Starting a Vegetable Garden: A Comprehensive Guide for Beginners
Do you want to start a vegetable garden but unsure about where to start or overwhelmed with what you need to think about before you even begin?
Don’t feel bad, those are normal.
Starting a garden from scratch is not an easy task, so it is helpful to have an in-depth guide to help you through the introductory process. That is what we’re going to do today. I’m going to share all the things you need to consider and have a brief understanding of so you can go to your backyard tomorrow (or even today) and start digging.
In this page, you’ll also find links to our other articles if you want to learn more about specific topics.
Let’s get started:
1. What Should You Plant?
Planting a garden may sound simple, but there are many things to take into consideration before you launch.
For starters, what should you plant in your garden? You’ll want to take a few factors into consideration.
First, you need to know what planting zone you are in. This will determine what can be grown in your area and when the proper time is to grow it.
Second, you’ll need to decide what it is that you like. If you don’t like a certain fruit or vegetable, then why waste your time growing it?
Third, you’ll want to consider what will give you the most harvest for the time and effort put into growing it.
Finally, you’ll want to consider which plants will work best for your schedule. Some plants require more care and produce a harvest too quickly.
But if you choose a plant that can produce a vegetable in the middle of the week, but not turn too ripe if you can’t get to it until the weekend, then this might work better if you struggle with a hectic schedule throughout the week.
- 9 Steps to Deciding What to Plant in Your Vegetable Garden
- 8 Easiest Vegetables to Grow Even If You Don’t Know Anything About Gardening
- 10 Best Vegetables and Fruits to Grow If You Don’t Have Big Backyard
- 24 Newbie-Friendly Vegetables You Can Easily Grow Indoors
2. How Much Space Do You Need?
Next, you’ll need to consider how much space you need to grow the vegetables you’ve decided on. There are lots of different options.
First, you could decide to grow a container garden. This is a great way to grow a variety of vegetables in a smaller amount of gardening space.
However, be prepared to have different sizes of containers because each plant has a different size or depth required to suit their root system.
Second, you could choose to go with a square foot garden. This is where you mark out perfectly measured squares in your garden bed to keep everything organized and with proper space.
Plus, they can be easily organized in raised beds, if you decide to go with that grow option.
Which leads to the next spacing option, you could choose to go with raised garden beds. You’ll need to determine how much space the vegetables you are planning on growing need.
Then that will determine how many garden beds you need. All of these are options that could help you divide out your growing space effectively, or even help expand it depending on what you decide to grow in your garden.
- Vegetable Garden Size Calculator: How Much to Plant for Your Family
3. Finding the Perfect Location
A good garden location is one of the keys to growing a great garden. There are a few things you’ll want to look for when choosing where to place your garden.
First, you’ll want to find a place in your yard that gets full sun six hours or more per day. This is what most plants require to grow.
But if you have plants that need more shade, the great news is that you can provide shade to a plant that needs it.
However, it is hard to provide more sunlight to a plant that is planted in the shade. Keep that in mind as you choose the location.
Then you will want to choose a place where the soil is well-drained. If an area in your yard is prone to flooding or has water standing frequently, then this is not a good spot for your garden.
Finally, if possible, you’ll want to place your garden close to your water source. This will make watering it much easier.
- 12 Steps to Choosing the Best Location for Your Vegetable Garden
- How to Plan the Perfect Garden This Year in 10 Easy Steps
- How to Set Up Your Vegetable Garden Bed or Container Correctly
4. Which Layout is Right for You?
I’ve already discussed some gardening layout options above when we discussed ways to maximize your grow space.
However, there are more gardening layout options beyond container gardening, square foot gardening, and raised beds.
In fact, don’t discount traditional soil level garden plots. You can make a garden in any area of your yard. You don’t have to frame it unless you just want to.
Then you can decide if you want to plant single rows or double rows. Single rows provide more space for the plants and for you to work.
However, double rows are a great way of maximizing grow space.
