If you’re new to gardening, growing your own food can be a fun, if sometimes challenging activity. From testing your soil, watering your garden and dealing with hungry insects, there’s always something new to deal with. Here are some helpful vegetable gardening tips for beginners to make your gardening experience easier and more enjoyable.
When you’re new to vegetable gardening, start off small. Choose 4-5 different vegetables to begin. You can always expand your garden and add more options later.
Make It Easier On Yourself
Start with vegetables that are easy to grow. Salad vegetables, such as lettuces, tomatoes, and cucumbers grow fast. They also taste better than the produce you buy at the store.
Other easy to grow vegetables are carrots, beets, radishes, and turnips. Yellow squash and zucchini plants produce lots of squash with minimal care.
If you want to grow a heartier meal, try some high-calorie vegetables such as legumes and root vegetables.
Some vegetables, such as asparagus and celery, are harder to grow and more labor intensive. They need a greater commitment of time, space, and resources.
Asparagus, for example, is a perennial vegetable. Once planted, it can take up to three years before you can begin to harvest the spears.
Chances are you may wish to experiment with your garden beds for the first few years. Having an asparagus bed in the wrong corner of your garden can limit your options later.
What Do You Like To Eat?
Choose vegetables that your family likes and will actually eat. If you decide to plant a vegetable that only you will eat, start off with one or two plants instead of a six-pack. Otherwise, you may find yourself peddling bags of produce to your neighbors (who will start to hide from you as the summer moves on.)
Size Really Does Matter (How Much Space Do You Need?)
The larger the vegetable garden, the more time you’ll need to take care of it. It can take at least an hour or more each week to maintain even a small garden.
As your garden grows, it will need weeding, watering, picking and pest control. Setting up a drip irrigation system and mulching the garden beds will save you time and effort.
Just remember, a garden is a living thing and takes some time and attention to produce a good yield.
Picking the Perfect Garden Spot
Find a sunny spot. Plants need sunlight to grow. Most vegetables need at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight each day.
Look for an area with good drainage. Avoid the low spot in the yard that pools with water whenever it rains. Or the spot with heavy runoff unless you want to watch your rich garden soil wash into the neighbor’s yard.
Keep the garden away from trees and large shrubbery. You don’t want your vegetables to have to compete for nutrients. Also, be aware of high traffic areas, such as the dog’s favorite digging spot.
Place the garden near your kitchen or back door. The closer it is, the easier it will be to keep up. When you walk past it each day, you can reach down and pull a few weeds as you go by. Or grab a few quick vegetables for cooking.
Test Your Soil
A soil test will show you the nutrients in your soil and let you know if your soil is acidic or alkaline. Most vegetables, including tomatoes, like a soil that is slightly acidic. Having a recent soil test is a quick way to determine what type of fertilizer (if any) you would need to add to your soil.
Get In The Zone
Know your growing zone. Check out the United States Department of Agriculture [Plant Hardiness Zone Map]
When choosing vegetables, pick plants and planting times that correspond to your area. Some plants grow better in certain climates.
Growing Outside of Your Zone
If you want to grow something that’s not recommended for your area, you may need to make adjustments to your plans.
If you have a shorter growing season, you can start your plants indoors or winter them inside.
In warmer climates, plants may need sun protection during the hot summers.
Know When the Time is Right
Follow the planting times for your growing zone. Some vegetables are cool season crops and some like warmer weather. Plant them in the proper season for stronger, healthier plants.
Give Them Space
Plant your vegetables the proper distance apart. Use a ruler or measuring tape to get the distance right. Don’t be afraid to thin out seedlings that are too close together. Vegetable plants need room to grow and develop.
When planting seeds, be sure to keep the soil moist. Once established, most vegetable plants need at least 1-2 inches of water per week. But don’t overwater. A good rule of thumb is to water your plants if the soil is dry two inches below ground.
Focus the water at the roots to prevent evaporation. Soaker hoses or drip irrigation allow a slow steady stream of water to soak into the ground. Mulching your garden helps to keep moisture in the soil as well as controlling weeds.
Pest Control Tips
Not all bugs are bad. Some of the good ones are bees, butterflies, and ladybugs. Good bugs help to pollinate your plants and may even help to keep away the others.
To control the bad bugs, keep your garden clean. Pick up any damaged or over-ripe vegetables. Remove broken stems, weeds or other garden debris. Remove sick or diseased plants.
Use companion planting. Strong smelling plants such as onions, garlic, and marigolds help to repel insects. Herbs such as basil, dill, and chives work, too.
Examine your plants. Look for bites on the leaves or stems. If you see any, hunt down the culprit. In most cases, the insect responsible will be either still on the plant or nearby. Get your gloves and a bag and gather them up. Make sure to seal up the bag and remove them from your garden so they won’t return. If you can stop them before they multiply, it’s easier to stay ahead of them.
Try out these vegetable gardening tips for beginners and grow your best garden.