Do you want to start a vegetable garden but unsure about where to start or overwhelmed with what you need to think about before you even begin?
Don't worry, you're not alone.
Starting a garden from scratch is not an easy task, especially if you don't have gardener relatives. So it is helpful to have an in-depth guide to help you through the introductory process. That is exactly what we're going to do today. We're going to share all the things you need to consider and have a brief understanding of so you can go to your backyard tomorrow (or even today) and start digging.
In this article, you'll also find links to our other articles if you want to learn more about specific topics.
Let’s get started!
1. Deciding What to Plant
If you already know what you're going to grow, you can skip this step. But if you haven't yet, you’ll want to take a few factors into consideration.
Second, you’ll need to decide which plant do you like.
If you don’t like a certain fruit or vegetable, then you shouldn't waste your time growing it. This advice might sound obvious, but in reality some people choose plants that others say are easy to grow, fast-growing, or even profitable, even though they don't personally like it. Doing this might lower your motivation along the way.
Third, now you can consider which plants will give you the most harvest for the time and effort put into growing it.
Finally, you’ll want to consider which plants work best for your schedule. Some plants do require more care and produce a harvest too quickly, if you can't spare much time to garden, you might better off choosing slow, easy-to-grow plants.
Here are some more articles to help you decide:
- 9 Steps to Deciding What to Plant in Your Vegetable Garden
- 8 Easiest Vegetables to Grow Even If You Don't Know Anything About Gardening
- 10 Small Vegetables and Fruits to Grow If You Don't Have Big Backyard
- 24 Newbie-Friendly Vegetables You Can Easily Grow Indoors
2. Which Gardening Methods to Use
There are many different forms and shapes of vegetable gardens.
The first and the simplest way to garden is in-ground beds. Dig the soil and plant the seed or seedling, that's it.
Second, a container garden, which basically means growing in a pot. This is a great way to grow a small number of vegetables because it doesn't require a big space of land and amount of soil.
The downside of container gardening is that you'll need to prepare different sizes of containers because each plant has a different size or depth required to suit their root system. Also, not all plants can be grown in a container, and if you choose to grow a lot of plants, using containers would require more space.
Third, raised garden beds. They are usually 18-32 square feet rectangular containers made of wood that are higher than the ground level. This method has the advantages and disadvantages of both in-ground and container gardening.
Raised bed is a better option than containers if you want to grow a variety of vegetables. And because they're higher than the ground level, raised beds are easier for your back.
For beginners and people who are just curious about gardening, the in-ground bed is the easiest option, if you have the space. But you should still check out each type of garden and decide which is best for you.
3. Calculate How Much Space You Need
You can skip this step if you only want to grow a small number of plants (1-10) because you can roughly estimate how much space you need with only your eyes. However, if you're planning to grow a big garden to support the family, this is a very important step you should not skip.
Calculating the space is actually very complicated. You need to know which plant to grow, how many plants to grow, what is the space needed for each plant, and only then you'll be able to get the total space you need.
Fortunately, we've made a handy calculator that'll make the whole process as simple as entering a number:
4. Find the Ideal Location
Location is the key to growing a thriving garden. There are three main considerations.
First, you need to find a place in your yard that gets six hours or more sun light per day.
Six hours is what most plants require to grow. There are plants that require less (usually 3-6 hours. This is what gardeners call partial sun), but you need to choose location with six hours of sun. If the plant you want to grow doesn't need full sun, the trick is to provide shade by growing a shade plant nearby.
Bottom line, always choose a location that gets a full, six hours of sun. You can create shade, but you can't create sun.
Second, choose a place where the soil is well-drained. If an area in your yard is prone to flooding or has water standing frequently, it's not a good spot for a garden. At least if you don't fix it.
Finally, if possible, place your garden as close as possible to your water source. This will make watering it much easier.
- 12 Steps to Choosing the Best Location for Your Vegetable Garden
- How to Plan the Perfect Garden This Year in 10 Easy Steps
- How to Set Up Your Vegetable Garden Bed or Container Correctly
5. Planning the Vegetable Garden Layout
We've already discussed some of your gardening method options above, as well as plants you'd like to grow and your garden location.
The next step is to plan the layout of your garden.
Grab a piece of blank paper and a pencil, then do a rough sketch of your yard along with your house and outbuildings. Then mark areas where your garden beds will be placed.
