Steps to Start a Vegetable Garden for Beginners

Contrary to the popular belief among beginners, vegetable gardening is not complicated. Starting off you need to be clear about a few basics of gardening vegetables. There are subtle difference between growing a flower bed and vegetable garden bed, especially the effect of climates and use of fertilizers.

Before you starting a vegetable garden you need the understanding of the below:

  • The vegetables which are best suited for your climate.
  • The amount of yard you are willing to dedicate for vegetable gardening.
  • The type of vegetables that are best suited to your soil.
  • The type of vegetables best planted with the space allotted.

Just get a basic knowledge of the above pointers are you can be well on your way to planting vegetables.

A few reasons why you should consider vegetable gardening

If you are undecided on whether you should go for a vegetable garden, the below pointers may help you make that decision

  • You can cultivate vegetables which are rarely available at your local market
  • You can plant vegetables which are other expensive to buy from stores
  • You get to grow completely organic vegetables if you want
  • Fresh produce tastes much better than anything you buy from a store

Growing radish, carrots, tomatoes, beans, spinach and egg plant is really easy and can be cultivated by beginners without a problem.

You can grow hybrid vegetables and get a better produce than the ones in the market. Vegetable plants mature really fast, varieties of radishes mature within 30 days!

Of course there is nothing like the feeling of cultivating your own food; it’s a rich and satisfying feeling that is worth experiencing.

How to go about planting a vegetable garden

Growing a vegetable garden involves a lot more than just sprinkling a few seeds on the ground and hoping for the best. There is a good amount of planning and preparation involved as the first step, it is important to understand the aspects involved in the planning stage as it becomes the foundation for planting. In summary there are four steps involved in planning

  1. Deciding on the planting structure (raised bed, flat bet, container or vertical gardening)
  2. Getting the environmental conditions right (availability of sun, water and air)
  3. Preparing the soil
  4. Working out the garden design

All the four steps are discussed in detail in this article on our site: Vegetable Garden Layout Plans For Your Home Garden. If you are a beginner, we recommend that you take the time to go through this article before proceeding to the next section.

Once you have the above four requirements in place you are ready to proceed with the actual planting of the vegetable garden. So let’s get started.

Using seeds to grow vegetable plants

Most beginners have a hard time while growing vegetable plants out of seeds. The most common mistake is to sprinkle the seeds directly onto the garden soil. You have very little control over the growing conditions when you do this and hence the likelihood of a successful germination is less.

If you are a newbie to vegetable garden you should avoid sprinkling your seeds directly onto the garden soil, instead you should consider indoor planting. It’s like rearing your seeds in a container and transplanting them back in the garden soil when they have developed into small saplings.

You have three advantages with this technique of indoor planting.

  1. You can easily control the indoor environment and hence you can start planting your veggies well into the frost. By the time frost is over your saplings will be ready to be transplanted.
  2. You can control the soil conditions and the soil temperature quite easily. Most gardeners use compost soil for indoor planting.
  3. You can control the depth and spacing of your seeds easily when you plant them in a container.

We hope you will consider indoor planting instead of planting the seeds directly onto the garden soil, especially if you are beginner with less experience. In fact most advanced gardeners follow this technique to get a head start on the growing seasons.

To get good at indoor planting you need to have a basic understanding of five fundamental requirements, they are

  1. The planting system
  2. The soil-mix
  3. The planting depth
  4. Watering
  5. Lighting

1. The planting system

This refers to the container structure you will be using for indoor planting. Some do-it-yourself gardeners use egg cartons (with holes pierced at the bottom) as containers and plastic trays as the water holder while some would just use plain plastic flower pots to grow their seeds. These systems require experience and are prone to failures.

If you are beginner you should consider buying a multipart indoor planting system from your local nursery. It is quite cheap and is basically made out of recycled thin plastic in most cases. It will look a lot like your ice-cube tray. All you will need to do would be fill up water in the bottom tray and fill up the soil in the tray inserts.

