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How To Start Your Vegetable Garden

by a Friendly Gardener
Garden in Italy 1

How to start a vegetable garden from scratch

There are many ways to begin a vegetable garden, even if you are new to food gardening. Food gardening is becoming increasingly more popular simply because people want to know where their food is coming from if chemicals are used, and even how it is fertilized. If you have minimal skills and are on a limited budget, fear not, you can start your own vegetable garden. With a small investment and a good dose of elbow grease, you’ll be able to enjoy garden-to-table produce as well as the satisfaction of knowing that you grew it.

 

Where to position a new vegetable garden

This is an aspect that shouldn’t be underestimated. Direct sunlight is a must and can be the key to your success or failure as a newbie farmer. Try to position your garden in an area that receives at least six full hours of sunlight per day. If you will be growing during the winter months when the sun is lower, keep that in mind when selecting the location. Choose the sunniest spot available to you.

Empty garden in Italy

How large should my vegetable plot be?

Great question! Some basic considerations will help you decide the size. How much time do you have to invest in your garden? All vegetable and flower gardens require maintenance. You could begin with a plot that measures ten feet by ten feet or perhaps twelve by twelve feet at the largest. This will allow you to grow some larger crops without overdoing them. If you don’t have a lot of time, start smaller and limit the number of vegetables you want to grow.

Another consideration is the number of people you’ll be growing food for. How many people are in your family or do you live alone? Do you have a family member or neighbor that you can share any surplus vegetables so that they don’t go to waste? Once you’ve located your spot, mark it off with some string or a rope. It can be any shape so a perfect square isn’t mandatory.

 

How to make a vegetable garden

The Sod

Hands rolling sod

If you’re starting from scratch and are on a limited budget, begin by lifting out any sod. This is where the elbow grease comes in. A flat spade will allow you to cut the sod about three inches deep into strips and remove them. Begin at the outside of your plot gradually moving towards the center. If you manage to cut the strips, depending on the area for your garden and the vegetation there, you can just roll the strips up for easy removal as opposed to hacking away at each bit.

The great thing about sod removal is that this sod can then be used in another part of your lawn or as the beginning of a compost pile to make your own natural fertilizer.

 

Feed the Soil

Man shoveling compost in a wheelbarrow

Once the area is sod-free, you need to feed your soil to enrich it.  This step will cost a small amount because you need compost unless you have a compost bin and make your own. But this is a worthwhile investment.  Some towns will give away compost from collected leaves. Check out if your municipality has a program like this. Spread about an inch of compost over your entire soil bed.

 

Turn the Soil

Soil of a garden in Italy

If you are gardening in an area that was previously covered with sod, this is an important step not to overlook. You will need to loosen the compacted soil underneath the now removed sod. You can turn the soil using a shovel making sure to break up any large clods. Once you have finished, rake the entire plot until it appears relatively smooth on the surface.

 

Mulch Time!

Mulch in a wheelbarrow with tools

In order to prevent future weeds from invading your garden, now is the time to introduce mulch, before you begin planting. This will save you some frustration during your growing season. An economical and convenient method is by using old and discarded newspapers. You can spread about ten sheets of thickness over your entire garden plot and then water it down. No newspapers? Try brown paper grocery bags. Now cover the wetted-down paper with a layer of mulch.

For mulch, you can use last fall’s leaves, a layer of straw, not hay, or even the grass clippings from when you cut your lawn. Whatever you use, it should not have been treated with pesticides. The entire layer of mulch, the paper included, should be no more than two inches thick. When springtime arrives, the entire layer of paper should be broken down. Once this layer is ready, you can begin planting.

Other options for making a vegetable garden other than digging up your back yard include:

Building raised beds for a vegetable garden

Stock tank gardens

Container gardening

Fabric raised soil beds

 

How to plant a vegetable garden

Woman planting a garden with tools

If you want to begin panting, push aside the mulch. Punch a hole in the paper and either place your seeds or seedling transplants into the ground through the hole. Now cover the seeds or securely nestle the roots from young transplants into the soil and put the mulch back in place. Water the seeds or transplants well.

 

When to plant a vegetable garden

Depending on the time of year you plant, it’s important to select which vegetables to grow correctly. Some crops prefer cooler weather while others thrive in hot weather. A good idea is the use of a vegetable garden planner that can help you keep track of what to plant when as well as crop rotations. There are three growing seasons depending on where you live: cold (winter), cool (spring and fall), and warm (summer).

Some examples of crops that are appropriate for these growing periods include:

  • Cold/Winter: Carrots, kale, leeks, scallions, winter salad greens
  • Warm/Summer: Cucumbers, peppers, squash, tomatoes
  • Cool/Spring and Fall: beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, spinach

Green Beans in a garden

If you are a new vegetable gardener, make sure to check out frost dates for the area you live in.

A local almanac can refer to when the average spring and fall frost dates are for your zone.  This will help you decide when to seed and transplant and it will help you decide when to start your own seeds indoors for transfer later into your garden bed.

Crop rotation every several years will help you avoid depletion of soil nutrients and reduce eventual problems with insects and disease, especially if you have three to four beds in your garden area. Even with only a single garden bed, rotation is a sensible idea.

 

How often to water vegetable garden

Keep your vegetable garden watered! While mulch will reduce to some extent the need for watering, the roots of the plants will need water, especially in dryer, hot weather. Also, the type of soil bed may influence water needs. If your soil is sandy, it will hold less water and need watering more frequently in hot weather. Heavier clay soil will retain moisture longer. Plants will influence how much water you need to furnish as well. Larger plants and newly planted vegetables will need more water as do plants with shallow root systems.

Carrots with soil on them

In any case, a deeper watering of the soil of about two inches once a week is preferable to shallow waterings done more often. If you can organize drip irrigation or soaker hoses throughout your vegetable garden, you’ll use less time and effort by simply turning on and off the system or even better by programming it with a timer.

Fresh zucchininis from the garden

Maintenance Tips

  • Pull weeds as soon as you notice them. It’s better to pull them when they are young.
  • Use plant stakes for vegetables that need them. Tomatoes, peas, cucumbers or pole beans need support so help those climbing plants with the aid of posts, bamboo, teepees, trellises, arches, tunnels, or whatever it takes to support your crops. Vertical growing allows for more space for growing, limiting disease and pest damage, as well as easier harvesting.

 

IDEAS FOR VEGETABLES TO PLANT
Plants to Grow from Seed Vegetables from transplants Plant Bulbs, roots, or tubers
Beans, beets Artichokes, Basil, broccoli, Brussel sprouts Asparagus
Carrot, collards, corn, cucumbers, cooking greens Cabbage, cauliflower,

Eggplants

Garlic
Kale, Lettuce, Melons, Parsnip, Peas Kohlrabi, Lettuce Onions, leeks
Pumpkins, Radish, Rutabaga, Peppers Potatoes
Spinach, Summer squash Tomatoes, tomatillos Rhubarb
Swiss Chard, Winter squash
Turnips

 

The Bottom Line

However you choose to start your new garden, we wish you all the best in your new endeavor, and we are certain you’ll get as much satisfaction knowing that you grew your own food as you do pleasure from eating it. Good growing and Bon appétit!

Garden Sprout

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