10 things you need to know


BEFORE Starting A VEGETABLE GARDEN

Tending to a vegetable garden is hardly an easy task, and to create one is not by any mean less difficult.

There are so many things to consider, to set up, and even more that can go wrong, ruining all your hard work.

Even veteran horticulturists fail sometime.

But don't worry, because we have put together guide on how to start a vegetable garden for you.

vegetable garden

Before we start, the two fundamental things you need to know are: To start small and to experiment.

Don’t try to make a huge vegetable garden and then let it get destroyed because you are unexperiencedDo it slow until you know exactly what to do.

But don’t try to follow everything from this guide word for word, because there are many factors that can affect a plant’s growth.

So experiment and don’t fear failure.

Table of Content

1.plan your garden

2. Choose a location

3. When to start

4. Your garden style

5. What to grow

6. Seeds / seedlings

7. Prepare the soil

8. Irrigation

9. Tending

10. Taking notes

1. Plan Your Vegetable Garden.

There is a fact that making a plan for anything will make your work much more orientated and productive, while minimizing the risk of confusion and error.

Successful people never work without a plan. Neither should you.

planner - start a vegetable garden

Calculate your garden size

Before you start your vegetable garden, it is important to determine how big and diverse it will be, as well as the time you have available for it.

After all, you don't want it to be too small to meet your family's demand, but not too big and take up your time and space.

To calculate the size of your garden as accurately as possible, consider:

  • What is the purpose of your garden? To feed your family, to sell, to preserve crops, or for only and afternoon salad snack?
  • The more people you want to feed, and the more frequent you consume will be one of the deciding factors.
  • How much vegetables do you plan to grow? You can't just plant everything where you want. Vegetables need space between them to properly grow. Clustering them together  will prevent it.
  • You have to take into consideration the size of mature vegetables, the types of plant they are (bush, vines, etc.) and how much of them you want. An easy way of doing this is to use a garden planner.
  • How much time you have to spare. Gardening is very time-consuming, even more if you have a big garden, or grow a lot of veggies.

When I first started my vegetable garden, I was too excited and turned my whole plot (about 200 square feet) into a planting area.

Then I decided to sow every type of seed I had on hand, which proved to be a critical mistake. My job made me unable to take care of the whole garden, so some of the veggies were neglected, and soon died.

So I had to reduce the scale of my work, and fortunately it turned out well the second time.

Moral of the story: Be conservative about the size and amount, or your plants will die as quick as your excitement.

Author's tips:

  • Plan your garden in winter or early spring so you can start right away after last frost and not be in a hurry.
  • For beginners, I recommend a 10x10 garden. This means you'll have 100 square feet at your disposal.
  • If your house has less space than you need, don't worry. There are types of garden that don't need much space at all, for example vertical gardens and container gardens.
  • Also, be sparse with the things you want to grow, or the amount of work will stack up out of your capability. Start with 3-5 types of vegetables so that you can easily manage and take care of them.

Make a vegetable garden planner

The next step is to plan it out. This will help you organize the garden for optimal space and avoid problems later.

When to plant, what to plant, when to fertilize, harvests and many more. They are extremely important, so to keep track of them, make a calendar.

List the plants you want to grow, when it’s best to start growing, their companion plants, how much fertilizers and water it needs.

When to harvest and rotate, how to store them and everything you think is important on the calendar. Do that and you’ll see the process of growing things becomes way simpler.

You can either plan thing out by hand (ie. jotting down notes and drawing plans in a notebook). Or, more conveniently, with a garden planner app, which there are many on the web.

Author's tips:

  • A garden planner app that I frequently use and love is Growveg's Garden Planner.
  • With it, you are able to design your own garden using various layout editing tools, many structures and objects.
  • You can choose and add varieties of plants while the app calculates spacing, number, time to grow and much more.
  • Furthermore, it detects your location and suggests the best vegetables and planting dates for themIt also has the option of purchasing seeds directly from within the app.
  • And what's best about it? It has over 250 video guides for beginners to get started. No matter how inexperienced you are, I am sure this will become everyone's go-to for planning a garden.

2. choose a location

After you've got a plan, time to choose a place to actually start working.

Although this may sound easy, choosing where to start a garden is not only considering a space sufficient in size

The aim of your vegetable garden is to provide a good balance between sunlight, shade, drainage, nutrition and protection from wind and cold.

location - start a vegetable garden
  • Some plants prefer direct sunlight while other need some shade, but most need 6-8 hours of full sun.
  • Look up the sunlight requirement for the vegetables you plan to grow. Then choose the location accordingly for the best possible result.
  • If your garden has trees, mind that the shades will change when they grow or discard leaves. Ensure frost and wind won't affect the plants. Smaller vegetables don't deal with them well.
  • Also make sure the environment is stable. Sudden changes in weather, wind, temperature will harm your plants. Build a greenhouse in that case to negate the effects of the changes.
  • Another key element is drainage. If rain is a common occurrence in your area, you should consider providing a roof. If the terrain makes it hard for water to escape, chances are your plants won't survive long.