2. The Soil-mix

We would recommend that you purchase the soil mix for your indoor planting instead of using your own garden soil. The advantage of purchasing a soil mix is that you don’t have to work about soil preparation. Your garden soil may be acidic or may be deficient in certain minerals.

The soil mix is also very porous and fluffy allowing for roots of the samplings to spread with little effort. If you have experience with composting, you can make your own soil mix at home using the compost.

Before you fill up the planting containers (of the planting system) with soil, you will need to moisten it up a bit. The best way to moisten the soil would be to mix up the soil with some water in a bucket, it is important to ensure that you don’t get the soil too wet – the soil should remain crumbly.

3. The Planting Depth

Most beginners have a problem with the planting depth. They either plant the seeds too deep or too much on the surface. Usually the right planting depth our be a quarter of an inch below the surface. It is convenient to use a measure scale to get the accurate depth. Planting the seeds a little near the surface is always much safer than planting them at too much of a depth. An approximate accuracy in the planting depth is all that’s required. Check out this illustrative video on how to plant the seeds once you have the planting system in place.

The planting depth of the seeds would also depend upon the type of vegetable you are growing. Be sure to check out the instructions on your seed package to get an idea of what is the most optimal planting depth for your seeds. Lettuce, for example, can be sprinkled on the surface with a planting depth of just 1/8th of an inch and you don’t need to cover up these seeds at all.

4. Watering

If you are using a purchased ready-made planting system then watering is really easy. All you need to do is replenish the watering tray once in two days. This is the best way to water your seeds as the peat-boxes or trays would wick up the water from bottom-up.

If on the other hand you are planning on sprinkling on top of the soil, then you need to be more careful as you will need to do this on daily basis. Make sure you don’t get the top soil too soggy else it would block the air passage.

5. Lighting

Seeds tend to germinate better when they are provided with some artificial light indoors. You can place the seed tray near an east facing window so that morning sun is available to the saplings and you can leave any small artificial light on at night near the area where you place your seed tray. This way you get the best out of the morning sun.

Most gardeners would just place their seed tray in a closet or attic where they have an artificial light glowing 24 hours, there is no problem in following this method as the seeds tend to germinate rather well even in the presence of artificial light but we recommend that you expose the saplings to morning sun, if possible, as it helps them grow better. So the best thing to do would be to place the tray next to glass window that is east facing with an artificial light source on top.

Building a small vegetable garden can fetch fresh produce and a sense of accomplishment. There necessities of a small kitchen garden should be

  • Its small in size
  • Easily manageable
  • Produces vegetables and herbs of your choice

Ideally it is prudent to build a vegetable garden right outside your kitchen window or dining room window. This way you can keep track of the vegetables which are ripe for plucking and it also provides for easy access.

Homegrown peas, tomatoes and lettuce have a flavor of their own. If you have never tasted a freshly plucked tomato you are in for a treat.

Tips for sowing seeds in a home vegetable garden

If you plan on sowing directly, make sure the soil is warm.

Cold soil is not congenial for the growth of seeds. They tend to enter into a shock state or just rot away if there is any dampness in the cold soil.

The best time to sow seeds directly in the soil would be around mid spring or at least a few days after the last frost date.

How to buy seeds?

With seeds you will save money and also be in a position to buy a better selection. Be sure to read the instruction on the seed packet.

Some seeds (ex lettuce) would need to be sown within a year while some (ex beans) can be retained for a several years. There would recommendations that some seeds would be better off if grown indoors, while transplanting the seedling later into the garden.

Keep the seeds in a location which is free from moisture and is quite cool.

