Most homeowners and gardeners in particular dream of growing their own fruits and veggies and serving up healthy, tasty treats right from their own garden. And the good news is starting your own vegetable garden isn’t hard, it can be really easily in fact - healthy too!
To get started growing veggies, all you’ll really need is a bit of space, some decent soil and seeds or plants you plan to grow (obviously seedlings are easier and faster to start seeing dinner table ready results!). And if gardening's all new to you, check out our guide to get started gardening.
Is a Veggie Garden Right for You?
Before we begin planning and planting your little garden, let’s look at some of the benefits:
- Healthier food for your family - you can grow organic easily and know exactly where your food comes from
- It’s less expensive - growing your own vegetables mean less bills come grocery day
- Gardening’s fun - who doesn’t want their own vegetable garden, really?
- Makes a great story - just wait til you tell friends their eating salad you grew.
- Helps us see the big picture - it’s good to know where your food comes from and how it’s produced, especially if you have kids.
Planning Your Garden Layout
Starting a veg garden can be challenging depending on where you live. For suburbanites and homeowners with sizable backyards, it’s rarely an issue but for families and gardeners living in cities and urban environments it can be tough. For folks without the space, look into community gardens and spaces around the city dedicated to urban farming. A lot of major cities are starting to follow the trend of personal farming and a community garden is ideal for planting and growing a quite satisfying harvest.
There a few things to consider when plotting out your garden allotment though.
1. Garden Size
The size of your garden and the amount of seeds or seedlings you’ll be able to grow and harvest are dependent on the amount of space you have and are willing to dedicate to healthy, organic growing. Additionally the time investment will increase with the size of your garden so the bigger you grow, the more watering, weeding and time you’ll need to put into putting food on the table.
For gardeners looking for a slightly smaller and more manageable gardening experience, consider a small raised bed garden. Raised bed gardens, typically made of plywood and filled with soil can serve well in providing tomatoes, peppers and a vast assortment of veggies for any small household to enjoy. More advanced or dedicated gardeners could alternatively try their hands at squash, corn, pumpkins or whatever healthy vegetables suit their fancy.
2. Sun and Shade
Your garden needs proper sunlight in order to prosper. And veggies love sun, 6-8 hours are a must for the juiciest, ripest, most robust munchies that we all get into vegetable gardening for. To ensure adequate sun and growth for your garden, facing plants south (for gardeners based in the US) is ideal (because we are above the equator). For more accurate estimates on sunlight exposure and plants that do well in your region, run a quick Google search or better yet, visit Home Depot or your local nursery for expert advice to get you growing. But if you built under a branch or two, all is not lost. A sturdy hand saw and a little tree trimming or some power pruners cutting back underbrush and your garden’s good as new.
3. Trees and Roots
Sun and space are critical to the success and longevity of your veggie plot. For this, consider not only the obvious negative effects of shading from the trees but all the disruption and destruction their root systems could cause upon your growing veggies. Roots don’t mix well and will use up the precious nutrients your little garden needs to thrive so plan garden plots at least 10 feet beyond the leaf/branch growth line of any nearby trees (this is more important for in-ground garden beds).
4. Sloping Yards and Garden Beds
As any gardener knows, slanted or sloping yards can spell trouble for aspiring gardens. With flooding and erosion common (both problems you need to avoid to successfully harvest veggies), you may need to build up a level bed to protect and house your garden.
Quality Soil and Organic Gardening
The produce your garden yields is a direct result of the quality of the soil and nutrients you feed your garden. Here, there are various schools of thought. While most gardeners advocate as organic, natural and wholesome as possible for garden soil and fertilizer, some gardeners prefer synthetic fertilizers for the ease and convenience. This comes down to a personal choose but organic is in fact healthier and heartier for the both you and your garden so it’s our recommendation.
To make your own organic, plant-power fertilizer, the best example is nature. As things die they decay, or decompose and produce the highest quality fertilizer possible. This means starting your own compost or occasionally adding organic matter to your garden’s soil to infuse it with the nutrients needed for growth.
What Makes Good Garden Soil?
If you are reading this guide, chances are your yard’s never seen a sizable garden before. That is great news, it means you’re working with virgin, nutrient dense soil and can grow some awesome produce.
There are a few steps to check and improve the quality of your soil in addition to composting though.
Check Soil Acidity
Like any good high school science experiment, the first thing you should check is the pH or acidity of the soil where you plan to plant. Some gardeners use pH soil kits while others tend to improvise. As a rule of thumb, dandelions and weeds mean basic soil (pH >7) while moss means the soil is slightly acidic (pH < 7). Plants in your garden will thrive at as close to neutral (7) as possible so adjust accordingly.
Check Garden Moisture
Drainage, as you may expect is incredibly important when it comes to planning your home garden. If a vegetable garden won’t drain, your plants can easily become waterlogged and die, ruining all your hard work. To prevent this, check the moisture levels of the soil. If your soil’s soggy or clumpy you may have problems. Look for drier areas until it’s evident your garden will drain or perhaps consider a raised garden bed instead.
Getting Garden Beds Ready
Once your soil set, you need to go about preparing your garden bed(s) to plant. To do this, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, let’s look at the types of garden beds:
1. Raised garden beds
Most vegetable gardeners get started with raised gardens. These are the easiest and simplest to maintain and make a great way to start planting. Raised beds, as the name imply are built right upon the ground and boxed in with plywood constructions to hold your soil and plants in place.
