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How to Start a Vegetable Garden

There is no better way to be self-sufficient than by growing your own food. It’s fun, rewarding, and the vegetables taste so much better than the store. So if you’re ready to start a vegetable garden this post will guide you through each step!

Homegrown vegetables harvested from Audrey's Little Farm vegetable garden

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I’ve had a garden my entire life and I just can’t imagine not growing my own vegetables. Even though there is some work involved to get started it’s all worth it in the end.

I have some tips and strategies that make the whole process easier. So if you’re ready to dive deep, be sure to check out my online course Vegetable Gardening Made Easy!  

Get your free Vegetable Planting Schedule!

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How to Start a Vegetable Garden

You may think that growing a garden seems like too much work, or that you can never keep anything alive so why would you even try.

But if you learn what vegetables grow in your area and you plant during the correct seasons you’re halfway there.

So don’t be afraid of gardening, just start small and follow the gardening tips below. Feel free to comment or email me with any questions you have.

Step 1: Deciding Where to Plant

Depending on how much space you have will help you to determine where the best place to plant is. But even if you’re limited on space don’t feel discouraged.

There are tons of vegetables that are ideal for container planting and so even if you just plant a small patio garden, it’s better than nothing.

Container Planting Basics

The best vegetables to plant in containers are ones that don’t get huge and out of control.

For example, pumpkins spread out like crazy and certain tomatoes can get really big. So it’s always important to check out the variety and its growing habit before planting in a container.

The great thing is that there are so many different varieties out there with so many different traits that you’ll still have a good selection of plants to choose from.

Below is a list of vegetables suitable for growing in containers.

  • Radishes
  • Potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Arugula
  • Lettuce
  • Peppers
  • Summer Squash
  • Cucumbers
  • Snap Peas
  • Pole Beans
  • Tomatoes (Determinate Varieties)

If you’re looking for tomatoes that grow well in containers. Check out The Best Heirloom Tomatoes for Containers here.

Or if you’d like to explore a wider selection of container vegetables, one of my favorite seed companies, Botanical Interests, has a great collection of vegetables for containers you can check out here!

After looking up plant varieties, your next step is choosing the correct sized pot. This will vary by vegetable.

Vegetables with very shallow roots like lettuce and spinach can be planted in a much shallower pot than something like a tomato plant that grows much larger.

If you’re unsure of what size container to choose, bigger is always better than too small.

If you’re limited on space, these garden towers are really neat! It is a vertical garden composter that can grow up to 50 plants in 4 square feet of space! 

Check out the rotating garden tower here!

Then once you’ve chosen your container, the next important thing is filling it with good-quality potting soil such as OMRI Potting Soil Mix.

Raised Bed Planting Basics

I love my raised beds because it makes both planting and harvesting much easier.

I recommend raised beds that are no more than 3-4 feet wide because that allows you to still be able to easily reach into the middle of your beds.

The length of the raised bed doesn’t matter as much, just whatever fits best in your area, but my raised beds are 3.5 feet wide x 8 feet long.

You can build your own raised beds or use already purchased containers like galvanized watering troughs.

Raised vegetable gardening beds

The next step is filling your raised beds with good garden soil.

Since you’ll be using much more than you would with containers or pots, I recommend looking for a local company that you can buy from in bulk.

Look for a 3-way mix that consists of a mixture such as compost, topsoil, and peat moss.

You may only be able to find topsoil sold in bulk and then you can mix in additional materials such as compost on your own.

For example, when I filled all of my raised beds I was able to buy compost in bulk from one company and topsoil from another company.

So I purchased both and then we filled the beds with half of each and mixed it together.

Formula for Filling Raised Garden Beds

As you prepare to fill up your garden beds, keep in mind that soil in bulk is typically measured in yards.

So here is the formula you will need to convert the size of your raised beds into cubic yards to help you calculate how much soil to get.

Height (ft) x Width (ft) x Length (ft) / 27 = yards of soil

Example: 2′ (height) x 3′ (width) x 8′ (length) = 48 / 27 = 1.78 yards of soil

If you’re buying bags of soil it’s likely sold in cubic feet. Therefore, the calculation for cubic yards is this.

Height (ft) x Width (ft) x Length (ft) = cubic feet of soil

Example: 2′ (height) x 3′ (width) x 8′ (length) = 48 cubic feet of soil

Planting in the Ground

Planting in the ground is nice because you don’t have to build any raised beds or set up any containers.

Just make sure you have healthy soil, work it up nicely before planting to remove all debris and dirt clods, and then work in compost or a good quality soil amendment before planting.

Step 2: Learn the Gardening Basics

Below is some of the basic information that is important to know prior to planting to ensure you grow plants that are suitable for your area and to make sure you plant during the correct season.

Find your Growing Zone

The first thing you should do if you don’t already know is to find your growing zone.

You can find your growing zone here.

Find Your First and Last Frost Dates

The next important thing to know is your first and last frost dates.

Go to this site here to find your average first and last frost dates.

This information will help you plan out when the right time to plant is.

For a PDF of exactly when to plant all vegetables based on your own first and last dates be sure to get my free planting schedule below.

Get your free Vegetable Planting Schedule!

Sign up and get this planting schedule with all planting dates sent straight to your inbox!!

Step 3: How and Which Vegetables to Plant

Once you know when you should plant, the next step is deciding if you should plant by directly by seed or as transplants.

Head to this post here to learn which vegetables to directly sow from seed.

And go here to learn which vegetables to plant as transplants.

Choose Which Vegetables to Grow 

There are so many vegetables to choose from so I recommend starting off with a list of your favorites. Then look up each of those vegetables to make sure they grow well in your area.

There is no use in growing vegetables that don’t grow well where you live or that you don’t like. So make your list and below we’ll discuss how to figure out what grows best when and where.

