There’s just something about growing your own food that is incredibly gratifying! My passion is flower gardening, but I love vegetable gardening too. And, oh my goodness, fresh homegrown vegetables are the absolute best! You, the gardener, are in control and know exactly what goes into growing those veggies.
Vegetable gardening is a part of my heritage. There were seven kids in my family and I can remember having a vegetable garden every summer. My dad would make us get up at the crack of dawn (in the cool of the day, he would say) to pull weeds and tend to the garden. This was no little garden with raised beds either, it was an old fashioned, huge garden cut right into the ground. After all, we had a family of 9 to feed and the neighbors and families in need. Said with a note of sarcasm, but really with a heart of gratitude for the lessons that were taught. Of course, we moaned and complained about getting up early and we all swore we’d never have a garden when we grew up; and yet, most of us do. Can any of you relate to this story?
Is Growing Vegetables Hard?
I don’t think planting seeds, tending your crops and harvesting vegetables is difficult. Well okay, if you go big, it’s definitely hard, manual labor, but it’s not mentally hard. Oh, and you don’t have to have a “green thumb” (whatever that means) to plant and tend a garden. I think pretty much anyone can plant a garden and grow their own food. Yes, it’s that easy. Even if you don’t have space, tons of vegetables can be grown in containers. So pretty much if you have the desire, growing vegetables is not hard. Laborious, yes. Difficult, no.
As always, I will do my best to craft a tutorial according to what has worked for me. So, we’re going to keep Vegetable Gardening 101 very, very simple – just because it is!
If you are new to vegetable gardening, you might want to take a few minutes to read through Flower Gardening 101. There are many tips and instructions in that post that apply to vegetable gardening as well.
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Recommended Gardening Tools and Supplies:
- Soil – Really, we actually purchase a compost mix for our veggie beds. Or, if you’re lucky, you can get it free. Check with your county.
- Seeds or Starter Plants
- Tomato Cages (for tomatoes and growing other veggies vertically)
- Garden Hose
- Shovel (I love this shovel! Best. Shovel. Ever.)
- Hand Tools
Vegetable Gardening 101 – Choosing the right Spot for Your Vegetable Garden
Pick a spot of real estate in your yard that gets full sun – that’s 6 or more hours of bright sun per day. Your vegetables will produce better and taste better in full sun. I don’t care how many Pinterest pins you can find (and there are plenty) that say “10 Vegetables That Grow In The Shade” blah, blah, blah… Sorry to disappoint, but vegetables need sun to grow.
If this is your first vegetable garden, start small. You might even want to consider trying some vegetable plants in containers.
Prepare the Area for Planting
If you aren’t going to use raised beds (see below), you’ll need to clear out a space. You can do it the hard way by digging up all the grass and weeds, or if you aren’t in a hurry, you can use what’s called the Lasagna Method. Use a garden hose or rope and lay it out to mark the edge of the garden. Now, clear out all the grass and weeds. This is hard work and another reason to start small. It really helps to have a good sharp shovel that will cut through the sod and weeds.
Next you’re going to amend the soil a bit. Mix in a good amount (like 4 or 5 inches on top of your existing soil) of good organic compost. Check to see if there is a compost site available in your county, where you can pick up free compost. If not, it’s easy to find bagged compost at most big box stores. After the compost has been mixed in, rake over the entire area to smooth and level it out. Now you have a blank slate with which to plan out and plant your veggie bed. I love dirt and this part always excites me. And, yes, I realize I’m a little strange! To learn more about ways to convert lawn into gardening space, I have an entire post on that subject. It’s important, so be sure to check it out when you’ve finished here.
Here’s my sister’s cute raised veggie bed all ready for planting.
Consider Raised Beds for your Vegetable Garden
Even though they weren’t a thing when I was growing up, raised beds are awesome. If you can afford it, go with raised beds! If you want to cut out garden bed preparation, go with a raised garden bed.
There are lots of pre-made kits available. I would recommend that the bed be at least 8 inches deep and made of cedar, or some type of vinyl or composite material. My current raised veggie beds are 4 x 4, but I so wish we would have went with these 4 x 8 raised garden beds or these vinyl raised garden beds.
If you’re going to go to the trouble of actually building raised beds, I would highly recommend using cedar. Cedar is very slow to show wear and rot. Concrete blocks, landscape blocks and large field stones can also be used for raised beds.
If you do decide to go with a raised bed, be sure to fill it to the top with a good mix of compost and top soil. Don’t skimp on filling your raised beds. It defeats the purpose of using raised beds if you don’t fill them to the top with soil. Besides, the soil will settle over time. We used to be able to purchase what was referred to as a 3-way mix, which was compost, top soil and sand. I could grow the best vegetables in that mix.
Benefits of a Raised Garden Bed
- Eliminates ground weeds from your garden soil.
- The soil doesn’t become as compacted.
- Raised beds provide excellent drainage.
- You don’t have to bend over quite as far.
- They look great!