How to go about sowing seeds:

  • Dig a small hole, 1 inch deep, place your finger inside the hole and feel the temperature. If it is chilling cold, you should delay your seedling planting for a few more days.
  • When the time is right, follow the below steps to sow the seeds.
  • Dig in small furrows where you plant to plant the seeds, allow for the spacing as recommended on the seed packet.
  • Place at least three seeds in a furrow. This is based on law of averages. If all the three seeds sprout, you can just cut off the ones which are weaker.
  • Backfill a small layer of soil and compact it slightly.
  • Make sure you place a label indicating the exact spot where you planted the seed.
  • Add mulch around the spot, keeping a one inch distance from the spot where you planted the seed.
  • Keep the soil damp by spraying water regularly. Don’t make the soil soggy by watering with a hose.
  • Sowing seeds in your vegetable garden should be an organized process, to avoid frustration later.

Basics on how to start a vegetable garden using transplants

Start this process towards the end of fall when the climate is becoming less cold.

Weaning off indoor seedlings

If you are growing the seeds indoors and plan on transplanting them to your garden soil, you will need to wean them off first.

Place the container, in which the seedlings are planted, in a sheltered location outside your house where it is well sheltered from the cold winds. Shelter them inside your house if the nights get too chilly. Do this for at least a week or two.

Once the seedlings are hardened off, you can plant them in your garden.

Planting those transplants

Here are a few tips to follow while planting the transplants.

Water the transplants in the container:
A day prior to planting your seedlings, make sure you water them amply. They should be well hydrated before they take to the soil.

Dig the holes:
Dig small holes in your area when you plan to plant. The hole should be big enough to accommodate the ball of soil which would contain the roots for your seedling.

Allow proper spacing:
Also for proper spacing between two seedlings, remember that these would grow to be big plants in a few weeks. You don’t want to cramp them for room. The seed bag would have the required instructions on spacing.

Pop the transplant:
Remove the seedling from the pot with the aid of a small spoon or just by using your hands.

Tap out the air brackets:
Place the roots of the seedlings in the hole and backfill soil on top of it. Press lightly to remove any air gaps inside.

Water away:
Now water the seedling gently without disturbing the soil. A light sprinkler should be fine.

Don’t forget the mulch:
Add mulch around the seedling. Maintain a distance of 1 inches from the stem.

That’s about it, from here on your job would be to take of watering the plant to keep the soil damp most of the time. Add mild fertilizers once in two week if you soil is not fertile enough. Ensure proper hygiene of the plant by pruning away dead leaves and branches.

Every bit of effort and care pays off when it comes to gardening, for that matter its true for everything in life.

Vegetable garden for international cuisines

If you are into cooking different types of international cuisines, it would be an idea to plant a vegetable garden which suits your desire. This way you can get organic, fresh ingredients from your own garden.

Mexican cuisines: Go in for cilantro which is the main ingredient of any Mexican cuisine, along with hot peppers, tomatoes, onions and garlic.

Italian cuisines: Basil and Oregano are popular. You can even consider growing a olive tree. Tomatoes are again an important part of Italian cuisine.

Asian cuisines: You can plant a luscious array of fresh vegetable like eggplant, potatoes, carrots, peas, broccoli and leafy greens like lettuce and cabbage.

The best times to plant vegetable in your garden

Temperatures will affect the growth, pollination cycle and the fruition cycle of your plant considerably.

Both high and low temperatures have their effects on the plant.

When the temperature is too high, leafy plants are known to flower prematurely without growing edible foliage to a mature level. Examples are lettuce and cabbage. Flowering indicates that the plant has gone to seed.

When the temperature drops sharply by night, the plants tend to jettison their flowers and buds leading to a considerable reduction in your produce.

The ideal temperature, as recommended by the experienced gardeners, would be in the range in 40 degree to 80 degree Fahrenheit.

Warmer temperatures are known to increase the growth unduly while colder temperatures result in stunted growth, both of which are not ideal for a healthy produce.

One the basis of their temperature preferences, vegetables are classified as below

Cool season plants:

These crops should be allowed to mature before the onset of summer. If they are planted in summer there should be an assurance that mild cold will follow in a few weeks which would last for at least 4-5 weeks before the onset of extremely cold.