3. choose when to start

Depending on the veggies you plan to grow, and the place you've chosen above.

Each of them has a preferred climate and temperature.

This means you should only grow them when such conditions are met.

planning - start a vegetable garden
  • Pay attention to your Zone: North America is divided into 11 zones and each zone is decided based on the lowest temperatures recorded within it.
  • Check what zone you are in using this website: United States Department of Agriculture
  • An important thing to know is to find out the last frost day in spring of your area, and the first frost day in fall. You can search for them on the Internet, or ask the local CES (County Extension Services).
  • Only plant a vegetable if it can withstand the temperature of a zone. For example, warm season vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers and beans require a high temperature and warm soil.
  • I recommend to start their seeds 10 weeks before the last frost day at the earliest, then transplant them into the garden after.
  • Cool season crops, on the other hand, prefer cooler temperature. Plant them earlier in spring, about a month before the last frost day. They don't tolerate heat well and will fade once it gets warmer.

4. How should your garden look like?

Decide the type of vegetable garden you want to create depend on its purpose, what plants you are growing and the space you have available.

There are three main types of garden: raised garden beds, container garden and in-ground garden.

Each has its own advantages, disadvantages and serves a different purpose.

type of bed - start a vegatable garden

In-ground vegetable garden

The typical, most common type, where you plant directly in the soil.

Before planting, create rows to better organize and separate the plants so they won’t invade each other’s space, as well as make a path for you. Then till and amend the soil until it is suitable for planting.

Choose the plants to grow carefully, some can be a great companion while others may try to invade and compete for nutrients.

There are also types that like to travel a lot, like cucumbers for example. With these, use trellises or fences to keep them tidy and help them grow well.

Advantages: 

  • Is the cheapest method.
  • Takes the least amount of time to set up.
  • Suitable for large scale gardens or farms.

Disadvantages:

  • More susceptible to weeds and pests.
  • Easily affected by weather, temperature, wind, etc.
  • Bad drainage and nutrient preservation. 

Raised bed vegetable garden

Raised garden bed has a few advantages over in-ground, though setting it up is a bit more complex. There’s no need to make rows and till the soil, it is elevated and barred so tending to it won’t be as hard, also snails and weeds can’t make their way in. Drainage is much better and you can start seeds much earlier than normal because soil in these beds are warmer. Furthermore, they look way better than in-ground garden.

Prior to planting, create rows to better organise and separate the plants so they won’t invade each other’s space, as well as make a path for you. Then till and amend the soil until it is suitable for planting.

Choose the plants to grow carefully, some can be a great companion while others may try to invade and compete for nutrients. There are also types that like to travel a lot, like cucumbers for example.

With these, use trellises or fences to keep them tidy and help them grow well.

Advantages:

  • Provide protection against pests, weeds.
  • Prevent soil erosion and has good drainage.
  • Enable you to grow types of plant that otherwise wont survive in your area.
  • Keep soil warmth, so you can start growing sooner in the year.
  • Keeps the garden neat and tidy.
  • Makes it easier to tend to.

Disadvantages:

  • There aren't any.  Try it out if you haven't already.

Container vegetable garden

Container garden is best for homes with few available space.

You can either plant in boxes or pots, place them on the ground or hang them up to save space. They can be moved when the shades change or when it start raining, or can be put indoors.

They are practical and can be aesthetically pleasing if you do it right. Vegetables that take full advantage of container garden are herbs, pepper, garlic, etc.

Advantage: 

  • Take up little space.
  • Can be placed literally anywhere.
  • Aesthetically pleasing.
  • Can be moved when the conditions are bad for the plants.

Disadvantages:

  • Not suitable to grow a larger number of vegetables.
  • Takes longer to tend to, especially if you have lots of these around.
  • Not as cost efficient as the other methods.

All in all, after comparing all three types of garden with all their benefits and shortcomings, I strongly suggest you to try raised beds garden if you have enough space. 

It is simple enough to make, it keeps out all the weeds, snails and excess water while retaining all the nutrition, and you can plant pretty much everything in it, regardless of the climate and soil.

5. What Vegetables to grow?

Depend on how experienced you are, you can choose to buy seeds or seedlings for the types of vegetables you want to grow.

Seeds are less expensive, easier to store and last longer, but take longer to grow and require more care. 

