Growing your own vegetable garden is both fun and rewarding. All you really need to get started is some decent soil and a few plants. But to be a really successful vegetable gardener and to do it organically you’ll need to understand what it takes to keep your plants healthy and vigorous. Here are the basics.
“Feed the soil” is like a mantra for organic gardeners, and with good reason. In conventional chemical agriculture, crop plants are indeed “fed” directly using synthetic fertilizers.
When taken to extremes, this kind of chemical force-feeding can gradually impoverish the soil. And turn it from a rich entity teeming with micro-organisms insects and other life forms, into an inert growing medium that exists mainly to anchor the plants’ roots, and that provides little or no nutrition in its own right.
Although various fertilizers and mineral nutrients (agricultural lime, rock phosphate, greensand, etc.) should be added periodically to the organic garden, by far the most useful substance for building and maintaining a healthy, well-balanced soil is organic matter.
You can add organic matter to your soil many different ways, such as compost, shredded leaves, animal manures or cover crops.
Organic matter improves the fertility, the structure and the tilth of all kinds of soils. In particular, organic matter provides a continuous source of nitrogen and other nutrients that plants need to grow.
It also provides a rich food source for soil microbes. As organisms in the soil carry out the processes of decay and decomposition, they make these nutrients available to plants.
For the best success, a vegetable garden should be well planned out in advance. The site location is of the utmost importance. A spot near the house in full sunlight is the normally the most convenient spot, however, drainage, soil quality, and shade from buildings or trees may mean the garden must be located in an area farther from the house.
A good vegetable garden must have at least six hours of full sun each day in order for your food crops to mature properly.
No amount of fertilizer, water, or care can replace needed sunshine.
The soil should be very fertile and well draining so that water never puddles after a rain storm.
While good air movement around a garden is important, windy areas should be avoided because winds can dry out or break plants.
Choose a spot close to a water supply for convenience, and to avoid having to use long lengths of hoses.
Planting a vegetable garden where it can be visited frequently will allow you to monitor plant pests and the general health of the garden more easily.
Vegetable Gardening Guide for Beginners
Whether you’re a 0beginner with a single pot or an old hand planting an entire plot, This Vegetable Gardening Guide will help you to plan and grow your tastiest vegetables ever.
Why garden, you ask? If you’ve never tasted garden-fresh vegetables (lots of people haven’t!), you will be amazed by the sweet, juicy flavors and vibrant textures.
There’s absolutely nothing quite like fresh veggies, especially if you grow them yourself—which you can!
In this guide, the basics of vegetable gardening and planning: how to pick the right site for your garden, how to create the right size garden, and how to select which vegetables to grow.
(1) Pick the Right Location
Picking a good location for your garden is absolutely key. A sub-par location can result in sub-par veggies! Here are a few tips for choosing a good site:
Plant in a sunny location:
Most vegetables need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.
The more sunlight they receive, the greater the harvest, the bigger the veggies, and the better the taste.
Plant in good soil:
Plants’ roots penetrate soft soil more easily, so you need nice loamy soil.
Enriching your soil with compost provides needed nutrients. Proper drainage will ensure that water neither collects on top nor drains away too quickly.
Plant in a stable environment:
You don’t want to plant in a place that’s prone to flooding during heavy rains, or in a place that tends to dry out a lot.
You also don’t want to plant somewhere where strong winds could knock over your young plants or keep pollinators from doing their job.
Plant in a location that would make Goldilocks proud.
(2) Choosing a Plot Size: Start Small
Remember: It’s better to be proud of a small garden than be frustrated by a big one!
One of the most common errors that beginners make is planting too much too soon—way more than anybody could ever eat or want! Unless you want to have zucchini taking up residence in your attic, plan your garden with care. Start small.
A good-size beginner vegetable garden is about 16×10 feet and features crops that are easy to grow.
Make your garden 11 rows wide, with each row 10 feet long. The rows should run north and south to take full advantage of the sun.
Vegetables that may yield more than one crop per season include beans, beets, carrots, cabbage, kohlrabi, lettuce, radishes, rutabagas, spinach, and turnips.
(Note: If this garden is too large for your needs, you do not have to plant all 11 rows, or you can simply make the rows shorter)
(3) How to Grow the Best Vegetables
In addition to choosing the right location, here are a few tips that will help you grow your best veggies yet.
Space your crops properly:
For example, corn needs a lot of space and can overshadow shorter vegetables.
Plants set too close together compete for sunlight, water, and nutrition and fail to mature.
