable garden in containers on a balcony or patio. You can read about all container gardening from what container to use, where to place, and how to grow successfully here.
Prepare Your Soil
Soil is the foundation of your garden, and when you start a vegetable garden, it is important to ensure it is healthy and fertile. Begin by removing any weeds, rocks, or debris from the planting area. Those that are forming a garden from yard space, consider using a sod cutter to remove the sod and then backfill with topsoil and compost mixture. The typical recommendation is for every 2 bags of topsoil mix 1 bag of aged compost.
Loosen the soil with a garden fork or tiller typically at least 6-8 inches deep. Those with medium to large gardens will need to use a tiller. These can be expensive to buy outright, another option is to rent one from the many home improvement stores like Menards, Lowe’s, or Home Depot.
If you’re unsure about the quality of your soil, there are home test kits ($10-30) available, or take a soil sample for testing at your local university extension (typically $10-40). Testing can give you more information on the makeup of your soil including pH, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and organic matter.
Decide What to Plant
When you start a vegetable garden deciding what to plant is exciting and making the best choice sets you up for success. Some of the basics to consider when deciding what to plant in your vegetable garden are below:
Selection: Consider what vegetables you and your family enjoy eating and what grows well in your climate. Beginning gardeners may find more success growing warm-weather veggies such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and broccoli as seedlings. These will be available at any garden center and just need to be transplanted into your garden. Do some research on plants that grow well together and group plants that have similar sun, soil, and watering needs. This will help you keep track of what you planted where and help remind you where to rotate plants for the next growing season.
Start small and work your way up: Gardening is fun but does take work to be a successful gardener. Novice gardeners should start small, with a few vegetables that are easy to grow so you don’t get overwhelmed and have a negative experience.
Make a plan: I would recommend this for every gardener novice to experience. Plan out your garden layout before planning. Include the timing of planting, where each plant or row should go, and what you are planning on planting where. Consider the spacing requirements for each vegetable and plan accordingly. The organization will help group similar plants, and group companion plants and make sure you have the correct spacing for all your projected vegetables. Consider keeping a gardening journal that can help track your progress and make notes about what works and what doesn’t. Record the planting dates, germination times, and growth stages of your vegetables. This information can help you plan future gardens and make adjustments to your gardening techniques.
Plant your Vegetable Garden
Once you have decided what to plant, it is time to officially start a vegetable garden. Every vegetable has a preferred time for planting. Early spring or cool-season vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, peas, and many root vegetables. More details on early spring planting can be found here. Late spring/summer vegetables include broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, beans, and melons, with more information on planting specifics found here.
All seed packets have information listed for spacing and planting depth. Follow these instructions!! Straying from the recommendations will need to reduce growth and production.
As you plant, consider companion planting. Companion planting is the practice of planting certain vegetables together to benefit each other. For example, planting marigolds with tomatoes can help deter pests and improve tomato growth. I would recommend using the many online resources to select which plants grow best together.
A major draw to start a vegetable garden is to grow your produce. Successive planting is a way to maximize your garden’s potential. For continuous harvest throughout the growing season, plant smaller amounts of quick growers such as lettuce, spinach, beets, radishes, and bush beans every 2-4 weeks. Cease planting cool weather crops during the hottest part of the summer and resume when the weather starts to cool off again. This way you can look forward to a succession of harvests, rather than them all maturing at once. This will ensure fresh produce throughout the entire growing season.
Water and Fertilizer:
When you start a vegetable garden, all plants need moisture and nutrients, therefore water and fertilizers are important factors to address. Even plants in outdoor gardens will need some supplemental watering to make your garden successful. During periods of little rain or extreme heat, your plants will need supplemental watering. Most plants prefer moist soil but too much water can cause roots to rot, increase the likelihood of plant disease, or suffocate them due to lack of oxygen. I would recommend investing in a rain gauge to help you keep track of rainfall and guide you on when and how much to water.
When watering, water deeply, Reference seed packaging and many retail seed catalogs have reference sheets that will clearly state how much water each type of plant needs, typically weekly; This will help you gauge how much each plant needs. Placing plants with similar water needs near each other as able is recommended.
Also, avoid frequent light watering as this will encourage shallow root development that is more susceptible to drying out quickly.
Water in the morning, as early as possible. This will allow roots to absorb more water before the hot sun comes out and starts to evaporate the water. This also will allow the water on the leaves to dry off during the day, as wet leaves encourage the spread of disease.
Compost can be added and mixed into your garden to enrich your soil. Aged compost can be bought from most home improvement stores or nurseries. You can also make your own with kitchen scraps, yard waste, and leaves, into a nutrient-rich soil amendment.
Balanced fertilizers are a safe bet, and have equal amounts of each macronutrient typically nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (e.g. 10-10-10). Note that higher nitrogen content will stimulate more leaf development at the expense of fruit/vegetable production, while fertilizers with higher phosphorus will stimulate the high production of roots, flowers, and produce.
Slow-release fertilizer can be worked into the soil before planting for nutrient release through the summer. If needed additional liquid fertilizer or quick-release granules can be applied monthly to bi-monthly. Find everything you need to know about fertilizing your vegetable garden with this in-depth guide.
Maintain Your Garden
When you start a vegetable garden it’s not all fun and games every day, there is real work to be done. Weeding is a must for every garden. Weeding prevents competition for water and nutrients that your vegetables need for peak performance. Weeds love the moist and fertile soil that you have prepared for your garden and can choke out your desired plants quite quickly. It is important to resist the urge to weed when your seedlings are too little as pulling up the roots of the weeds can disrupt the fragile roots of the young vegetables. Once your seedlings are an inch or two inches tall, do a thorough weeding and repeat throughout the growing season. The first is important as it removes competition from your growing veggies.
Regularly check your plants for diseases or pests. Altering the timing of water such as watering first thing in the morning can help reduce diseases such as molds and fungal growth.
Provide supports with stakes or trellises for pole variety beans, melons, squash, and tomatoes.
Harvest Your Vegetables
Harvesting your vegetables at the right time is important to ensure they are at their peak flavor and nutritional value. Different vegetables have different harvest times, so it’s important to know when to pick each vegetable. You can use this Almanac guide for basic tips to know when your vegetables are ready to harvest.
Rotate Your Crops
Rotating your crops is an important practice to prevent soil-borne diseases and pests from building up in the soil. In addition, rotating your crops will also improve soil fertility and help balance nutrients in the soil. You will find if you plant the same plants in the same spot year after year, growth and production with drop off. When you start a vegetable garden plan ahead with a simple crop rotation that involves dividing your garden into three sections and rotating your crops through each section each year.
When you start a vegetable garden it can be a rewarding experience. Gardening is a learning process, don’t get discouraged if your garden isn’t perfect the first time around. It’s important to learn from your mistakes. Use your experiences to make next year’s garden better and better. Use these steps and tips to start your vegetable garden and you’ll be on your way to a successful vegetable garden.