They need adequate moisture to sprout, nutrients and trimming to grow and are more susceptible to climate change, pests and diseases

types of vegetable - start a vegetable garden

For beginners, we recommend starting with veggies that are easy to plant and grow fast, like herbs such as lemongrass, parsley and basil; cucumbers, baby carrots, radishes and so on.

They need little effort to care and take at most two months to become harvestable.

Read more about the easiest vegetables to grow for beginners hereFact: you don't even need to grow them.

Crop Rotation 

Planting the same type of vegetable over and over on the same plot of land will deplete the resource in it.

To preserve the nutrient balance in soil, everyone should replace the crops they grow every year or so.

People think it's tricky to know exactly which plants to rotate with since there're so many varieties, but it's actually quite simple:

There are eleven families of plants, each require and excrete different amounts of  substances. The five most popular are:

  • Solanaceae (tomatoes and such)

  • Cucurbits (the cucumber family)

  • Root Crops (crops which you harvest and consume the roots)

  • Brassicas (include cabbages, broccolis, etc)

  • Legumes (include beans, peas, etc)

  • Leafy Greens (Include lettuces, spinach, etc)

Swapping between families every years helps the soil rest and recuperate, regaining the nutrients it lost. Some families even produce nutrients.

The Legumes, for example, produces nitrogen, so planting them means you don't have to feed nitrogen to the soil manually.

What to take into account when rotating crops:

  • Create as much space as possible between a plot of land and the crops you used to plant in it last season.

  • Let as many seasons to pass as possible until you replant the same family of crop again.

But if you just want to grow one type of vegetable, or don't have enough land for crop rotation, you can plant them in containers for one or two seasons.

Succession planting

Basically the same as crop rotation. You harvest all the crops in a plot of land, then plant a different type of vegetable in it.

You can easily take care of the soil this way. Just be mindful to swap between different families and you are good to go!

Companion planting

Companion planting means growing multiple types of crop in close proximity to each other. This provide them with several great benefits, if done correctly.

  • Nutrient supply: similar to the mechanism of crop rotation, a vegetable can produce a nutrient that some other need, or bring beneficial substances too deep for other to reach close to them.
  • Prevent pests: You can plant crops which attract or repel pests from your main crops. Some can even confuse them, preventing them from finding their hosts.
  • Attract beneficial pests like bees, hoverflies, etc.
  • Shelter: Some large crops provide protection for other from heat or wind.

Check out a great companion planting chart at: windowbox.com

6. Seeds Or Seedlings?

Depend on how experienced you are, you can choose to buy seeds or seedlings for the types of vegetables you want to grow.

Seeds are less expensive, easier to store and last longer, but take longer to grow and require more care. 

They need adequate moisture to sprout, nutrients and trimming to grow and are more susceptible to climate change, pests and diseases

So if you are a beginner, I advise you to buy seedlings instead.

They are already grown junior plants that you simply put in your garden without the need to plant seeds and the hassle that comes with it.

Remember to pay attention to the transition process to make sure the plants won’t die from the shock.

7. preparing the soil

After seeds, soil is another fundamental requirement for plants to grow, so check yours carefully.

The type of soil your home has will determine how much you'll need to work on it.

Clay soil doesn't drain well and needs to be mixed with sand or load to improve it.

Sandy soil lose moisture too quickly and lack nutrients, so you'll need to mix it with clay.

If you want to opt for raised garden beds, buy some topsoil to help with moisture and drainage.

soil - start a vegetable garden

Use tools to check pH level, minerals and nutrients present in it and adjust them. A good pH level should be anywhere between 6 and 7.

Use organic substances a few months before planting to supply nutrients. Well rotted manure compost should be your go-to.

Take extra care for this step. Too little fertilizer will obviously mean inadequate growth, but too much will make it harder for the plants to absorb other nutrients. It also results in excess salt and nitrogen levels.

During planting, add inorganic fertilizers depending on what the plants need.

Author's tips:

  • The first thing you should do is to plow the ground using a tiller. This expands, loosens the soil and help you search for any abnormalities.
  • Feed the soil with organic matter at least 2 months prior.
  • Loosen the soil and smoothen the ground, check for any abnormalities (weeds, pebbles, bugs,...). A good method would be to check with a fork.
  • Keep an eye out for worms: they help loosen the earth and add nutrients. If there aren't any, you need composts. Lots of them.
  • Checking soil quality: Soak a spot, dig it up and squeeze it hard. If she soil breaks too easily and is sandy, then it doesn't qualify.
  • If your area has a state-certified soil testing lab, you can send your sample to them to get a more accurate result on what your soil needs.