Pay attention to the spacing guidance on seed packets and plant tabs.
Use high-quality seeds. Seed packets are less expensive than individual plants, but if seeds don’t germinate, your money and time are wasted.
A few extra cents spent in spring for that year’s seeds will pay off in higher yields at harvest time.
Watering your plants the correct amount neither too much nor too little will give them the best chance at producing well-formed, mature vegetables. Learn more about watering vegetables.
Plant and harvest at the right time, not too early or too late:
Every vegetable has its own planting dates so be sure to check the seed packet.
Suggested Plants for a Beginner’s Vegetable Garden
The vegetables suggested below are common, productive plants that are relatively easy to grow.
It would be wise to contact your local Cooperative Extension Service to find out what plants grow best in your area, and when the best time for planting them is. Think about what you like to eat as well as what’s difficult to find in a grocery store or farmers’ market.
Top Ten Vegetables
1. Tomatoes—5 plants, staked
2. Zucchini squash—4 plants
3. Peppers—6 plants
5. Bush beans
11. Marigolds to discourage pests (and add some color!)
Basic Tools Required for Vegetable Gardening
Hoe: Great for weeding, covering seeds and chopping up the soil.
Rake: Used to prepare the seedbed and to break-up large clods of soil.
Spade: Used to dig up the garden in preparation for planting and for adding organic matter to the soil.
Trowel: Used for digging holes for transplants and breaking up the soil around plants.
Labels, string, ruler: Used to layout rows and measure correct spacing. Each vegetable should have a label with the name of the vegetable and the date seeded or planted on it.
Watering can: Use to water in seeds and transplants.
Soil Preparation and Fertilization
Before you can plant, soil preparation is a must. Dig the soil to a depth of at least 6-10 inches. Add a two to four inch layer of organic matter and incorporate it into the soil. Organic matter will improve your soil structure and will add nutrients to the soil.
Vegetables need nutrients to grow. A good vegetable garden fertilizer should have an analysis of something like 5-10-5, 10-10-10 or 12-12-12. The first number stands for the per cent of nitrogen, the second number the per cent of phosphorus and the third number the per cent of potassium.
Nitrogen promotes green growth, phosphorus promotes root growth and fruit development and potassium promotes disease resistance and root development. If you are growing your vegetables organically, organic fertilizers like peat moss, compost or composted cow manure are a good source of nutrients for your vegetables.
Plan to use all the space in your garden. Through planting techniques like vertical cropping, succession planting and intercropping, you can make maximum use of the space you have.
(1) Vertical Cropping
Train veggies like pole beans, peas, cucumbers, squash and gourds to some type of support to save space in the garden. Existing fences, poles, wire cages, trellises can be used for support.
(2) Succession Planting
This technique involves growing a crop like lettuce in the spring and replacing it when the warm weather hits with a crop like beans. In the late summer, you can reverse the process and replace the beans with a cool season crop like lettuce or radishes.
Intercropping is the growing technique of planting fast growing vegetables among slow growing vegetables. An example of this technique would be planting radishes, lettuce or green onions among caged tomato plants.
Check old veggie seeds for germination. Wet a paper towel and place the seeds in a row about an inch from the edge. Roll the paper towel up from the opposite side and put the towel in a warm area like the top of the refrigerator.
Mist the towel to keep it moist. After 10 to 14 days, unroll the towel and check the number of seeds that have germinated. If less than half have germinated, either discard or seed more heavily this spring.
Clean your garden tools. Remove soil and use a wire brush to remove rust. Prepare a mixture of a bottle of motor oil and builder’s sand in a five-gallon bucket. Dip the tools into the sand several times to clean and prevent rusting.
This mixture can be used over and over again. Treat the handles with boiled linseed oil and paint the handles with a bright color to make them easier to find in the garden.
Avoid damping off with seedlings. Damping off is a major threat to young seedlings being grown indoors. Damping off thrives in cold, humid, wet, conditions with poor air circulation.
Symptoms of damping off include curling, wilting and collapse of emerged seedlings. Some preventative measures that will reduce the likelihood of damping off include: Use high-quality, treated seed; use sanitized soil and containers; keep soil on the dry side; and provide plenty of light and air circulation to the seedlings.
In the spring, never work your soil when it is wet. Tilling or digging when the soil is wet will cause it to dry into concrete-like clods. Pick up a handful of soil before digging and squeeze.
If it crumbles easily, it is ready to be tilled. If it doesn’t crumble, it is too wet. Allow the soil to dry for a couple of more days and test again before digging.