- 19 Vegetable Garden Plans & Layout Ideas That Will Inspire You
- How to Plan the Perfect Garden This Year in 10 Easy Steps
- Raised Beds, In-Ground Plots, or Containers: Which Garden Layout to Choose
- A Complete Guide to Vegetable Container Gardening for Beginners
5. How to Test and Fix Your Soil
Your soil is a major key player in your garden producing a nice harvest. You will need to test your soil to see if it needs any work done to it prior to planting.
A great way to test your soil is by soaking the dirt where you’ve decided to put your garden. Then allow it to sit for a day.
The next day, come back and take a hand full of dirt. You’ll want to compress it in your hand as hard as you can.
Then you will want to gently poke it. If the dirt crumbles instantly, then you know that it has too much sand in it, and you’ll need to add manure or compost to it to enrich it.
However, if the dirt gently falls apart like a moist brownie, then you’ll know that it is good to go and is ready to plant.
- 9 Tips for Better Soil Quality in Your Garden and Get Better Crops
- 19 Ways to Improve Garden Soil and Boost the Yield Year After Year
- How to Make the Perfect Potting Soil Recipe in 5 Easy-to-Follow Steps
- 5 Best Soil Test Kits for Your Garden or Lawn
6. How to Make Your Garden Bed(s)
Deciding what type of garden bed, you want to plant it is a personal choice. Truthfully, I use a mixture. We have three large soil level garden plots.
Then we use raised beds as well, and I container garden some years as well for specialty items I don’t want to grow as much of.
Whatever you decide to grow in, you’ll need to know how to make a garden bed (besides if you garden in a container. Filling the container with dirt and compost is rather self-explanatory.)
To start, you will want to till up the garden space. This is where you will unearth the soil. It is a good idea to let the dirt sit for as long as possible because this gives the grass a chance to die off.
Then you’ll want to go back over the soil and spread it out to where it isn’t quite as lumpy in appearance. This is also a good time to add in compost, manure, or any other organic matter your garden needs.
Finally, you’ll smooth the dirt out to where it has a finished look.
- 18 Benefits of Raised Bed Gardening You May Have Never Considered
- Container Gardening: How to Get Started with 12 Easy Plants to Grow
- 42 Free DIY Raised Garden Bed Plans You Can Build in a Day
7. Get Your Seeds
One thing that may feel overwhelming is when you go to purchase your seeds or seedlings. There are many places to purchase your plants, there are many varieties of plants, and you may be uncertain about which is best.
Let me fill you in – if you can find someone local that is selling seedlings, that will probably be your best bet. The reason is that the plants should be more cost-effective there.
However, please check around because some big box stores may sell them cheaper.
Also, I recommend checking with local stores or shopping online when purchasing seeds. I usually buy most of our seeds from our local general store. They are very reasonably priced, and I’ve had great experiences with our seeds from them.
Then you’ll want to make sure that you read the labels of what you are buying. The reason is that seeds will vary.
For instance, you can pick what size vegetables you want to harvest, what color vegetable you want to raise, and some seeds are more resistant to certain pests and diseases.
Purchasing quality seeds and plants with a variety that works well for your area is a good way to have a solid start to gardening.
- Not Sure Where to Start? Here Are 7 Ways to Get Seeds for Your Garden
8. Turning Seeds into a Garden
You may not be ready to start your own seeds with your very first garden and that’s okay.
However, you need to at least read up on how to do it because starting your own seeds can not only save you a lot of money on your garden, but it can allow you to grow your food from start to finish.
There are many helpful resources on starting your own seeds, but I will give you a quick overview.
First, you’ll need to plant your seeds in seed starting cells. From there, you put them under a light to provide heat or on top of your fridge.
Then you wait for germination to happen.
Next, you’ll put them under a grow light and gently water them with a spray bottle until they are ready to transplant.
Keep in mind, there will be some variations to the process depending upon what you are growing, but those are the basics of starting your own seeds.
It is a delicate process, but one that is worth the extra effort.
- 9 Tips for Starting Your Seeds Indoor (and Avoid Common Mistakes)
- 11 Frugal Seed Starting Hacks to Get Your Garden Going
9. Loving Your Plants
When you plant your garden, the fun is only beginning. Plants, like any living thing, need care if you want to see them produce.