One thing you should know is that perfect soil are as rare as gold,  and will deteriorate over time, losing in nutrients and quality. If your soil is bad, don't get discouraged, because even the worst quality soil can be amended with hard work.

8. Irrigation

Each type of vegetable need a different amount of water. Some you need to water all the time, other can live with only a little bit moisture.

There are two methods to water your crops: By hand or through a watering system.

Utilizing a watering system means you can water the garden more effectively and evenly. Especially if you have a large garden, or are busy.

irrigation

Personally, I choose to water my garden by hand. I can search for weeds, pests and damaged plants while doing so. Besides, it is relaxing to me. After a work day I would water my garden, and it does help a lot to flush down all my accumulated stress.

However, this is not the most efficient method, especially if you plan to manage a large garden. In that case, I recommend you to implement the drip irrigation system, as explained here by horticulturist expert Joe Lamp'l.

This system delivers water slowlyaccurately and automatically to the plants, and it's really easy to set up.

Author's tips:

How to water so as to not to damage the plants: only water around the roots.

Watering on the leaves will attract diseases and bugs, a mistake most beginners make.

9. Weeding, disease and pest control. 

They are they bane of every farmer. They destroy our hard work, breed like mice, and generally annoy the heck out of us.

You may argue that there must be some purpose for these things, but no, there aren't any.

For the safety and preservation of your beautiful garden, always check for them and eliminate as soon as possible.

maintaining

The natural, mother nature-approved way would be to use plants that repel pests, like garlic, petunia, basils, etcThese plants excrete substances which insects hate and would keep them away.

You can plant these around the crops you need to protect to create a barrier preventing insects. Or, you could use oil spray made from garlic, neem oil, diatomaceous earth, Chile pepper spray to get rid of them.

However, these are still strong, indiscriminating insecticides that will kill both harmful and beneficial lifeformsBe careful with their usage, and if your garden has beneficial insects, keep them instead of trying to kill everything.

These insects will eat the harmful ones for you.

Then, prevent weeds by isolating the plants with a barrier and remember to pluck them often.

If birds, squirrels and snakes frequent near you, create a barrier by fencing or tulle netting to keep them away. Or you could make a raised garden bed if there are too many things threatening your garden.

Prevent disease by making sure the soil is well-drained. Check for abnormalities often. If a plant shows a sign of having been infected, remove it immediately.

Also, when buying seeds, research for those that are resistant to diseases and ways to terminate what they can catch.

Aside from that, there’s the chemical method, but I would recommend against it. It doesn't know what it's killing, and would leave toxic by-products that in excess will do harm to you. Only use chemical insecticides if there’re no other choices. And always be careful with the amount.

Author's tips:

A great and inexpensive way to keep pests from your plants is mulching. It does so many things: prevents weeds, pests and diseases, retains moisture, moderates soil temperature. And, it doesn't cost you a penny.

All you have to do is gather dried leaves, shred them and then add to your garden. It protects the plants and feed them when breaking down. What could be better?

Another great way to prevent diseases is to rotate crop, or planting in succession. 

Changing the types of plants you grow reduces the risk of diseases and pests. They usually only prefer a particular type of plant, or a family of them.

Swapping crops, or simply changing the location, is a great and harmless way to prevent diseases.

10. Taking notes

After you've painstakingly created your masterpiece, it's time to look back and review our work of art.

Make a garden journal or diary to record your experience, and use it to prepare for the next season. 

You can use it to keep notes of:

  • The first and last frost day of your area AND your garden. It has its own micro-climate, and depending on the type of garden, shade, mulching, etc, it will be cooler or warmer.

  • Your garden's milestones: the time it takes for it to become plantable, etc. This will help you keep track of everything.

  • Take notes of what plants you've grown, especially heirlooms. How do you plant them? What are required for them to grow optimally? Where did you purchase them?

  • Keep a schedule for crop rotation, succession planting and companion planting.

  • Make another schedule for fertilization and watering. Different vegetables will have a different amount of fertilizer and water they need.

Take pictures and videos, too, if you can. The more information you can get, the better. Remember, gardening is not a one-time thing. You do it every year, and you get a little bit better.

Wrapping up

The reason why people often feel discouraged when starting their first vegetable garden is not because of the amount of work there are, it is that they don't know what to do and how to do it.

Once you have an idea of what's supposed to be done and get the hang of it, gardening actually becomes really fun.

Remember, it all boils down to these: make a plan, choose a place, prepare, grow and tend. Don't over think. Your plants won't die from a few small mistakes.

I hope that these tips will help you to successfully create a vegetable garden that's not only beautiful, but also lasts.

Because there's always space for some gardening love.

If this article were of help to you, or if you have any suggestions to make it better, feel free to leave them in the comments bellow.

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