Today I’m going to show you how to start a vegetable garden from scratch.
Vegetable gardening is a big topic with many branches.
And there is A LOT to know.
Without learning the basics and where to start, gardening will be frustrating and confusing.
In this guide, I’ll show you actionable steps to start your first garden. Without being overwhelmed or confused.
Let’s get started.
1. Choose a Spot for Your Garden
The first of the steps to making a garden is to pick a suitable spot for it. This will depend on the amount of space you have available, to some degree. If you’ve got several acres of land to work with, you’ll have a lot more choices than if you’re growing your garden on the balcony of an apartment.
The most important factor in picking a location is sun exposure. Your garden needs 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day for the best results. If you don’t have much flexibility for a location, you can plant vegetables that grow in the shade, but in general, you want plenty of sun.
Watch for trees and large shrubs that could throw shade. If their leaves haven’t grown out yet when you’re planning things, you could find your nice sunny spot is dark when the trees fill in.
Think about how close to your house you want your garden as well. If you live on a large property and plant your garden a long way from the house, you’ll be walking back and forth every day not only to maintain it but also to pick vegetables to eat.
2. Make a Step-by-Step Plan for Your Vegetable Garden
Once you have your location worked out, start planning the garden itself. First, how big do you want the garden to be? A large vegetable garden is great because you can plant more types of vegetables and you’ll have a larger harvest when the time comes. But it also means more work.
Think about how you’re going to use your vegetables as well. If you plant a huge garden and can’t eat everything before it goes bad, it’s a waste of time and energy.
Figure out what kinds of vegetables you want to grow. The first thing to consider is what do you like to eat? There’s no point in planting things you don’t like and won’t want to eat when the time comes.
Think about the timing of what you’re going to plant as well. You may want to start with vegetables that grow better in cooler temperatures and plant warm-season vegetables later in the season.
It’s also important to check the frost dates for your area if you live in a colder climate. Most vegetables don’t do well with frost so you can either wait until after the expected last frost date or you can start your vegetable seeds indoors and move them to the garden after that date.
3. Gather Everything You Need
Before you start planting your garden, make sure you have all the tools and supplies you need. Some of the essential garden tools you’ll need are:
- A good garden hose
- A wagon or wheelbarrow for moving heavier supplies
- Garden rake, spade, and hoe
- Pruning shears
If you’re planting a larger garden, you’ll also want to have twine or string and garden stakes on hand. It’s a good idea to map the layout of your garden ahead of time and you can use the stakes and twine to lay out the rows. This makes it a lot easier to keep things lined up when you start planting your seeds.
Pick up fertilizers, plant cages, mulching materials, and soil (if needed) so you have it all on hand when you get started. Some of these things will depend on the types of vegetables you’re going to grow. For example, you won’t need plant cages if you’re growing carrots and other root veggies but they’re helpful for growing tomatoes and other things that grow on the vine.
Of course, you’ll also need to pick up the most important part of your vegetable garden – the seeds and/or plants. If you’re starting your garden from seed, you can buy enough for the entire season at the same time. If you’re growing from seedling plants and want to stagger the planting dates (we’ll talk about that shortly) you may want to wait until closer to the time you’re actually going to plant them.
4. Plant Your Garden in Containers or Raised Beds
When the time comes to start planting your garden, you have a couple of options:
- In-ground garden
- Raised beds or container garden
Raised beds and containers have a couple of significant advantages. First, you have more control over the type and quality of the soil in your garden. Some areas have poor soil or a thin layer of topsoil covering rocky soil. Your garden won’t thrive in that type of environment so it can be a lot of work to prepare the ground for planting.
Raised beds and containers can also be a lot easier to maintain since they’re above ground level. You won’t need to bend as far and your knees and back may thank you later in the season.
Containers have the unique advantage of being more flexible too. You can grow vegetables in a container on a small apartment balcony or other places where a full-size garden is impossible.
You might want to stagger your planting dates. Instead of planting everything at once, stagger them by a week or two at a time. If you plant it all at once, you’ll be harvesting it all at the same time as well and may not be able to use it while it’s fresh.
5. Take Care of Your Garden While it Grows
Water is the second critical component of growing a successful garden, along with sunlight. If your plants don’t get enough water, they’re not going to produce many vegetables.
Too much water can be almost as bad, mind you. If they get too much water, it can lead to rot so be careful that you don’t overdo it. The soil should be soaked to about 6 inches deep once a week. It’s better to soak the plants less often than hit them with a light sprinkling daily. You want the water to reach the roots of the plants.
Water early in the day so the plants have a chance to dry. If water sits on the leaves overnight, it increases the chance of disease.
Fertilizer is an important part of any successful vegetable garden but it’s even more important in raised beds or containers. The soil won’t have access to the natural nutrients a regular garden would so you need to add those yourself.
Use a slow-release fertilizer when you plant the garden. It should be balanced, such as 10-10-10 or 14-14-14. The numbers on fertilizer indicate the relative amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.
Midway through the growing season, when vegetables start to form, add a soluble fertilizer. Root and fruiting vegetables should get a more phosphorus-rich fertilizer, such as 15-30-15, while leafy vegetables need a more nitrogen-heavy (30-15-15) or balanced (20-20-20) fertilizer.
Weeding your garden is one of the more time- and labor-intensive parts of maintaining it but it important if you want to get the best results. Weeds use some of the nutrients intended for your vegetables for themselves, which leaves less for the plants you want to grow.
Some weeds will also overgrow your garden, limiting how large your vegetables can get. If they don’t have the necessary space to grow, you’ll end up with small vegetables or in some cases, none at all.
Stay away from herbicides and other “no maintenance” weed killers. Take the time to pull weeds manually. It’s healthier for your plants, healthier for you when it comes time to eat the vegetables, and it keeps the soil healthier.
6. What You Need to Know About Pest and Disease Control
Like weed control, stay away from pesticides and other chemicals for getting rid of pests in your garden. They’re not healthy for the environment or for the people eating the vegetables.
There are several ways to reduce pests in your garden:
- Choose disease-resistant varieties to plant
- Buy treated seed when possible
- Don’t over-crowd your garden
- Don’t over-water your plants and make sure they have good drainage
- Rotate crops from year-to-year
7. Enjoy the Results of All Your Hard Work
After weeks of work and waiting to see some results, you’ll finally get the payoff. You can harvest those fresh vegetables and see how much better they taste when they’re from your garden.
Remember, they’re not going to grow more after you harvest them. Be patient and wait for them to be truly ready to eat before picking them. It can be hard when you start to see results but sometimes waiting for an extra few days will make a world of difference.
After harvesting your vegetables, make sure you store them properly. Some vegetables keep better in cooler temperatures while others are less picky.
If you’re going to can or pickle them, harvest them close to the time you’ll be doing it. You don’t want them to lose too much freshness while waiting for the next stage of the process.
Don’t Wait to Plant a Home Vegetable Garden
If you want to plant a home vegetable garden but aren’t sure where to start, these steps should get you on the right track. You don’t need to plant a huge garden either. A few vegetables in a couple of containers on the deck might be all you have time or space for, and that’s okay.
You’ll get experience with a small garden and can decide whether you want to expand your efforts next year. Once you see how tasty vegetables you grew yourself, chances are you’ll be hooked.
To learn more about growing your own vegetables, check out the Garden Apprentice blog where you’ll find lots of helpful articles about vegetable gardening.