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How to Start a Vegetable Garden

Pole beans and supports

tomato planting

Starting a vegetable garden can be fun and an inexpensive way to bring healthy food to your kitchen table. But it can be overwhelming if you don’t know where to start.

The secret to getting started vegetable gardening is to take a little time to make a plan. Take a look at your yard or patio or front stoop; think about what you’d like to grow; talk to the staff at a local nursery or garden center; talk to friends and neighbors with experience, and visit Harvest to Table and other websites dedicated to growing healthy food.

Don’t plan to do too much at first, but plan to have fun. Vegetable gardening is something you can do as a family or a great way to spend time alone enjoying nature.

Basic Steps for Starting a Vegetable Garden

1. Visit nearby vegetable gardens and see what your friends and neighbors are growing. Visit a community garden and see what vegetable gardeners in your neighborhood and town are growing. You will see vegetables and small fruits that are easy to grow, and probably get some great ideas on how to plant a garden. This article will be helpful: Vegetable Garden Planning.

2. Visit online sites like Harvest to Table. Visit the Topics Index at Harvest to Table and look up specific growing requirements and recommendations. You will find lists of easy-to-grow crops and what you will need and how to grow your vegetable garden step by step.

3. Visit a nearby garden center or nursery. See what kinds of vegetable seedlings and seeds are available. Seed packets and plant labels usually have good growing information—the number of days the vegetable requires to reach harvest and how to plant it. Ask questions; garden center and nursery staffers are happy to answer questions and can recommend specific crops for your area. This article will be helpful: Vegetable Crops for Beginning Gardeners.

4. Make a list of the vegetables and small fruits that you and your family or the people in your household like to eat. Which vegetables are your favorites? These are the crops you will want to grow first. Here are ten easy-to-grow vegetables (click on the crop you want to grow): beans, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, leaf lettuce, onions, Swiss chard, radishes, spinach, and tomatoes.

5. Make a sketch or diagram of the area where you want to grow your vegetables. Graph paper is an easy way to diagram the planting bed where you want to grow vegetables this season or map a larger area where you’d like to garden over a period of time. Pencil in the different crops you want to grow. Note the hours of sun that will shine on your garden and the time of day when the garden is in shade. Note how large plants will be at mature size. This article will be helpful Vegetable Garden Calendar and Map Keeping.

6. Share your plan with a friend who gardens—their experience will be very helpful. But, in the end, this is your plan and your garden. Grow a garden that pleases you—this is key!

7. Putting a shovel or trowel in the soil is your first step to actually growing vegetables. A local garden center or nursery will have everything you need to grow vegetables: shovel, rake, hose, soil amendments, seeds and vegetable seedlings. For your first vegetable garden, don’t buy more than you can get planted in a day or two. This article will be helpful: No Dig and Light Dig Vegetable Garden Preparation.

8. Once your seeds or seedlings are in the ground, water will be very important. Water just enough to keep the roots of your vegetables moist—this may mean watering every day in hot weather or a couple times a week in warm weather. Follow the advice on seed packets and plant labels, ask neighbors and friends for advice, and visit Harvest to Table often for growing and harvest tips. These articles will be helpful: Vegetable Watering Tips and Vegetable Harvest Times.

 

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. Harvesttotable.com has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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    • Onion greens can be trimmed and eaten at any stage of growth. The smaller and more tender, the more flavorful the greens will be.

    • The radishes may be soft as a result of over-watering or too much nitrogen in the soil. Keep the soil just moist below the surface. Do not water until the top half inch has dried.

  1. I just discovered your website and must say that I’m thrilled with everything I’ve read. Your info is clear and concise, pics are clear and inspiring and advice is solid and knowledgeable. I’m starting my first veggie garden in Florida this spring and since you’ve lived in Florida you understand the challenge I’m facing. I’m sure I’ll be asking many questions as I go forward. Thank you for a most enjoyable website. (I’m following on Facebook also!)

    • Thanks for your kind words. The fun of gardening are the challenges from season to season and year to year–and that can be especially true in the Sunshine State. Thanks for joining the conversation and Happy Gardening!

      • I’m always enjoying reading everything you are writing,you are more than a professor,more than anything, I real trust you and your studies, I wish you could be in Africa Tanzania & we can do the amaizing of feeding the world, here land is super good,fertile and weather is very good,

    • A vegetable seedling that is 4 to 6 inches tall is likely about 4 to 6 weeks old. After germination and growth begins, most vegetables in optimal condition will grow 1 inch or more each week. At best you can estimate the age of the plant, but a 4 to 6-inch plant is likely 4 to 6 weeks old.

  2. I must confess that I’m much happy and impressed about every single text in your web site.
    This is the right site for me at the moment because I really want to raise an organic garden.
    I live in Ghana and we are in harmatan season (very hot weather with dried atmosphere). What is your advice and suggestions on what crops/vegetables I should start in my organic garden?

    • During the warm to hot time of the year, you will want to grow fruiting vegetables such as peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, beans, cucumbers, and melons. Leafy and root crops are best grown during the cool time of the year. Here is a link to an article that may be helpful:

      Happy Gardening!

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