The most important thing about starting a vegetable garden is to start small. Learn how to be a good gardener before you increase the size of your garden and don't overdo it the first year.
Start with 3 or 4 raised beds or even a few large pots or a small 10 x 10 feet (3 x 3 meters) patch of ground in your backyard.
Once you see some success with easy vegetables to grow, you will expand your garden, but do not dig up your whole backyard during the first year.
Good gardeners make lots of mistakes, but you learn from them.
How To Start A Vegetable Garden At Home From Scratch
Position the garden near the house so you can spend the odd moment there from time to time; otherwise, you may forget to tend to it. Make sure the garden is near a water source.
Map out the site making sure the bed is narrow enough so as not to step in it. If it is wide, leave room for a pathway.
Chose a sunny spot and dig out the existing grass or place cardboard over it and wait about six weeks, then dig out the dead grass.
Another way is to leave the cardboard and add the right mix of soil and compost on top. The grass will die over time, and together with the cardboard will become organic matter.
Add loads of organic material such as compost, grass clippings, leaf mold, comfrey tea, or worm castings. Over time the soil structure will improve and drain better.
As a beginner, choose easy vegetables to grow and build your confidence as the garden grows.
Raised Bed Vegetable Gardening
Raised beds drain well, and as the soil is above ground level, it tends to warm-up earlier than the ground beds during the spring. The warmer earth enables us to plant our seedlings a little earlier than in the ground.
A raised bed of 12 inches (30cm) frame and 4 x 8 feet (1 x 2 meters) is a good size bed and allows easy access to the plants without stepping in the bed. Choose a level area that receives a good amount of sunshine.
Try to orient the bed with the rows going North to South for the beds' long side. Plant the tallest plants at the North end in the Northern Hemisphere and on the South end in Southern Hemisphere to allow for maximum sun exposure.
Raised beds are suitable for root veggies, leafy greens, peas, herbs, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions, radishes, eggplants, amongst others. They are not ideal for tall-growing plants such as corn.
Fill the bed with a good quality soil with lots of compost and added vermiculite or coconut coir to retain water as raised beds do tend to dry out fast.
Container Gardening With Veggies
Containers are great for those that do not have any room or limited room for a garden. You do not need a plot of land to grow fresh vegetables. Many vegetables grow well in containers with a minimum of 6 - 8 hours sun a day.
Choose vegetables that are specific for containers such as container cucumbers, container zucchini, etc. These are bred to be smaller than the standard size vegetables.
Tomatoes need a large container as they have a deep root system.
Herbs, leafy greens, green onions, spinach, and bok choy, are some of the fast-maturing veggies and grow well in containers.
Root vegetables such as carrots, beet, radish need deep containers as their roots reach down deep into the soil.
Use a good quality organic potting mix from your garden center.
Water often as containers dry out much quicker than open ground. As your plants mature, they will need more water.
Good drainage is essential and make sure that there are drainage holes in the pot.
Where To Plant A Vegetable Garden At Home
The most important part of vegetable gardening is sunshine.
Try to plant a reasonable distance from trees as they not only limit the sun, but their roots deplete the soil of water and organic matter.
A perfect veggie garden should have 8-10 hours of sunlight a day. You may get away with less, but for every hour less your yard receives, the less productive your garden will be.
Some vegetables, such as lettuce and spinach, can do well with less sunlight.
An excellent sunny spot increases your chances of having a bumper crop year after year.
Planting in the Northern Hemisphere: Plant the tallest crop at the edge of the north side of your bed.
Planting in the Southern Hemisphere: Plant the tallest crop at the edge of the south side of your bed.
Planting this way will prevent the shadow of the tallest crop shading the other veggies.
Which Soil Is Best For Growing Vegetables
Order an online soil test or check with your local land college. Many of these colleges have an extension agency that offers soil tests.
Once you have this test, you can look into the chemistry of your soil and decide what you need to add.
Sandy, Loam, and Clay are the three main types of soil. Adding organic compost every year to all three of these types of soil will improve the soil. Add organic compost to the surface of your soil, every time you plant. There's no need to dig the compost in as the earthworms will do the job for you.