Vegetable Gardening in a Small Space
I recently read an amazing book called Vertical Vegetables. I already use tomato cages to grow my cucumbers vertically, but this book opened up my eyes to a whole new world of vertical gardening. It’s chock-full of ideas and it even includes plans and directions for building your own vertical gardening structures. This will be one of those books that gets read and re-read with many pages dogeared. I highly recommend it.
Tips for Planning A Vegetable Garden for Beginners
I have a couple of handy printables (Garden Plans and Garden Doodles) that I use in my Gardening Resources Library for planning out your garden. If you’re a beginner, keep it simple and use the following pointers:
- Run your vegetable rows from north to south for best sun exposure.
- Think about how you place your plants so taller ones don’t block the sun for shorter ones.
- Add in some marigolds and nasturtiums for pops of color and as a bug deterrent.
- Add in some herbs.
If you aren’t a beginner, or if you are and you’re interested in learning more, here’s a good read on Companion Planting.
Choosing Which Vegetables to Plant
Choosing which vegetables to plant goes hand-in-hand with planning out your veggie bed. It really helps to decide which vegetables you want to plant before you even go shopping for plants or seeds. Again, if you’re a beginner, keep it simple and consider picking just 5 or 6 vegetables for your first year. Check out my free printable list of Easy to Grow Vegetables, includes tips and notes for growing.
Can we just talk tomatoes for a minute. My hubby and I really don’t even like tomatoes, but I always grow them. After all, you can’t have a veggie garden without tomatoes. Plus, I love to make salsa and sauce, but we mostly just give them away. This week, I read the most awesome article on How To Pick The Best Tomato Varieties For Your Garden This Year, written by Kristen at Shifting Roots. I’m totally going to try some of the varieties Kristen mentions. Check the article out, it’s definitely worth your time.
It really depends on your gardening zone, but I’ve found in my zone 4 garden that there are certain plants that do better planted from seed and others do better when starter plants are purchased and planted. However, you will find that if you live in warmer gardening zones, you can simply direct sow seeds for most of these vegetables directly in your garden.
Best Veggies to Grow from Seed:
- Green Beans
Best Veggies to Grow from Starter Plants:
Vegetable Gardening 101 – How to Plant Vegetables
After you’ve done some reading, prepped your bed for planting, decided which vegetables to plant and purchased your plants and seeds, it’s time to plant. This is where things get very simple, simply follow the directions for planting on the seed packet or the tag that comes with the vegetable plant. Pay attention to spacing and once the seeds start sprouting, be ready to thin some out. Really, it’s that simple.
Because I don’t like thinning out vegetables, I love using seed tape for carrots, radishes, spinach and lettuce. Seed tape is a little more expensive that just buying seeds, but I believe you will find that the little extra expense is totally worth it.
Raised Vegetable Garden Beds at Our Former Home
Additional Tips and Maintenance for Vegetable Gardens
- Fence in your veggie bed. You don’t want to do all this work just to have your produce eaten by rabbits. Be sure the fencing is small enough that baby bunnies can’t get through it. Also make sure bunnies can’t get under the fencing.
- Water. It seems silly to mention it, but your little baby plants need it. A good rule-of-thumb to follow is to water newly seeded areas and plants every day if you don’t get adequate rain fall. By late spring and continuing throughout summer (once the plants and seedlings are established) water less often like 1-3 times a week (depending on rain fall), but more deeply to encourage roots to grow deep. Just be consistent with your watering regimen and you’ll have much better success. Just a note that raised beds and container gardens typically need to be watered more often because they are above the ground. If trying to figure out how much water your garden and plants are actually getting totally befuddles you, this moisture meter is just the gadget you need.
- Consider mulching between the rows and around the plants in your garden. You can use dried grass clippings (that haven’t been chemically treated), shredded leaves or shredded mulch. Mulch helps cut down on weeds, helps to hold moisture in the soil around your plants, and nourishes the soil.
- Stay on top of weeding! If you let the chore of weeding go, the weeds will overtake your garden very quickly.
- Make planting and caring for a vegetable garden a family affair and include your children. There are so many lessons that can be taught when planting and caring for a garden, plus, it really can be fun.
Other Helpful Gardening Articles:
Seed Starting Indoors
Flower Gardening 101
11 Flower Gardening Mistakes (also applies to Veggie Gardens)
Flower Garden Maintenance (also applies to Veggie Gardens)
Practical Tips for Spring Garden Cleanup
Thanks for stopping by today and following along with my take on Vegetable Gardening 101. Whether you’re a beginner gardener or an experienced gardener, I hope you learned something and you’re inspired to plant a vegetable garden. What vegetables are you going to grow in your garden this year? Do you have gardening questions? If so, please leave a comment and I’ll get back to you just as soon as I can.
p.s. Please “pin” these pictures. If you hover in the upper left-hand corner of the picture, you’ll see the little Pinterest icon. Just click it and pin away. There are additional pins at the bottom of the page.
p.p.s I’d love to have you follow me on Pinterest. Lots of great gardening ideas and tons of gardener’s eye candy.
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