First, you’ll want to water your plants. Most plants need around one inch per week. Some plants may need a little more.
It is a good idea to keep a rain gauge in your garden to know how much rain it got that week. Then you can water more if the garden needs it.
Next, you’ll want to make sure that you mulch around your plants in the garden. Not only does this help keep weeds down, but it also helps to retain the moisture around the plant.
Also, it can help keep the roots at a stable temperature as well.
Then you’ll want to make sure that you keep the weeds out of your garden. Weeds will compete with your plants for nutrients. This can hinder the growth of your garden tremendously.
Finally, you’ll want to pay attention to your plants to know if they need to be fertilized. Some plants will show you they are lacking nutrients by color changes.
Other times, the grow guide for your plant will recommend that the particular variety of vegetable you are growing, be fertilized a few times during a growing season.
When you know it is time to fertilize, either add compost around the base of the plant and allow it to break down or use a store-bought fertilizer and follow the instructions on the package.
- Watering Your Plants: How Often, When to Do It, and 10 Things to Know
- 19 Vegetable Garden Care & Maintenance Tips for a Successful Harvest
- Fertilizing Plants 101: Everything You Need to Know to Do It Right
10. How to Harvest Your Garden
If you grow a garden, you are going to want to harvest it at some point. Harvesting your garden is a simple process.
In general, when your plants are fully grown they’ll begin to produce. When the harvest is ripe, you’ll remove it from the plant.
Now, this could mean picking it off of the plant (such as tomatoes, green beans, or peppers.) This could mean cutting it off the plant (in the case of rhubarb.)
However, if you are growing items like lettuce or spinach, you will have to use scissors to cut the harvest at the base of the plant. This should remove the leaves while still leaving the roots.
Again, most grow guides or seed packets will walk you through the process for your particular plant, but you’ll see that harvesting your garden is simple to do but thrilling as well.
- 10 Helpful Tips for Harvesting Your Garden on Time, Every Time
11. Beat It Pests!
Every garden will have to face pests or disease of some sort. The best way to battle disease in your plants is to buy varieties that are resistant to common ailments in that certain plant.
Then you’ll want to mulch around the base of the plant and avoid overhead watering to keep dirt off of the stem.
Finally, you’ll want to practice crop rotation each year. This doesn’t give soil-borne illnesses a chance to develop. If you are growing cole crops, it is a good idea to practice a four-year rotation.
Also, keep in mind that if you see a sick plant, it is a good idea to immediately remove it and do not add it to your compost. This should hopefully keep the disease from spreading to other plants in your garden.
However, you will have to deal with pests as well. Certain animals like deer, squirrels, and rabbits will want to make your garden their salad bar.
There are many ways to get rid of them, but one of the best options is to fence in your garden.
But you can’t forget about bugs that will want to munch on your crops. The best way to beat them is to cover your crops with row covers. You can also walk through your garden and pick them from your plants.
Yet, when all else fails you can always use insecticides.
- 26 Tips to Protect Your Garden Against Bugs, Critters, and Disease
- 21 Ways to Keep Deer Out of Your Garden and Plants Without Killing Them
- 18 Easy Ways to Get Rid of Squirrels from Your Property Year Round
- 9 Ways to Get Rid of Japanese Beetles
12. How to Properly Store Your Harvest
When you harvest your garden, you are going to have to store some of what you pick unless you plan on eating it right then.
In most cases, if you don’t wash your produce and put them in a cool, dry location then they should remain good for a few days after picking.
If it is going to be more than a few days, then you might want to wash them and place them in your refrigerator. Most vegetables stay crisp in the fridge for five to seven days.
However, if you want to preserve your harvest for longer than that, then you might want to consider freezing it, canning it, dehydrating it, or storing it in a root cellar.
Again, your options may vary depending on what you plant in your garden, but it is good to know ahead of time how to preserve them.
Well, you now know all of the different components that go into raising a garden and utilizing it. There are many decisions to make but knowing is half the battle.
Once you know what you need to consider, you can make informed choices that will hopefully produce great results.
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