The benefits of raised bed gardens include:
- Less strain when bending over gardening
- Better drainage without compacting and compromising the soil
- Less weeds as the garden is physically separated from the surrounding yard and soil
- Fewer pests for the same reason as above
2. In ground garden beds
In-ground garden beds are the cheapest way to get started planting a vegetable garden. Again named accordingly, in ground beds involve digging or tilling the existing soil to get planting conditions proper for seeds or seedlings.
The pros of in ground gardens include:
- Obviously the time and cost as there are no enclosures to build
The cons however of in ground garden beds are that:
- Pests, bugs and weeds have easier access to your garden
- They’re less protect from larger predator and destroyers like puppies and children
- Bending over more to bother your back
3. Sunken garden beds
The last main type of garden bed are the most challenging and attractive of all the veggie gardens we’ve looked at thus far. Sunk garden are essentially raised garden beds set into the ground to allow gardeners to use existing topsoil rather than buying or producing quality soil for their garden.
The benefits of sunken raised beds include:
- Saving soil and money
- Easily the most attractive and compelling of the garden beds
The two downsides though are:
- Slightly less drainage that traditional raised garden beds
- Significantly more upfront effort to prepare the bed for planting
And speaking of garden beds, what else do you need to know.
1. How many garden beds?
The number of garden beds you plant will be largely determined by the size of the garden you’re aiming for and the space considerations of your backyard. For instance one super long garden bed makes watering and space saving rather challenging.
Another reason multiple garden beds makes sense is for sorting and specializing in various veggies. It just makes sense to grow all your tomatoes together because they will all need similar amounts of sunlight, water and well intentioned love to get them to grow. As an added bonus, rotating your plants among the various garden beds year after year helps to keep the soil fresh and producing without overworking your little patch.
2. What size should my garden bed be?
Vegetable beds can vary in size (and even shape), but most gardeners agree under four feet is an ideal width to minimize extra work. By incorporating rows and paths in your garden you’ll also make it easier to pull wheelbarrows and work a hose in and out as the weather dictates.
3. How deep does a garden bed need to be?
The depth of your garden is largely dependent on the types of crop you plan to grow. Some vegetables require deep roots and extensive space while others don’t so research your plants in advance of preparing your bed.
4. When is the best time to plant?
Well, that will depend on your region and what you’re planning to plant. Here’s a free guide to know what grows when in your area!
5. How to avoid weeding?
Weeding is the bane of any gardener. Luckily, with proper planning and setup, it can be almost completely avoided for your vegetable garden. The best way is to cover the garden bed with landscape fabric (only leaving holes for your plants to grow skyward). This keeps weeds from wreaking havoc upon your garden.
Shaping Your Garden As It Grows
Even after setting and planting your vegetable garden, there will be quite a lot of work and maintenance required to maximize the produce you’re able to pull from it. While watering and trimming (pruning snips are perfect for veggie gardeners) are both obvious and essential, there are two things most vegetable gardeners wish they’d known in the beginning that they had to learn the hard way. So, let’s make things easier for you.
1. Label your rows (or groupings)
After planting who knows how many garden beds and spending endless hours on your knees in the dirt, it can become challenging to remember what went where. Keep the plant or seed markers you bought and use these help categorize the garden. This helps you know how much water, sunlight and time each of your herbs and plants will need to prosper and massively simplifies things in the beginning and should be recorded in a gardener’s log or tracked for future planting plans as well.
2. Use Supports to Grow Up
Your garden, if left to it’s own devices would end forest of chaos. Efficiency in both space and sunlight are highly beneficial so focus on growing your garden vertically (as opposed to outwardly). Using trellising, plant supports or even a garden fence to grow your plants towards the sun will make them easier to manage and water while increasing the sun exposure they desperately need. Tomatoes for instance should be tied or woven up through supports to allow them to really grow and expand effectively. This is true of many other vegetables as well so research in advance.
What About Pest Prevention?
Little critters can cause havoc on your vegetables, ruining the results of weeks if not months of preparation and hard work. Fortunately, there’s a few gardener tricks to keep your plants healthy and happy without harmful chemicals or disrupting nature which will do the trick.
1. Keep Your Plants Healthy
The biggest driver of insect based damage occurs on weak, withered and dying plants. These are the calling cards if you will which attract pests so simply focusing on your vegetable garden is the first main step.So remove any dead or damaged plants or herbs before they’ve even got a chance to get infected.
2. Grow Pest Repelling Plants
Certain plant species just seem to repel attackers. Add these to your garden for an added boost of beauty, defence and variety. For more information check out an all-inclusive Wikipedia article or a more manageable, shortened summary here. As a rule of thumb, adding herbs is awesome!
3. Water in the Mornings
Water attracts life, including insects. By watering in the morning, your plants get the nourishment they need before being beat down upon by the midday sun (often frying your creations in warmer southern climates) and you minimize the appeal of your garden to pesky critters seeking a respite from the heat.
Enjoying Your Vegetable Garden
Once your veg garden is finally complete, it could be cool to take periodic pictures just to watch its progression. Then again, you may be too busy harvesting and tasting hundreds of juicy vegetables to try it out so…
Hope this vegetable garden starter guide has been helpful and would love to see the fruits of your labor. And if you have a veggie garden already with helpful suggestions for aspiring growers and planters, we’d love to hear them in the comments below.