If you're planning to use the in-ground method, you will be planting in rows. And if you're planning to grow many plants, you will need more than one row. For a garden with more than one row, be sure to have enough spacing for your access, around two feet or more.
If you're using raised beds, draw squares, L-shape, T-shape, circles, or whatever the shape of your garden beds will be.
On your rows or beds, draw the vegetable on the location you choose, or write the initial of the plant.
That's basically how you plan a garden layout.
There are many free garden planner software out there, but most of what we've tried are too complicated to use or get. If you're starting simple, using those software might only make things complicated.
Here are some articles to inspire you:
- 19 Vegetable Garden Plans & Layout Ideas That Will Inspire You
- How to Plan the Perfect Garden This Year in 10 Easy Steps
- Raised Beds, In-Ground Plots, or Containers: Which Garden Layout to Choose
- A Complete Guide to Vegetable Container Gardening for Beginners
6. Testing and Fixing Your Soil
You can't produce a good harvest without good soil. To know whether you have good soil quality or not, you need to test it. See if it needs any work done prior to planting.
An easy, DIY way to test your soil is by soaking the dirt where you’ve decided to put your garden. Then allow it to sit for a day. The next day, come back and take a hand full of dirt, then compress it in your hand as hard as you can.
Then, gently poke it. If the dirt crumbles instantly, it has too much sand in it, and you’ll need to add manure or compost to it to enrich it.
If the dirt gently falls apart like a moist brownie, then you’ll know that it is good to go and is ready to plant.
Keep in mind that this method is very simplified and not bulletproof.
- 9 Tips for Better Soil Quality in Your Garden and Get Better Crops
- 19 Ways to Improve Garden Soil and Boost the Yield Year After Year
- How to Make the Perfect Potting Soil Recipe in 5 Easy-to-Follow Steps
- 5 Best Soil Test Kits for Your Garden or Lawn
7. Build Your Garden Bed(s)
Skip to step 8 below if you don't build your own beds.
Garden bed is a very easy DIY project, and it can save you some start-up cash. If you have some scrap wood or pallets around, you can pretty much build it for free.
Here's a tutorial to build raised garden beds with scrap wood.
Make sure your wood is preserved well by painting it with latex paint, treat with transparent oil-based stain, use plastic liner, and use decay-resistant wood like cedar, oak, or redwood.
You can also build your beds with other materials like concrete or stone.
Most importantly, avoid wood that are treated with toxic chemicals. To be even safer, use heavy plastic liner or a polypropylene fabric liner between the wood and soil.
Once you've built your raised beds, till up the garden space to unearth the soil. It is a good idea to let the dirt sit for as long as possible because this gives the grass a chance to die off.
Then go back over the soil and spread it out to places where it isn’t quite as lumpy in appearance. Add in compost, manure, or any other organic matter your garden needs.
Here's an article where you can find some ideas for a DIY raised garden bed:
8. Get Your Seeds
Buying your first seeds or seedlings can be overwhelming. There are many places to purchase your plants, and there are many varieties of plants to choose from, which you might be uncertain about which is best.
Well, let us fill you in.
Your best bet is probably find someone local, if there are local stores or individuals selling seeds or seedlings near your location. It's because local plants will usually grow best in your garden condition, which will give you the most cost-effective result.
They also usually give the best price.
I personally buy most of our seeds from our local general store. They are very reasonably priced, and I’ve had great experiences with our seeds from them.
Next, make sure you read the labels.
Seeds vary. You can pick what size vegetables you want to harvest, what color vegetable you want to raise, and some seeds are more resistant to certain pests and diseases (have some talk with other local gardeners to know which pest and disease are common in your location).
Speaking of other local gardeners, you might be able to get free seeds from them. Just ask. Gardeners usually save their seeds every year, and many of us are happy to share some of it.
Here's some more ideas to get seeds:
9. Turn Your Seeds into Plants
Some people buy seedlings for their first garden, some people start from seeds. The latter is not actually that hard to do by yourself, especially for some easy-to-grow plants.
Starting your own seeds will also save you some money.
We have published some helpful resources on starting your own seeds, but let me give you a quick overview.
First, you need a seed starting trays. Fill each cell with potting soil, then plant your seed in each cell. Then, put the tray under a grow light (or just any warm light) to provide heat. Do these steps indoors if it's cold outside.