No matter how much attention you apply to the soil, always remember never to walk on it as this will compact it making it near impossible to have a good crop. Stay off of your beds.
Mulching Your Vegetable Garden
Mulch is a gardener's best friend. Mulching is essential in keeping weeds at bay and to prevent the water from evaporating.
A thick layer will keep the soil moist and reduces the need to water as often as well as keeping the ground cool in summer and warm in winter.
Organic mulches add nutrients to the soil as they break down in time.
Add 2-3 inches (5-7cm) of organic mulch, keeping it away from the stems.
Types of organic mulch:
- dried untreated grass clippings
- weed-free straw
- well-rotted hay
- well-rotted manure
- dried leaves
- wood chips
Types of inorganic mulches
- stones or gravel
- landscape fabric
Watering Your Vegetable Garden
Try to plant near a water source or bring a water source to your garden. A permanent water source will make it easier than having to drag a hose to it.
Sprinklers and Drip Irrigation are the two most popular ways of watering. Sprinklers water everywhere, including your pathways.
Drip irrigation is the best for vegetables. Drip systems are very effective in the garden and are less wasteful.
When To Plant Your Vegetables
Check your hardiness zone map before deciding on when and what to plant. Some crops will never grow in certain zones.
Find out when the first frost in the fall and last frost in the spring for your particular zone. These dates will determine your planting times.
Cool Weather Crops
Cool-weather crops are frost hardy and germinate in soil temperatures of between 55-65 F (12-18C) but can germinate as low as 40F (4C).
Measure the soil temperature at least 4-6 inches (10-15cm) below the soil surface using a soil thermometer or a probe-type meat thermometer.
Cool-weather crops prefer air temperatures below 80F (26C).
Plant in early spring for spring harvest and again in late summer for fall harvest. See USDA Frost Map for the first and last frost dates for your region.
Protect your plants if there is an unusually late last frost.
- Leafy greens - need plenty of water and do well in containers.
- Lettuce - easy to grow and can tolerate shade
- Spinach - easy to grow and thrives in cool weather
- Arugula (rocket) - sow in late summer for a fall crop
- Broccoli - grow mid to late summer for an early winter crop
- Cabbage - plant in late summer for a fall harvest. They are heavy feeders
- Kale - easy to grow. Plant 6-8 weeks before the first frost for a fall crop
- Brussel sprouts - slow growing. Plant in early spring
- Mustard greens - sow every three weeks for a successive harvest
- Swiss Chard - easy to grow. Sow early spring to midsummer.
- Pak Choy - likes rich organic soil and grows well in full sun in cool regions
- Peas - easy to grow, and young plants can tolerate light frost
- Kohlrabi - easy to grow and fast to mature for fall and spring crops
- Cauliflower - likes full sun and fertile well-drained soil
- Collards Greens - likes moist, fertile soil and full sun
- Radishes - easy to grow and mature quickly
- Beets - easy to grow, sow 6-8 weeks before the first frost in fall
- Turnips - sow early spring or fall. Easy to grow
- Carrots - take 70-80 days to mature. Sow 8-12 weeks before first fall frost
- Coriander (cilantro) - will bolt quickly in hot weather
- Parsnips - long growing season. Sow when soil temperature is 50F (10C)
Warm Weather Crops
Warm weather crops cannot take any frost unless grown under hardy protection. Plant these crops after all danger of frost has passed.
Plant in temperatures of 75-90F (23-32C) or higher, and they will thrive. All of these warm-weather crops are fruiting crops and require a lot of sunlight. They also need a lot of water and organic feeding.
- Tomatoes - plant late spring or early summer in full sun
- Cucumbers - require plenty of water and they are vigorous growers
- Squash (Summer and Winter) - need fertile well-drained soil in full sun
- Pumpkins - plant in full sun and they are heavy feeders
- Melons - require full sun. Do not overwater as melons will rot
- Corn - plant 10-15 plants in blocks in full sun
- Green Beans - easy to grow. For succession crop plant every two weeks
- Eggplant - a short season vegetable. Keep soil moist
- Peppers - require full sun and moderate watering and little feeding
- Sweet Potato - easy to grow, plant in full sun
- Herbs - easy to grow in containers, windowsills or garden beds and many thrive in hot weather.
