Are you ready to start growing vegetables for the first time? Or perhaps you are about to try growing vegetables in a new area or climate. If you need a bit of help and guidance, you've come to the right place. We will cover the basics you need to know about your area, your soil, your type of garden, and how to bring it all together into a thriving success.
Vegetable gardening, for beginners, can seem overwhelming. There is much to learn, and it can be confusing sometimes. If we take it all one step at a time, you will be picking your vegetables before you know it.
For a first garden, it's best to keep it to a manageable size. If you are going to use containers, or a raised bed, then you will have to choose what vegetables will fit your garden and your preferences.
For a traditional backyard in-ground garden, you will need to keep it within what you can maintain. There is going to be some watering, weeding, and other maintenance even after it's planted. And of course, you will be harvesting too.
Growing Vegetables-What to Plant
A good place to start is with those vegetables that you are sure that you want to grow. Start with the easier vegetables for the first year. Tomatoes, peppers, beans, lettuce, radishes, summer squash and cucumbers are usually good choices.
Carrots and potatoes are also possibilities, but they do take up a lot of space that might be better used for things that are more costly to buy. Or for specialty varieties that aren't available at the market. It helps to think about what is most important to you, and how much space, and time to tend it, that you have available.
Each plant will require a certain amount of space. For example, you might want to think in terms of square foot gardening. While this is usually done in a raised bed, the principle of how much space to allot per plant will still hold true. In a square foot garden, a pepper, a patio tomato, or an eggplant, will each require one square foot of space.
In a 4x8 raised bed, you would divide the garden into 32 squares, each 1 foot by 1 foot. With perfect soil, things can be spaced a little closer than in the ground. You can plant 4 bean plants in 1 square foot, or 16 radishes. So keep this in mind when you are deciding on the size of your garden and how much you can grow.
An in-ground garden is usually planted in rows. The spacing between plants would be a bit farther apart...peppers and tomatoes at least 18 inches apart. For full sized tomatoes you should put them at least 2 feet apart. Radishes in rows usually require thinning to about 1-2 inches between plants.
In hotter climates with intense sun, you can put them a little closer. With more light and heat, they grow faster, and actually help to shade each other and keep the soil cooler.
Using trellises and cages will keep tomatoes and cucumbers up off the ground. It frees up more ground space, keeps the fruit cleaner, and avoids some of the damage that can happen when fruit is on wet ground. It also means you can space them a little closer, so tomatoes could be about 20 inches apart. I highly recommend using these garden aids.
Plan the Design
The first vegetable garden for beginners will require some planning and preparation. Everything else must be ready before you actually plant your garden. Soil preparation is the first step.
Before planting your garden, think about which direction the light comes from. Design your garden so that the plants that will grow tallest are at the back, to make sure shorter plants get enough light. Seeds work well for most vegetables.
Tomatoes and peppers, and eggplant also, usually must be started indoors several weeks before the garden is planted. It's often best to buy them from a local garden center instead.
It saves time to get these already started plants. They require a long time to bloom and set fruit, and then have the fruit ripen. If you try to start them outdoors, they often don't grow fast enough to ripen fruit before the first frost in your area.
When choosing varieties, think about how early it might frost in your area. Beefsteak, Big Boy, and the other really large tomatoes require a long growing season. For your first garden, it's better to go with a variety like Early Girl or Celebrity.
You can enjoy tomatoes for a longer stretch during the summer that way. Celebrity is what is known as a determinate tomato; it will stay smaller and be bush form. The crop will ripen nearly all at once. The Early Girl is indeterminate, will vine more, and fruit all season.
If you have a container or raised bed garden, you will need to go with the cherry or patio type tomato. The others get too large and sprawl everywhere.
Determinate types, like Celebrity, will work in a raised bed, or a container garden, but would require a large pot.
As you set up your garden, it can help to fit more in the same space if you alternate underground vegetables like radishes with above ground like lettuce.
Put any onions or garlic at the outside edges of the garden. Many other plants don't like growing near onions. The onions and garlic will also help keep some of the pests away from the interior of the garden when they are around the outside.
Tips and Advice
Cucumbers, melons, and other vining plants should be trained onto a trellis, fence, or cage if possible. Otherwise they will sprawl over many feet of your garden.
Squash like Zuchinni will become large leafed bushes that also need to be about 3-4 feet apart. For melons, winter squash, cucumbers and other large plants they will need to be 4-5 feet apart unless you use cages or trellises.
Beans come in two types. Pole beans, which will happily climb a fence or trellis, and bush beans, which are better behaved.
I personally prefer bush beans, and look for a stringless variety.
Blue lake is a popular variety, but there are many types of green beans that are just as good. Bush beans usually get to be about a foot tall, and they can be planted about 3-4 inches apart in rows. Pole beans should be 4-5 inches apart.
If you are going to grow sweet peppers and hot peppers, it's important not to put them close to each other. This is if you plan to keep the seeds. I keep them at least 10 feet apart, with several rows of beans or other above ground vegetables between them.
If you do plan to save seed, then this principle of separating varieties is important for other plants too. Otherwise the bees will mix the pollen and you will get a cross of varieties in your seeds.
Before actually planting your seeds, put in some stakes where you plan to make rows, and run a string from one end to the other.
Plant your seeds under the string so that your rows will be straight. It will give you better spacing and easier weeding later. Leave one of the stakes in, marked with what is planted there, so you will recognize them when they come up.
Start by taking a sheet of paper and marking where you want to plant each type. Graph paper works well for this to keep the spacing in mind. Remember to put the tallest vegetables at the back so they don't block the light to the rest.
For information on your specific area see the page on starting a garden in the menu on the left. Information on types of gardens is there also. For information on preparing your soil, see the link below.
While there is much to learn, vegetable gardening, for beginners, can be an exciting experience. Once learned, these techniques will help you for many years.