Planting a vegetable garden is an exciting and rewarding experience, especially if it is your first time. It’s great as a stress-free hobby or an additional source of food. If you have kids, then letting them plant their own produce alongside yours is a good way of getting them to eat their greens.
It’s a great feeling knowing that if you need vegetables for a recipe you are working on, you can just walk out to your backyard and pick them yourself (provided that they are fully grown). There’s just a fresh factor about homegrown vegetables that make them more desirable than the processed, store-bought options.
Whether you are planting a small garden on your porch or a larger one in your backyard, you need to make sure you are meeting all of the requirements for a success.
Follow these few steps to ensure your garden is healthy, sustainable, and full of the best vegetables you’ve ever had.
- Decide which vegetables. This may seem like an obvious first step, but some people get carried away when planting their very first garden. Only plant the amount you think you will eat – or give away to friends. Also, people often plant vegetables that are popular or nice to look at and they don’t even like them. Avoid wasting money and throwing away uneaten food by only planting products you and your family enjoy.
There are thousands of vegetables you can buy to plant, so be sure to look up information about each one to make sure they are right for your particular garden. Some plants work better in smaller gardens or containers, and others offer great resistance against diseases. You also need to decide between open-pollinated, heirloom, and hybrid seeds.
Open-pollinated plants are ones in which pollination occurs by natural sources (such as insects, birds, and the wind). These plants will be more genetically diverse because there are no restrictions on the flow of pollen, which in turn provides a greater variation in plant population.
Heirloom seeds are the same as open-pollinated seeds, however they are restricted to specific varieties that have been kept safe and passed down from generation to generation. Most varieties have to be more than fifty years old to be considered heirlooms.
Finally there are hybrid seeds, where two different varieties of plants have their pollen crossed by human mediation. Commercially available hybrid seeds normally bear the label “F1,” and the first generation of these plants tend to grow better and stronger than naturally pollinated plants. Also people will buy these seeds because the plants are genetically altered to be more disease resistant as well as uniform in shape and size. However, the seeds produced by these plants are genetically unstable, so you will have to buy new seeds every year. Each type of seed has its own benefits, so consider all of them before you choose.
You also need to consider which season you will be planting in, as some vegetables do better in warm weather and others thrive in the cold. The U.S. Department of Agriculture divides the states into “hardiness zones” based on their climate. Typically the seeds will say which hardiness zone they work best in, so all you have to do is figure out your zone.
Cool-season crops work best in the lower temperatures of fall and spring. Conversely, warm-season veggies prefer the summer, after the soil has already been warmed up. Many of these warm-natured plants require a longer growing season, and so they should be started indoors during the early spring.
- Find a location. Once you have bought your first round of vegetable seeds, you need to decide where around your house you are going to plant them. You might have a little box ready near the side of the house, or you might have a large plot of land in mind. Either way, there are a few factors about the location that you should consider before you plant.
Some vegetables will require different amounts of sun and shade; however, most of them fall under the “full sun” category. These types of plants require at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day. The next level is “part sun” or “semi-shade,” and these plants work best where direct sun alternates with shade or where sunlight is filtered through a trellis or branches. The last level is “full shade,” and these plants should be placed in a spot where they will never receive direct sunlight.
Another factor to consider is the size of your location. Check to see how big each vegetable will grow and spread out. You don’t want to overcrowd a small plot or have a lot of empty space in a large plot. A 10×10-foot or a 12×16-foot bed will work great for most small gardens. Mixing vertical plants, like tomatoes, with horizontal plants is one good way to maximize your space.
Planting your garden near your house is good for two reasons. One, it provides easy access with a hose for watering. Two, having the garden in a direct line of sight from a window will make you more prone to notice it. You will be reminded to check on it and will be able to see if anything is wrong.
- Test the soil. This goes along with the last step, but once you have picked out a location you should test its soil. Most plants do best in soil that is moist, well-drained, and rich with organic matter. You can test the soil’s ability to drain water by digging a hole that is one foot wide and one foot deep. Fill the hole with water, record how long it takes the water to drain, then a few hours after its emptied repeat the process.
You can calculate the rate of drainage by dividing the total depth of the water (24 inches) by the total number of hours it took the hole to drain two times.Vegetables thrive in soil that is well-drained, which means an average of about one inch of water lost per hour (however compost and organic matter can be added to improve drainage if you are set on a certain spot).
- Map out the garden. After you have found the perfect location for your vegetables, you should map out your garden on paper. Planning the garden before you plant will allow you to account for possible mistakes. The most efficient way to do this is to use graph paper and draw out a to-scale sketch of the plot. You should factor in the number of plants you have, the number of rows you need, the types of plants and their growth habits (so you will know how far apart to space the rows), and whether or not a certain vegetable will need support or trellising.
One piece of advice is to plant tall crops like pole beans and corn on the north side of the garden, ensuring that they will not shade your low-growing crops. Also, you may want to consider successive and companion planting techniques.
Successive planting is putting a second vegetable in the same spot as another after the first one has grown. Companion planting is purposefully planting certain vegetables next to one another. For example, planting radishes near squash and cucumbers will help deter insects, while planting basil near tomatoes will impact the tomatoes growth (positively, of course). You can even plant flowers near vegetables to enhance pollination and provide a decoy for harmful insects.
- Dig the beds. After you have the garden all planned out and ready to go, it’s time to get dirty! It is a good idea to loosen the soil before you start planting. This can be done with a tiller or by hand. Work the soil for a while, adding in nutrients (compost and natural fertilizers) as you go, and when you’re done smooth it over with a rake. Water the area thoroughly and then wait a few days before you plant anything.
Instead of planting straight into the level ground, some people prefer to create raised beds for their vegetables. This is done by piling dirt into mounds and then smoothing out their tops. The beds should rise about eight inches from the pathway and be about three feet wide. Some advantages to raised beds include: saving resources by applying fertilizer directly to the beds instead of a spread out area, reducing the space needed for paths and thus increasing the growing area, and providing an easy and convenient way for planting and cultivating.
- Plant your vegetables! Finally, after all this planning and work you get to plant your vegetables. Now you only have to take care of them and wait for the delicious results. Proper watering and weeding is necessary for your garden to stay in tip-top shape.Vegetables planted on level ground usually require watering once or twice a week (and a total of about one inch of water per week). Vegetables in raised beds might need watering a little more often because the beds tend to drain faster.
You should try and prevent weed seedlings by lightly stirring the top inch of your soil with a hand fork or hoe. If you notice that weeds have begun to spring up, pull them immediately. Weeds compete with your vegetables for nutrients and water, so it’s best to remove the pestilence as soon as possible.
After having success with their first garden, most people plan to plant again the next year. If you decide on using the same location as your previous garden it is advisable that you rotate where your crops were planted. Insect and soil-borne diseases tend to build up and deplete the nutrients in the soil if crops are not rotated. The best plan for rotation is to make sure that the same family of vegetables is not planted in the same place more than once every three years.
And there you have it. After six easy steps you are ready to grow the most delicious vegetables you have ever tasted. Nothing beats homegrown, and it’s even better when it’s grown at your own home. Your patience and diligence with your garden will pay off when you are placing fresh-picked veggies on your dining room table.
Just remember, some vegetables need to be harvested at different times than others, so check to make sure you don’t wait too long.
Enjoy the best vegetables you have ever eaten, and if you have too many – send them our way!