Gardening 101: How to Start a Vegetable Garden

Starting your own vegetable garden may sound like a daunting task, but you don’t need a green thumb to make it grow. Vegetable gardens are some of the easiest gardens to start and maintain.

For this reason, vegetable gardens are ideal for a novice gardener. You can grow a few vegetables or enough for a whole salad bowl. That’s the beauty of a home garden! This guide will take you through the basic principles of growing a vegetable garden, including everything you need to get started, the best type of vegetables to plant for beginners and how to keep your garden growing strong.

Environment Needed for Vegetable Garden

When it comes to growing vegetables, the process is broken down into two seasons: cool and warm. Therefore, vegetables can thrive in almost any part of the country as long as they are planted accordingly. For instance, Georgia is known for growing onions and Idaho is known for its famous potatoes. While almost every state grows vegetables, California, Washington, Idaho, Wisconsin and Florida are the top producers.

Cool season vegetables such as carrots, beetroot and cauliflower should be planted as early as three weeks or up to two months after the last frost in your area. Vegetables like Brussels sprouts and kale oftentimes grow better in the early part of the year because the cold weather helps them to germinate, grow and mature faster than warm weather. When planting cool-season vegetables, always start with seeds and not a starter plant.

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Warm-season vegetables need warmer soil and air temperatures and should be planted in the late spring to summer, when the climate begins to heat up. Popular warm-season vegetables include beans, eggplant, corn, melons, summer squash, pumpkins, watermelon and cucumbers. Tomatoes especially thrive in the heat. These vegetables also need at least six hours of sunlight, so make sure to plant them in a sunny spot. This can be a variety of sun throughout the day such as a few hours in the morning and in the afternoon.

The amount of water your vegetable garden needs will be determined by what you plant. As a general rule of thumb, experts say vegetable gardens need roughly one inch of water per week. This means that a 32-square foot garden would need 20 gallons of water on a weekly basis.

Most vegetables require enriched soil to grow, but plants like lettuce, swiss chard and snap beans like clay soil. If you have clay soil in your backyard, make sure to add compost or other organic matter to it before planting and during growth to keep the soil rich in nutrients. Sand and generic piles of dirt are not ideal foundations to grow vegetables.

Tools and Materials Needed to Start a Vegetable Garden

With the right tools and materials, your vegetable garden will flourish in no time. From tending to tasty bell peppers to harvesting lush green heads of lettuce, there aren’t many tools and materials needed to make your garden grow. There are a few basic items that you will need to get started, and you may already have them in your garage! Take inventory before you purchase new tools. To start a vegetable garden, here is what you will need:

  • Shovel
  • Rake
  • Hose, sprinkler, drip system or watering can
  • Hoe or a handheld weeding tool
  • Hand Trowel
  • Pruners

Those six tools will help get you started, but there are a few more key pieces of equipment that you will need. Visit your local nursery to pick up a few bags of high-quality soil and some fertilizer. Make sure you buy enough soil for the size of your garden. For a first-time garden, 100 square feet should be more than enough room to grow whatever your heart desires. You can also incorporate compost into the first few inches of the soil. Compost enriches the soil with nutrients which helps plants to grow big and strong. The better the soil, the better your plants will grow. You will also need to buy seeds, or starter vegetable plants, to sow into your home garden.

If you decide to grow tomatoes in your garden, you will need a support cage. The cage should be placed over the plant once it begins to sprout. If you are using a starter tomato plant, place the cage on top shortly after planting. This helps to support the weight of the plant as it grows and begins to bear tomatoes. Stakes and ties can also help take the weight off heavy vegetable plants. These items can be purchased at your local home and garden store or nursery.

In addition to garden supplies, you should also have a few things on hand for yourself. These items include gardening gloves to protect your hands, a large hat to shade yourself from the sun, rain boots or other shoes that are easy to hose off after walking around in the dirt, a water bottle to keep yourself hydrated and the all-important bottle of sunscreen.

Pros and Cons of Starting a Vegetable Garden

Home gardens are on the upswing across the United States. Among some of the most popular gardens are vegetable gardens, and you probably know of at least one person who is taking a stab at growing their own veggies. If you are mulling over the idea of a vegetable garden, here are the advantages and disadvantages of starting one.

PROS

  • These types of gardens can yield many tasty and nutritious foods like carrots, lettuce, bell peppers and more.
  • Successfully growing and harvesting your first crop can leave you with a sense of accomplishment.
  • Vegetable gardens are great for a first-time gardener because they are easy to maintain.
  • Starting a vegetable garden in your backyard is an eco-friendly and sustainable way to get your vegetables because it uses less energy to grow and no packaging is required.
  • Organic vegetables tend to cost a pretty penny at the grocery store or your local farmer’s market. By starting your own garden, you can save money on household costs later on down the road.
  • Growing your own vegetables may “trick” you into eating healthier. You may be encouraged to eat more fresh foods, especially those grown in your own backyard.
  • Vegetables can be grown in both hot and cold weather, making them a versatile choice no matter where you live.
  • Vegetable gardens lend themselves to spaces of all sizes, like pots on an apartment balcony or in a residential backyard.

CONS

  • Vegetable gardens, while great options for beginners, require a significant amount of time to start and maintain.
  • You must enjoy the outdoors and heat (depending on the time of year) because you will need to water your vegetable garden on a daily basis. The same goes for weeding, though it must be done on a weekly or as-needed basis.

While vegetable gardens are a trend among millennials, it is important to take all of these factors into consideration to make sure that a vegetable garden matches up with your lifestyle. Do you have enough time? Are you committed to the upkeep? Why do you want to start a garden? Ask yourself these questions before you get your hands dirty.

How to Start and Maintain Your Vegetable Garden

Now that you know what it takes to keep your vegetable garden afloat, it is time to lay the foundation for your own edible garden. To start, you should ask yourself a few questions. Will you use organic seeds and plants or non-organic? Also, consider the size of the space you are working with to determine what type of vegetables and how many will fit in your garden. If you are still trying to decide what to grow in your garden, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, radishes, green beans, zucchini and lettuce are among some of the easiest vegetables for beginners to grow.

Once you’ve decided on the size of your garden and what you want to plant, you need to map out space in your backyard. Will you be using a raised garden bed or a patch of soil you’ve designated on the ground? Take an edger and evenly carve out space. Dig up any grass, weeds and other unwanted debris. Place the soil in the space and distribute it evenly. Work a layer of compost into the first several inches of the soil. You can think of compost as food for the soil. Use a garden hoe to smooth out the top of the soil.

Once that is done, follow the instructions on the back of your seed packet to determine how deep to bury the seeds as well as how far apart the seeds need to be from one another. Place additional soil on top of the seeds and give it a quick watering. Continue to water your plants on daily basis and pull out any weeds as necessary. To offset weeds, add mulch to your garden. This will limit weed growth and help the soil stay moist. To help your plants along, you can add fertilizer to your watering can or add the fertilizer directly to the plant yourself.

As the plants begin to flourish, prune them as necessary, especially if any leaves start to yellow or look decayed. Don’t go too crazy, though, or you may end up trimming your plant too far back and cause it to stop growing.

When it comes time to harvest, how will you know your vegetables are ready? You should be able to tell when vegetables like tomatoes are ripe and ready to be picked. The tomato will look plump, bright red in appearance and be firm but slightly soft to the touch. When vegetables are harvested, it sends a message to the plant to start growing more. If you do not harvest in time, certain vegetable plants like cucumbers, beans and peas will stop producing.

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