Examples of cool season plants are:

  • Cabbages
  • Lettuce
  • Peas
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Spinach
  • Turnips
  • Parsnips
  • Asparagus
  • Beets
  • Onion
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Endive

If the weather gets too warm, these plant would simply die off.

You can plant most of these vegetables in the winter (mild cold conditions) and enjoy rich harvest.

Warm season crops:

These plants cannot tolerate frost. These plants are characterized by a deeper root system. These plants are usually larger than the cool season plants. If the climate gets too cold these plants have a tendency to wither away.

Examples are

  • Cucumbers
  • Peppers
  • Melons
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Pumpkin
  • Squash
  • Beans
  • Corn
  • Soya beans
  • Chayote
  • New Zealand spinach
  • Eggplant

Understanding the impact of temperature on your crops would go a long way in determining the type of plants to grow during a particular period. Plants which are not stressed because of the temperature, tend to growth faster and produce more harvest.

Building a raised bed vegetable garden

If you plan on starting a vegetable garden, you should consider using a raised bed. There are several benefits to working with a raised garden bed.

  • The soil will stay loose
  • It will have better drainage
  • You will not step on it accidentally
  • It is easily accessible and hence watering is convenient
  • Plants tend to grow stronger roots due to the presence of loose soil

How to construct a raised garden bed?

The process is quite simple provided you have all the raw materials

Prepare the boundaries of the garden bed using wooden boards. The height of the boards should be anywhere between 8-12 inches at least. There should be no bottom to this structure of course!

placing the wooden boards

Make sure you don’t use laminated wooden boards, instead go in for untreated lumber. Laminated wooden boards have the tendency to release toxic chemicals into the soil.

The different woods you can use for this purpose are redwood, cedar, pine or cypress.

You can even use plastic if available or set it up using straw bales.

Add some protection fencing especially to prevent rodents from climbing onto the garden beds. A line of chicken wire should do the trick.

chicken wire

Fill the structure with soil, it can be the native soil from your garden. If your native soil is not good enough, consider mixing it with fertile purchased soil.

You can consider building more than one vegetable bed if the number of rows are higher, this way it will be easy for you to walk between the beds while watering or plucking the harvest.

vegetable beds placed side by side

Working with raised bed vegetable gardens is a great way to organize and care for your plants. The initial ground work is might seem a little tedious, but the rich rewards you reap after that makes it worth the sweat.

Useful vegetable gardening tips

A few general tips on maintaining the quality of your vegetable garden would be as following.

1. Build raised vegetable beds: Using untreated lumber you can set up raised vegetable garden beds, especially when you yard soil is not good for the vegetable you plan to grow. Raised garden beds help in water drainage and are great for growing vegetables.

2. Plant your herbs on the kitchen window sill: This a classic way of planting herbs. Create a wooden stand outside your kitchen window and grow herbs of various types like basil and mint in containers. You can even have a small tomato plant or lettuce growing in containers.

3. Create boundaries to separate lawn grass from vegetables: It is best to dig a trench around your vegetable garden bed, have colorful bricks laid out along the boundary. This way your lawn grass would not encroach on your veggies.

4. Build a protection: If your area is rampant with rabbits and deers, you will have to take evasive measures. An electric fence is a great option. You can even make a large fence out of chicken wire which little spacing between them. Make sure you send the protection deep in to the soil, at least 3-4 inches to prevent gophers from invading your garden.

5. Allow for plenty of sunshine: Vegetable plants love sunshine. At least an eight hour drill of sunshine is required. Don’t plant your vegetable in shady areas. Prune your trees to allow for direct sunshine.

You can refer to more detailed articles on vegetable gardening present on this site. For example, for tips to keep vegetable garden pests at bay you can check out this article : Identifying & Eliminating Garden Pests

These simple tips would act as useful pointers when you get into vegetable gardening. Gardening vegetables is different from working with flowers or foliage because it concerns edible portions. You need to be extra careful with chemical fertilizers and keep the pests at bay.