How To Plant A Vegetable Garden From Seeds
Many vegetables are best grown from seed, and there are many benefits from planting in-situ, which means planting the seed directly into the ground where it is to complete its lifecycle.
- Seeds are cheaper
- Left over seed can be used the next season
- More variety on offer than seedlings
These plants can be planted in-situ -
- Corn - crop will harvest at least two ears per plant
- Carrots - thin them out once they have germinated
- Beets - small beets can be harvested
- Turnips - easy to grow
- Beans - fast-maturing
- Peas - can take some frost
- Lettuce - like some shade
- Kale - early spring to early summer and sometimes in early fall
- Summer Squashes - like well-composted soil
- Winter Squashes - compost-rich soil
- Melons - need support
- Pumpkins - like warm weather and warm soil
- Lettuce - do well with some shade
- Chard - cold and heat tolerant
- Radishes - mix the seeds with carrot seeds
- Spinach - also grows in shade
- Asian Greens & Cabbages - heavy feeder
- All other leafy greens - fall and summer
- Potatoes - planted from a seed potato
- Sweet Potatoes - frost-sensitive
Which Vegetables Should Be Planted As Seedlings
Certain plants are challenging to grow, and you can start these in seed trays. Once they reach a specific size, you can then plant them into the garden bed as seedlings or transplants.
If your growing season is short, seeds can be started indoors in seed trays and planted out when the weather warms up.
These should be grown in seed trays first by yourself or purchased from your local garden center.
- Egg Plant
- Brussels Sprouts
- Most Herbs
Companion Planting Vegetables
Companion planting is planting different vegetables together so that one plant benefits another.
Growing vegetables together complement each other by using different soil minerals and nutrients from the soil.
You could plant tall plants near those that prefer shade. Or add short rooted plants next to those with a deep root system such as asparagus and strawberries.
Certain plants planted together, improve their flavors, such as tomatoes and basil. These two planted together complement each other, in the garden and in sauces.
Planting crops together also saves space.
What Flowers To Plant In A Vegetable Garden
Just like people, vegetables are healthier and happier when they've got company.
Planting flowers in your vegetable garden for companion planting helps cut down on weeds, deters pests and attract useful insects such as pollinators.
Many insects and small animals do not like the pungent aroma of marigolds. They attract bees as well. Marigolds thrive in full sun.
Nasturtiums are very easy to grow and attract aphids to them, which in turn keeps them off your vegetables. The leaves and flowers are edible and they self-seed. Nasturtium seeds can be pickled as an alternative to capers.
Calendula attract beneficial insects such as ladybugs, bees, and hoverflies to your vegetable garden.
Comfrey is a very versatile plant. You can use the leaves for making a comfrey tea, as well as a compost activator. They require partial shade.
Hoverflies are attracted to sweet alyssum, which in turn, control aphids. Bees are also attracted to alyssum. You can plant alyssum under tall vegetables or amongst your herbs.
Plants with strong odor discourage aphids as well as many other pests. They repel cabbage worms and earworms.
Camomile attracts beneficial insects for the brassicas family of vegetables as well as cucumbers. Their strong scent deters unwanted pests.
Borage repels tomato hornworm, and it attracts bees. It also adds nutrients back into your soil. It self-seeds every year. Make sure there is space as it can reach 3x2 feet (1x.05meters)
On the other hand, if you do not have space for a veggie garden, plant your vegetables amongst your flower garden. Making sure they have the same requirements.
- Start small and increase the size of your garden as you learn how to become a good gardener
- An important part of vegetable gardening is sunshine
- Avoid stepping on your garden bed as this compacts the soil
- Check your hardiness zone map before deciding on what to plant, as some crops will never grow in certain zones