How to Start Your First Vegetable Garden
Vegetable gardening at home can be a way to save money while you get up close and personal with nature. You’ll also find that the flavor and texture of garden-grown produce is even better than what you're used to finding at the grocery store. Plus, tending your vegetable garden counts as exercise! Dig into these tips and tricks to get your vegetable garden off to a strong start.
1. Start with a small space
If you’re a beginner gardener, start small. It’s better to be thrilled by what you produce in a small garden than be frustrated by the time commitment a big one requires. Select up to five types of vegetables to grow, and plant a few of each type. Growing vegetables in containers is also a good way to start out. With them you don't even need a yard; a sunny deck or balcony work fine.
2. Grow What You Love to Eat
What do you like to eat? Your answer will tell you what you should plant in your vegetable garden. Start by choosing veggies you like to eat, then look into their sizes and care needs. Be realistic about how many seeds or plants you need to put into the ground or container. Many beginners make the mistake of planting too much. Vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, and squash keep providing throughout the season, so you may not need many plants to serve your needs. Other vegetables, such as carrots, radishes, and corn, can be harvested only once and then would need to be replanted.
Gardening Tip: Planting vining crops like green beans and peas, makes use of vertical space in the garden and boost yield per square meter
3. Choose the Spot for Your Garden
No matter where you put your garden or what you decide to plant, there are two basic requirements that your location needs to meet for the best success: water and light.
Sunlight Is a Must
Like all plants, vegetables need the sun to kick-start photosynthesis. The fastest-growing vegetables need full sun (at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight a day) without blockage from trees, shrubs, or fences. That’s why you won’t have much success if you plant sun-loving vegetables in shady spaces. If your lawn provides partial shade, plant vegetables and herbs that tolerate those conditions, such as lettuce, kale, chard, spinach, chives, cilantro, parsley, and thyme. Root vegetables like carrots, radishes, and beets might also work if your site gets at least 4 hours of direct sunlight a day. Or if you have a sunny patio, switch to container gardening. That way you can place sun-loving vegetables and herbs such as tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, basil, dill, and rosemary, where they’ll do well.
Think About Convenient Water Access
The closer you can site your plot to a water source, the better. You'll need to be able to water frequently during the first few weeks after seeds germinate or seedlings are transplanted to help these fragile plants produce strong roots and stems. Once your plants are established, it's better to give your garden a long drink every few days rather than a little sprinkle every day. Then the water will move deeper into the soil, which encourages roots to grow deeper, where they’re better able to access nutrients they need to stay healthy. Consider installing soaker houses or drip irrigation on a timer to help minimize water waste and the time you need to spend watering.
4. Start Plants in Rich Soil
For the best harvest, your vegetable garden needs the best soil you can give it. Rich, healthy soil is easy to dig and drains well. Pick up a trowel's worth and put it in your hands. Does it feel gritty? Too much sand. Is it powdery? Too much silt. Is it sticky when wet? Too much clay. The combination of these three types, and in which specific proportions, determines the texture of your garden soil.
That texture affects drainage and the availability of nutrients. You want soil that is dark, crumbly, and literally full of life. Fortunately, no matter what the texture may be, all soil can be improved over time by incorporating organic matter into it. Take sandy soils, for instance. They're made up of large soil particles, so water and nutrients run through gaps relatively quickly. Adding organic matter (typically compost) to sandy soil helps fill in the spaces between sand particles, which helps retain both moisture and nutrients for plants to use.
Clay soils are just the opposite. They contain very small, densely packed particles that hold moisture but don't allow much air space for plant roots. Compost helps separate those tiny clay particles so water can drain more freely and plant roots can get needed oxygen. To prepare your soil for planting, spread any needed amendments like compost and work them into the soil with a tiller or spade. Avoid stepping on freshly tilled soil or you’ll compact it and undo all your hard work. Then rake the surface smooth and water thoroughly. Allow the bed to rest several days before you plant so the soil amendments can do their work.