Wait for germination to happen. Germination period is different for each plant.
Gently water them with a spray bottle until they are ready to transplant. Again, some plants needs longer or shorter time until they're ready. When they're ready, transplant them to your outdoor garden beds.
There you have it, a vegetable garden.
Starting seeds is a delicate process, but one that is worth the extra effort.
- 9 Tips for Starting Your Seeds Indoor (and Avoid Common Mistakes)
- 11 Frugal Seed Starting Hacks to Get Your Garden Going
- How to Succeed at Seed Germination & 7 Common Mistakes to Avoid
10. Taking Care of Your Plants
The fun has just begun. Once you've successfully planted your garden, like any living thing, your plants need care if you want to see them produce.
The first thing there is to taking care of plants is to water them. Different plants need different amount of water, so make sure you know how much water your vegetables need.
It is a good idea to keep a rain gauge in your garden to know how much rain it got that week. If it doesn't rain for at least one inch per week, (some of) your plants may need water.
Next, make sure that you mulch around your plants in the garden. Not only does this help keep weeds down, but it also helps to retain the moisture around the plant.
Mulch can also help keep the roots at a stable temperature.
Read this guide to learn how to mulch.
The next and probably the most frustrating step for most gardeners is to weed out your garden. Weeds compete with your plants for nutrients, this can hinder the growth of your garden tremendously.
Read this article to learn how to prevent and get rid of weeds.
Finally, pay attention to your plants to know if they need to be fertilized. Some plants will change in color to indicate that they are lacking nutrients. Look at the leaf.
Seed packets usually comes with a grow guide that recommends the particular variety of vegetable be fertilized a few times during a growing season. Make sure to follow the guide correctly.
When it's time to fertilize, either add compost around the base of the plant and allow it to break down or use a store-bought fertilizer and follow the instructions on the package.
- Watering Your Plants: How Often, When to Do It, and 10 Things to Know
- 19 Vegetable Garden Care & Maintenance Tips for a Successful Harvest
- Fertilizing Plants 101: Everything You Need to Know to Do It Right
We have individual guides for pretty much all popular vegetables, fruits, and herbs. Go to this page if you need with a particular plant:
11. Harvest Your Garden
Harvesting your garden is a simple process, but for some plants it can be tricky to know when to harvest.
In general, when your plants are fully grown, they’ll begin to produce. When the harvest is ripe, remove the produce from the plant.
Again, most grow guides on seed packets will walk you through the process for your particular plant.
Here's another guide to help you:
12. Get Rid of Pests and Diseases
Every garden will eventually have to face pests or disease.
The best way to battle disease is to grow varieties that are resistant to ailments that commonly attack the plant.
The next best way is to mulch around the base of the plant and avoid overhead watering to keep dirt off of the stem.
Practice crop rotation each year or every four year if you're growing cole crops (Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and other plants in the Mustard family). This will give soil-borne illnesses no chance to develop.
If one of your plants are sick, immediately remove it and don't add it to your compost bin. This should hopefully keep the disease from spreading to other plants in your garden.
You also have to deal with pests.
There are many ways to do that, but the best option is to not let them get inside in the first place: fence your garden.
In case of bugs, the best way to beat them is to cover your crops with row covers. You can also walk through your garden and pick them from your plants.
- 26 Tips to Protect Your Garden Against Bugs, Critters, and Disease
- 21 Ways to Keep Deer Out of Your Garden and Plants Without Killing Them
- 18 Easy Ways to Get Rid of Squirrels from Your Property Year Round
13. How to Properly Store Your Harvest
Unless you plan on eating them right away, you need to store your garden harvest to keep them edible for a long time.
In most cases, if you put your produce in a cool, dry location without washing them, they should remain good for a few days after picking. If you want a few extra days, then you should wash and place them in your refrigerator. Most vegetables stay crisp in the fridge for up to seven days.
For gardeners with short gardening time in a year, it is best to preserve the harvest by freezing it, canning it, dehydrating it, or storing it in a root cellar. That way, you can use the harvest for the whole year and save money on groceries.
Your options may vary depending on what you plant in your garden, but it is good to know ahead of time the many ways to preserve them.
And that's all you need to know to start a vegetable garden, and some more. Your next step is to find out which gardening zone you belong to and find your frost dates so you know when to start planting.