Let’s dive into starting your very own vegetable garden! Whether you choose containers, raised beds or directly in the ground, we will go over the steps it takes to start enjoying your very own fresh veggies.
No matter where you live, you can have a garden. Even if it’s just a couple of plants in pots on your balcony. Growing your own food is one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve ever had and I want each of you to experience it as well.
Gardening has so many benefits. Gardening can teach you patience, perseverance, problem solving and it is a great way to connect with nature and be creative.
And once you take a bite into a home grown vegetable, you’ll never want store-bought again. The flavor is out of this world! And the nutritional value is way higher as well.
How to Start a Vegetable Garden
There are many things to consider when starting your garden and it can really pay off to do just a bit of planning ahead of time.
First, Decide Where To Put Your Vegetable Garden
In most climates you want a location with full sun. I’m in North Florida so I have actually grown in partial shade quite successfully due to how hot it gets here. But most fruits, veggies and herbs require 6+ hours of sun each day.
You may need protection from animals depending where you live. My biggest pest is my dogs so I fence my garden area so they can’t get in there and dig. Rabbits and deer can cause some issues too so it’s just good to think about what potential animals you could encounter.
Another thing to consider is your water source. Make sure there is access to water in close proximity to your garden area. I run a hose to our garden now and it’s a bit of pain to move to mow but it works for now.
Next, Create Your Garden Space
Determining your location will help you know what type of garden you will have.
Container: If you live in the city or just want to experiment with a few plants, container gardens are a great way to go! There are some veggies that don’t grow great in containers but there’s plenty to choose from that do. Root vegetables for example you will want to avoid but tomatoes and peppers do excellent in containers.
Raised beds: Raised beds are a favorite for many people. The height can make gardening easier but I find they require more water and also more cost up front filling them with soil and amendments, along with the lumber/materials it takes to build them.
In the Ground: This is my preferred method, even in our sandy soil! When we first pick a spot we till up the ground, add compost, and start seeds and plants directly into the ground. Make sure you have a well-draining spot, you don’t want a down pour to drown your garden.
Choose What You Want To Grow in Your Vegetable Garden
Here comes the fun part! I love dreaming over seed catalogs and planning what to grow. Start by creating a list of all the vegetables that you and your family love to eat. I have grown things I don’t like to eat and always felt guilty when I wasted it, so don’t make that mistake! Also, it can be tempting to pick 30 different things, I suggest choosing just 3-5 things for your first time. Of course this depends on what you’re growing in. If you just a have a few pots, maybe you choose 2 things. If you’re in a bigger garden, go with more.
Now that you have your list, let’s find varieties that grow well in your area! Put your zip code into this site: https://garden.org/nga/zipzone/ and they will tell you your zone. You can also check out the zone map while you’re there. I’m in 8b here in North Florida.
For us southern growers, it can be tricky finding varieties that thrive in our heat and humidity. I have found a couple local resources that share varieties they’ve had success with.
Where to buy your seeds?
My first choice for seeds is Baker Creek: https://www.rareseeds.com/. I have had a great success with all the seeds I’ve purchased from them and they are a family ran farm in Missouri. The descriptions will often tell you what climates the varieties are best suited for.
I have also found organic seeds at Tractor Supply, the Seeds of Change brand seems to be a good option.
Seeds or Starter Plants?
Some plants do better putting the seeds directly in the ground like carrots, beets, cucumbers, zucchini, pumpkins, beans, peas, lettuce, kale, etc.
However some others do better starting them in seed trays or little pots and transplanting them later. Some of these are tomato, peppers, cauliflower, and broccoli. I have also started cucumbers, beans, peas and lettuce and they all did well so this can sometimes be a preference.
If you start seeds ahead of time you will need seed starting trays or some sort of pots/containers, seed starting soil, and a warm spot. Grow lights are the best way to go but they can be expensive when you’re just getting started. Without lights, let the seeds sprout and then move them into the sun. They will dry out quick in the sun so they will need daily watering.
For northern growers, I would definitely suggest starting more seeds indoors so that you can jump right in with your growing season after your last frost date. This site is a great place to find out when to start your seeds: https://www.almanac.com/gardening/planting-calendar.
Time to Prepare Your Soil in Your Vegetable Garden
You have your seeds/starter plants and you’re ready to get them into your containers, beds or ground. The process is slightly different depending on what way you are gardening but we will go over them here.
Plants need rich soil full of nutrients. If you’re buying soil for your containers or beds choose one that is specific for that purpose. It will have all the nutrients you need to get started. If you’re growing in the ground you can test your soil to see what nutrients might be deficient. Your local extension office can help with testing. Healthy soils equals healthy plants. This is something that is usually overlooked but very important.
I have rabbits and use their manure as well as old hay as fertilizer and mulch in my garden. We also have started a compost pile at our new farm and will be able to use that in the garden in the future. But before I had rabbits I purchased Black Kow as well as peat to add to my soil, because we have so much sand, we need to add amendments that help keep the moisture in the garden. I have never used any chemical fertilizers. Your extension office can also help you determine what your soil needs.
Putting Your Plants/Seeds in the Ground
Based on your zone, you will know when you can start planting. It is usually safe to plant starter plants a week or two after the last frost date in your area. Seeds can go in right around the last frost date. For me, that is about the middle of March.
If you’ve started seeds inside then you will need harden off those starter plants. About a week or so before planting bring them outside for a few hours every day to get them used to the heat and sun. This will help them develop stronger stems and be able to withstand the elements.
Fill your containers or beds with soil and you can now put your seeds and plants directly in. If you’ve tilled up an area in the ground, plan out your rows and put your seeds and plants in the ground!
Watering Your Vegetable Garden
You don’t want to over water your plants. Check the dirt to see if it is dry and then water well. The best practice is a deep watering every few days rather than a little water every day, it will help your plants develop deep roots and make them stronger.
If you have containers a hose or a watering can will work just fine. For beds and in ground gardens you will want a sprinkler. One on a tripod is best because as your vegetables grow taller you want your water to reach them all.
My favorite type of water is drip irrigation. When I had my 1/2 acre market garden we invested in a drip irrigation system and it was the best. For the small garden I have now though I just use a sprinkler.
Weeding and Checking for Pests During Growing
You did all the work of getting your garden ready and getting your seeds in and now what? This is when a garden teaches you patience! It can seem boring for the first week or so but once sprouts come up so will the weeds. The best way to stay ahead of weeds is by spending time every day or two in your garden and pulling them. This way they never get overwhelming. A layer of hay or mulch also helps with the weeds.
Be on the look out for pests as soon as your plants are up. The internet is a great place to ID them and find ways to combat them. I keep Diatomaceous Earth, Neem Oil and Orange Oil on hand for all my pests. I don’t use any chemical pesticides.
Harvesting Your Vegetables
Hooray! This is the part you’ve been waiting for! It might not be a huge haul for your first time, but that’s OK! Take your first bite and enjoy all the flavors and nutrition and satisfaction of all your hard work. You did it!
Now you know how to start a vegetable garden!
Every season I decide what I’ll do differently next time, what I’d like to try and how I will expand or pair down my vegetable garden depending on what our lives have going on. I am always learning and finding new methods. I hope that you will too!