A Guide to Vegetable Gardening for Beginners

This guide will help you learn how to start a garden from scratch. In this post, I will cover some of the basics of gardening, from the layout, to the types of garden beds and other ideas to consider.

This post is sponsored by Clayton.

Knowing where to start can seem intimidating, but vegetable gardening is an incredibly rewarding hobby. Have you ever tasted home grown vegetable produce? There is not anything quite like the flavor of freshly harvested produce. The great news is you can start a vegetable garden from scratch and relish in the fact you can grow vegetables year after year.

Asparagus growing in raised garden bed.

Growing a garden is such a rewarding experience. You can enjoy the excitement of planting the seed, watching it sprout, seeing the vegetable grow and then being able to harvest the produce. Here are the easy steps to follow on how to start.

Choose a Garden Location

Go out to your yard and look around. Where do you see the sun during the morning, afternoon and evening? This is the first step in finding the best place to start a garden.

Most vegetables need around 6 hours of sunlight each day. Where you find the most sunshine throughout the day is where you will want to plan for the location of your vegetable garden.

Another thought to consider in the location of a garden is the drainage for water. Planting in an area that floods or dries out quickly would be something to avoid.

Herbs and vegetables growing in a raised garden bed.

Decide on Your Garden Bed Types

The size you want your garden to be and what you want to grow will help you determine what type of gardening may be best for you. While traditional in-ground gardening is best for large gardens and vining or tall vegetable plants, raised beds are best for smaller scale gardening. For those living in town with little yard space, container gardening may be the best solution while still enjoying homegrown vegetables.

In-Ground Gardening: In years past, I have used the traditional gardening method of planting in the ground. It is cost effective, easy to start and easy to change if the need arises. The downside to in-ground gardening is the weeds. They will be the number one enemy as you work to keep them out of the garden. Also keep in mind that in the spring, it will often take longer for the soil to warm, so you will have to wait to get seeds in the ground.

Raised Beds: Raised garden beds can be made from wood, timbers, bricks or rocks. Wood can be costly and once the beds are in place, it is a commitment to leave them there. The advantage to raised beds is the soil often warms faster in the spring, allowing better water drainage, and they’re easier to reach. Keeping weeds out of raised beds is much easier than the in-ground method.

Container Gardening: Many vegetables can be grown in containers and this is a great way to maximize space, especially for those who want to garden on balconies or a patio. The con to container gardening is that gardening pots can be costly and the soil tends to dry out quickly.

Raised garden beds have been my choice for gardening for the past several years. They look nice, are easy to build and they are easy to maintain.

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Picking the Right Soil

Having good soil is the key to a successful vegetable garden. Plants need nutrient rich soil to grow. Start with well-drained soil and plan to add as much organic matter as possible. Compost and well-aged manure will increase the ability of your soil to drain and hold in moisture.

In our garden, I fill our raised beds with well-aged manure from a local farmer. The aged manure has sat for over a year and been turned many times, making it particularly good for growing vegetables in.

Know Your Frost Dates

Knowing your frost dates, which is the average date of the last frost in your area, will help prevent frost damage from varying spring weather temperatures. As soon as the weather begins to get nice, many gardeners are anxious to start planting. However, getting plants in the garden at the right time is an essential first step to a successful spring garden.

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Placing a Water Source

Water needs to be easily accessible. Nothing will cause a gardener to experience burnout faster than carrying water to thirsty plants when the temperatures are hot. Consider installing a water source near the garden or, even better, a drip irrigation system.

Getting Your Garden Tools

Garden tools can be costly, but buying the best quality tools your budget will allow can go a long way in getting the most out of what you have spent. Start small in the number of tools you own; it is easy to go above and beyond what you will generally use.

Here are the top essential tools to get you going on any gardening endeavor:

  • Garden gloves
  • Hand trowel
  • Spade
  • Garden hoe
  • Garden hose with a nozzle
  • A wheelbarrow

It’s also helpful to have garden markers like slate plant labels.

Buying Starter Seeds or Plants

Now that you have all your garden plans thought out, it’s time to start the fun job of planting. The quickest way to get your garden growing is to buy plants from a local greenhouse and transplant them into your garden.

Some vegetables are considered slow growing and are best grown from seeds. The seeds are started indoors, and then transplanted outside into the garden when they are ready. All my seeds are started inside with an organic seed starting mix. Vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, peppers and tomatoes are best started from seed.

Vegetables with long taproots, such as carrots, do not transplant well and need to be direct seeded into the garden. Some vegetables are quick growing, such as peas, squash and beans. These do best when directly seeded into the garden.

Read your seed packets. All the information you need to know, such as how deep to plant the seeds, how long they take to sprout and how far apart to space the seeds, can be found on the back of the packet.

Tomatoes growing on trellis in a manufactured home garden.

More Tips

Start Small: It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with all the care a garden can need. Start small and then add more as you find you need the space. When I built my raised garden beds, I started with four; the next year I added four more.

Only Grow What You Will Eat: Unless you plan on giving away or selling a lot of produce, only grow what you know your family can eat. Plants such as squash, zucchini and cucumbers produce a lot of vegetables.

Keep a Garden Journal: Keeping a garden journal is a fun, simple way to track your garden’s progress through the seasons. It’s easy to lose track of what day you planted seeds, or the name of the seeds you planted. Journal entries don’t have to be elaborate, but they supply a way to look back on the information you may need.

In keeping a garden journal, I find it helpful to write down the names of the seeds I have started as well as the date they were planted. Other information may be included, such as the day the seed sprouted, when harvesting the vegetable began, how much harvest was brought in and final thoughts on the taste. All these factors will help decide if this is a variety you would like to grow again in your garden.

Fall Gardening Tips

Planting a vegetable garden in the early spring is known to be the most common time to start a garden. However, fall produces some of the best crops. Fall harvest can be extended by using row covers, mulch and cold frames. Depending on your gardening zone, these are some plants that you can still get in the garden late in the year to enjoy a harvest:

  • Carrots
  • Turnips
  • Beets
  • Celery
  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Lettuce
  • Kale
  • Fall Radishes
  • Parsnips
  • Green Onions

One of the most rewarding homesteading tasks is knowing where your food comes from. I hope this guide gives you the courage to start your own garden.

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