Start A Vegetable Garden
How To Start A Vegetable Garden

With this step-by-step article, it's fun and easy!

Over the last few months a lot of people have written in asking how to start a vegetable garden, and what I personally do when beginning to plan, organize, and plant my garden.

Considering all the variables that can go into growing vegetables, these were questions that needed more space to expand upon than there was room for in the Question & Answer Section.

So in order to better answer how I start a vegetable garden, I decided to share with you exactly how my family and I plan, organize, and plant our garden, and you can follow along, step-by-step in this article.

Now I am going to assume you have already chosen your vegetable seeds. If you're not sure about buying seeds, see article - Tips to Get the Most Out of Mail Order Seed and Plant Catalogs - about how to choose and buy seeds from a catalog. The information in that article also applies to buying seed at your local garden center.

From seed, I typically like to plant: corn, beets, radishes, parsnips, squash, potatoes, beans, peas, flowers, pumpkins, carrots, sunflowers, chard, and onion (sets).

As far as buying young plants, I like to buy tomatoes, melons, cucumbers, peppers, some lettuce, and herbs.

After talking it over, my family and I decided to keep our garden fairly simple this year by not planting as many different types of vegetables as we usually do, but still using good planting techniques to conserve water and weeding.

If, however, you want to plant more than we have in our garden this year, go for it; this article is just to get you started. Also, if you live in an area that is cooler than ours, and you actually need more warmth in the soil, don't worry, I mention that alternative as we go along.

Vegetable gardens are fun, and with a little prep, very easy. Even if you have never planted a vegetable garden before, you can get started right away, and be very successful.

So let's get going - daylight's burning!

How Large an Area

This really is determined by how much space you have, and how many vegetables you want to grow. This year my family and I are making a much smaller garden, but still using similar layout and planting techniques to get more produce from less space, using less water.

We are using a 20 ft x 20 ft (6 m x 6 m) area. You can see how we covered the area with a heavy black plastic cloth.

This is because last fall, we decided not to have a winter garden, and so we covered the area with thick black plastic cloth to solarize the soil, and keep the weeds out. No reason not to do this. I mean,why let the weeds take over a nicely tilled area?

After pulling off the cloth, the first thing we did was a quick soil test for pH. Our test showed a pH of close to 6.5, which is ideal. This is good news because we didn't need to add any lime or sulfur to adjust the pH.

You will want to test your soil, and you can use a simple soil-test kit from the garden center to do this. Just follow the instructions on the kit and you will get your soil pH close enough to successfully grow healthy vegetables.

Click pictures for larger image

Add Organic Matter and Till

Now thanks to our black plastic we have no weeds, and our soil test showed we didn't have to add any amendments to adjust soil pH, but that doesn't mean we don't want to add some good organic matter to the soil.

Organic matter breaks down over time and needs to be replaced, so we want to replace it in the spring and fall with a good layer of compost.

We put down about 2-3 inches (5-8 cm) of good, rich compost across the top of our plot of soil, which ended up being about 1-1/2 yards of compost.

Next we tilled in the compost thoroughly in two directions. Now, if your soil test said you needed to add amendments to adjust soil pH, you would have spread those amendments over the soil, with the compost, and tilled them all in together at the same time.

We tilled north-south and then east-west to make sure the compost was well worked in, and the soil had a nice texture. Keep in mind, you only want to till soil when its moisture content is just right, or you can ruin your soil structure.

To see examples of good moisture content before tilling to preserve soil structure you can read this tip - Care For Your Soil Structure

Click pictures for larger image

Make Your Plan

With the tilling done, now we are ready to start laying out our garden. I drew up a garden map on paper so we had a reference to use when out in the field. We set up our garden facing north with our tallest crops, which are sunflowers and corn, in the northern most area so they won't cast any shade on the shorter crops.

If you notice from our paper plan, we have three different kinds of rows:

1. Wide Row Planting

Our wide rows are 3 ft (.91 m) wide x 5 ft (1.5 m) long. They can also be blocks as big as 10 ft x 10 ft (3 m x 3 m). It's up to you. Wide rows are good because crops such as peas and beans don't need staking. The vines grow up in a cluster and they support themselves.

Also you don't have to water, weed or cultivate as much, because the plants grow up and shade the soil crowding weeds out and preserving moisture.

If you have never tried this because you always plant in long skinny rows, try planting with wide rows; you'll really like it. We plant all vegetables in wide rows except the ones listed under Single Row Planting.

Other benefits of wide row planting:

Grow 2 to 3 times the vegetables that you would grow in regular single rows

Grow more in less space

Crowds the weeds out

Plants create their own living mulch, keeping soil cool and moist, conserving water by slowing the moisture-evaporation rate which is good if you live in a very warm climate.

Now if you live in a cooler climate, do the reverse. Plant higher and warmer, use raised beds as mentioned next.

2. Raised Beds

Our raised beds are 16 inches (41 cm) wide x 5 ft (1.5 m) long, and are best used for ALL root crops such as onions, carrots, beets, rutabagas, turnips, parsnips and radishes. Your carrots will be straight and juicy, and crops such as beets, turnips and onions have twice as much loose soil to expand in as beds that were made level with the ground, so the bulbs get larger.

Raised beds are also good for heat-loving vegetables like tomatoes and peppers, so if you live in a cooler climate with a short growing season, use elevated raised beds because they stay warmer and drier because they are surrounded by air and sun on three sides.

Raised beds are also good if you tend to have heavy soils that don't drain well, because raised beds stay 8 to 10 degrees warmer than soil at ground level, and they drain, and dry out faster too. This is good because then you can plant crops such as peas, onions and salad greens earlier in the season and not have to wait for cool, clammy soil to warm up.

Raised beds also help plants get more oxygen which help plant roots and soil organisms.

Now if you live in hot climate, do the reverse. Plant lower, and cooler, and use the wide row planting as mentioned above.

3. Single Row Planting

This is the conventional way to plant and it still has its value for some crops. The only vegetables we plant in single rows are corn, potatoes, tomatoes, and sprawling vine like squashes, melons, and cucumbers.

If you are short on space, many vine crops can be grown vertically. If you have never done this, please read the tip from our Garden Idea Blog that shows you how: To Grow Squash, Melons and Cucumbers Vertically

OK - so we have our plan, and our planting techniques, let's start planting!

More tips on the website:

Use Soil Temperature For Remarkable Vegetable Planting Results

Difference Between Organic, Sustainable, Permaculture

How To Ripen Green Tomatoes

When to Harvest Vegetables & Fruit Guide

Proper Crop Rotation

Growing Tomatoes & Tomato Growing Tips - A Complete Guide

How To Start A Vegetable Garden

How To Maintain A Vegetable Garden

Get A Better Bean Harvest

Avoid Spinach Ecoli | Grow Your Own Spinach or Lettuce

Contact Information

Weekend Gardener Monthly Web Magazine
P.O. Box 104
Morro Bay, CA 93443


Hilary Rinaldi is a certified organic grower, and has a very real interest in making gardening enjoyable and successful for everyone. She is a professional public speaker and educator in the horticulture industry, and loves to give out as many gardening tips as she can.
Copyright 2008 Hilary A. Rinaldi. All rights reserved.
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