Fall vs. Spring Gardens

Some vegetables grow best in cooler weather and some grow best when it’s warm.

So depending on what growing season it is, you’ll either plant cooler or warmer season crops.

Common cool-season crops include,

  • Arugula
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Swiss Chard
  • Collards
  • Kale
  • Lettuce, Baby Mix
  • Lettuce Heads
  • Radishes
  • Rutabagas
  • Spinach
  • Turnips

These should typically be planted in early spring or later on in your fall garden.

Your common warm-season crops include,

  • Beans
  • Snap Beans
  • Beets
  • Corn
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplant
  • Okra
  • Onions, Bulb
  • Parsnips
  • Peas, Snap
  • Peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Pumpkins
  • Squash, Summer
  • Squash, Winter
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Tomatoes

These vegetables are usually planted in spring after all the danger of frost has passed and they will continue growing through the summer.

Planting vegetables in the garden

Seed Starting Tips

Seeds need adequate moisture and warmth to germinate.

So if you’re directly sowing seeds into your garden bed and the weather isn’t warm enough they likely won’t germinate.

Make sure you wait until the soil has reached the optimal temperature for germination.

The same goes if you’re starting your seeds in pots to transplant.

If you start your seeds in pots and they don’t sprout, it’s likely due to the temperature.

Try setting your seed trays on heat mats or moving them to a warmer location such as a greenhouse or inside next to the fireplace.

Check out how to start tomatoes from seed here.

Transplanting Tips

The ideal weather for transplanting is an overcast, cooler day. If the weather allows, transplant on a day like that, or plant early in the morning while it’s still cool, in a pre-watered garden bed.

Then after planting, water the transplants deeply.

Check out 5 Tips for Transplanting here. 

Get your free Vegetable Planting Schedule!

Sign up and get this planting schedule with all planting dates sent straight to your inbox!!

Step 4: Tending to Your Garden

After planting, the most important thing is watering effectively and watching your plants for signs of pests or disease.

Audrey tending to her garden

Watering Tips

I recommend setting your garden up on an irrigation system so that you can save time and water more effectively.

A timer is also great so that your garden can automatically be set to water even when you aren’t around.

But either way, it’s important to water deeply and infrequently versus just doing quick water that doesn’t saturate deep into the soil.

You don’t want the soil to completely dry out, but you don’t want it overly saturated either.

It’s best to water long enough that the water seeps into the soil at least a couple of inches down. Then the next day, check the soil.

If it’s still moist an inch deep, wait before watering again. If it’s not moist an inch deep, water again.

Keep Weeds Away

The best thing to do is pull your weeds frequently because then they never get out of hand. Which may be easier said than done haha!

I like to use pre-emergent around the perimeters of my garden and in the walkways because it prevents the weeds from ever coming up in the first place, which is awesome.

You can check out how to use pre-emergent here.

You can also use organic weeds killers or a good old-fashioned hula hoe which is one of my favorite tools for weeding!

Check out my video below to watch how easy weeding in the garden can be with the correct tools!

Must Have Tools for a Weed-Free Garden

Check for Pests and Prevent Them

The best way to keep pests out of the garden is to prevent them and kill them immediately.

One method I like for preventing pests is planting beneficial plants known for repelling pests such as,

  • Marigolds
  • Mint
  • Cilantro

You can also plant plants known for attracting beneficial insects that will kill the pests such as,

  • Yarrow
  • Sweet Alyssum
  • Marigolds

Or you can buy beneficial insects and turn them loose in your garden.

If you notice any pests on your plants it’s important to treat them immediately. You can do so with organic pest killers such as,

Marigolds in the vegetable garden

Fertilize Your Plants

The final step to growing a successful garden is to fertilize your plants as needed. To learn about fertilizing, check out this article here.

Summary of Starting a Vegetable Garden

  • Decide where to plant. Containers, raised beds, or in the ground.
  • Fill your containers or garden beds with good quality soil.
  • Learn gardening basics such as your growing zone and first and last frost dates.
  • Learn how and which vegetables to plant.
  • Follow seed starting tips and transplanting tips depending on which planting method you go with.
  • Tend to your garden frequently. 
  • Water well, pull weeds frequently, and prevent pests. 
  • Throughout the growing season fertilize as needed.
  • Then enjoy the benefit of your hard work, wonderful harvests!

Then the final step is to keep garden records!

An important step to becoming a skilled gardener is keeping records. You should keep a garden journal that includes things such as,

  • What plant varieties you grew.
  • Where you planted each vegetable in the garden. This is really important for keeping track of companion plants and incorporating crop rotation.
  • How the crop grew.
  • How you liked the taste.
  • If any pests or diseases showed up.
  • The dates you planted on.

While these are just a few ideas of things to keep track of, you can add in anything else that seems important.

Keeping records is great because year after year you will have valuable information specific to your garden.

If a certain variety grew really well for you then you should plant it again. Or if it grew poorly you should ditch it and try something new.

Once you have this information each year of gardening will only get easier and easier.

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Audrey's Little Farm Vegetable Garden

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One Comment

  1. Hello, my name is Rhonda my son built me a hoop house with 2 rows, 3 1/2 ft wide and 16 ft long, enough for us yet we didn’t even think about lining it as we live with like 6 eucalyptus trees about 25 ft away from the hoop house so as you probly know I now have roots all throughout the beds. Any suggestions ? Everything pretty much grew but like my tomatoes, they grew and produced real well but didn’t grow very big , 2 early girl and 2 better boys. Am now waiting on someone to help me out with this problem as I have roots in my flowerbeds as well and thought maybe you could help. Thank you for your time and do have a pleasant day. Sincerely, Rhonda Keelin from Southwestern Arizona

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