How to start your own vegetable garden
While vegetable gardening for food and fun is an excellent way to enjoy the outdoors, the wide selection of seeds, tools, and plant requirements have many emerging gardeners asking: just how do I start a vegetable garden?
Beginning a brand new vegetable garden means answering a lot of questions: what kind of vegetables do you want to grow? What kind of garden makes sense for my area and climate? What season do I want my crops to be ready? Do I want to dig an in-ground garden, build raised beds, or use containers?
To determine what kind of garden– and plants– are best for you, it’s helpful to put together a gardening plan.
What you need in your gardening plan
Your gardening plan should have the location and a rough size estimate for your new garden. For a starting garden, a good size to start at is around 50-70 square feet, with the opportunity to build more and expand from there.
Selecting vegetable seeds can be tricky, but one of the best ways to determine what to grow is whichever veggies you like eating– especially if they are pricey to buy at the supermarket. For beginning gardeners, it’s also smart to grow hardier, easier vegetables like cucumbers, lettuce, kale, or tomatoes.
After you select the seeds, it’s beneficial to plan out the gardening site so your plants get all of the space, sun, and nutrients they need. One good strategy is to plant your taller crops on the west end of the garden, so they cannot block the sunlight from the other plants.
Where should I plant my vegetable garden?
It’s a good idea to select an open patch of soil on level ground away from tall trees, buildings, or other things that obstruct sunlight. Ideally, the location should get six hours of sunlight per day or more.
It’s essential to know what the local insects and animal populations look like, as your garden may need fencing or other repellents to keep pests at bay.
Also, it’s helpful to make sure that you have access to water nearby. Otherwise, installing long-distance irrigation systems (or carrying around a heavy watering can) can make things a bit more difficult.
What should I put in my vegetable garden?
What you grow in your vegetable garden should depend on what you like to eat and what crops grow well in your location. A good way to figure out what to plant in your new garden is to make a list of your favorite veggies (and maybe herbs, too), and then look up the growing conditions required to raise them.
Plants like leafy greens, squashes, peppers, and bush beans are usually easy starter plants for new gardeners. Take into account the climate of your particular area before selecting plants, as many can’t survive harsh winters or scorching summers.
A helpful source of information is a seed catalog from your local farming supply store, which typically contains a ton of useful info on successful planting, growing, and harvesting in your area.
What kind of soil do I need?
For your garden to have the best environment for the vegetables to grow, the soil should have good drainage and organic matter. If you are removing grass, you can retain some of the helpful nutrients in the topsoil by turning over the grass or keeping the sod for later use.
It’s helpful to add 2 inches or more of compost to the top of the soil and add another thin compost layer during every planting. Raised beds can be filled up with store-bought topsoil and compost.
After your soil is spread out and prepared for planting, make sure to test the pH levels and nutrients. Soil testing is a common and important part of gardening, as it helps to ensure that your plants thrive within their new environment. In addition, vegetable gardens should be tested for lead to ensure that the soil is safe to use.
How to plant your crops
Since different kinds of plants need to be planted at different times, you’ll need to keep track of the ideal planting dates for all of your crops before putting them into the ground.
Beets, for example, should be planted anytime between early spring and later summer. Garlic should be planted in late October. Knowing when your plants will be in their different growing phases is essential to plant them at the correct time.
Many plants have the option of being started indoors, though some do better when their seeds are planted directly in the ground. If your plant is grown indoors, make sure that you acclimate it slowly to your area’s climate and temperature. The best time to transplant the new seedling is on a cloudy day with mild weather. Make sure to water the little plant well after it’s in the ground.
How to take care of your garden
It’s no surprise that watering is a huge part of gardening. Look up how much water your individual plants need to avoid overwatering or underwatering. Once you know how much to give them, it’s best to water at the base of the plants, ensuring the roots stay wet. Young seedlings may need lighter, shallower waterings more often than the established plants.
Keep testing the soil regularly and adjusting the fertilizer as needed. Eliminate weeds as they come in by pulling them up from the roots. Check on your plants regularly for any signs of pests or issues.
Finally, enjoy your fresh, home-grown veggies!