Vegetable Gardening for Beginners
Why garden, you ask? How about enjoying the best vegetables and fruit you’ve ever eaten? If you’ve never tasted garden-fresh food, 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!
It may seem daunting at first, but gardening is a very rewarding hobby. On this page, we’ll highlight 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.
Pick the Right Location
Picking a good location for your garden is absolutely key. A subpar location can result in subpar veggies! Here are a few tips for choosing a good site:
- Sunny spot: Most vegetables need 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight per day. There are a few veggies (mostly the leafy ones) that will tolerate some shade.
- Drains well and doesn’t stay wet: If you have poorly drained soil where water pools, plant veggies in a raised bed or raised row for improved drainage. Wet soil means wet roots, which can turn into rotted roots. If you have rocky soil, till and remove the rocks, as they will interfere with root growth and make for weaker plants.
- Stable and not windy: Avoid places that receive strong winds that could knock over your young plants or keep pollinators from doing their job. Nor do you want to plant in a location that receives too much foot traffic or floods easily. Plant in a location that would make Goldilocks smile—somewhere that’s “just right.”
- Nutrient-rich soil. You soil feeds your plants. If you have thin, nutrient-poor soil, you’ll have poor, unhealthy plants. Mix in plenty of organic matter to help your plants grow.
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 zucchinis taking up residence in your attic, plan your garden with care. Start small, and only grow what you know you and your family will eat.
Size of Garden
- If planting in the ground, a 10’ x 10’ garden (100 square feet) is a managable size. Pick 3 to 5 of your favorite vegetables and buy 3 to 5 plants of each one.
- If planting in a raised bed, a 4’ x 4’ or 4’ x 8’ is a good beginner size. Which covers the benefits of raised beds, how to build a raised bed, and what type of soil to fill a raised bed with.
- If you want to go bigger, a 12’ x 24’ garden in the ground is probably the biggest a first-timer should go. For example, a garden that feeds a family of four could include: 3 hills of yellow squash; 1 mound of zucchini; 10 assorted peppers; 6 tomato plants; 12 okra plants; a 12-foot row of bush beans; 2 cucumbers on a cage; 2 eggplant; 6 basil; 1 rosemary, and a few low-growing herbs such as oregano, thyme, and marjoram.
- Whatever the size of your garden: Every four feet or so, make sure that you have paths that allow you to access your plants to weed and harvest. Just make sure that you can reach the centre of the row or bed easily without stepping on the soil.
Where to Plant
If you are simply growing two or three tomato plants, this process is easy. But if you plan to grow a full garden, you need to consider:
- Where will each plant go?
- When will each vegetable need to be planted?
Here are a few guidelines for arranging your vegetables:
- Not all vegetables are planted at the same time. “Cool-season” vegetables such as lettuce and brocoil and peas grow in cooler weather of early spring (and fall). “Warm-season” such as tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers aren’t planted until the soil warms up in late spring and summer.
- Plant tall veggies (such as pole beans on a trellis or sweet corn) on the north side of the garden so they don’t shade shorter plants. If you do get shade in a part of your garden, save that area for small, cool-season veggies. If shade is unavoidable in parts of your garden, save those areas for cool-season vegetables which appreciate shade as the weather heats up.
- Most veggies are annuals (planted each year). If you’re planning on growing “perennial” crops such as asparagus, rhubarb, and some herbs, provide permanent locations or beds.
- Consider that some crops mature quickly and have a very short harvest period (radishes, bush beans). Other plants, such as tomatoes, take longer to produce, but also produce for longer. These “days to maturity” are typically listed on the seed packet.
- Stagger plantings. You don’t want to plant all your lettuce seeds at the same time, or all that lettuce will need to be harvested at around the same time! Stagger plantings by a few weeks to keep ‘em coming!