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Tips for Starting a New Vegetable Garden

Updated on April 24, 2013
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Tips for Starting a Vegetable Garden

Whether you're new to backyard gardening or just bought your first home and always longed for the day when you can plant an organic vegetable garden, these tips for starting a backyard garden offer newcomers to the world of gardening useful information to help you be successful. Vegetable gardening doesn't need to be expensive, and it doesn't have to be time consuming. Most homeowners can grow a few vegetables if they have the right conditions.

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Location for a Vegetable Garden

Choosing the right location for your vegetable garden can make a big difference between success or failure growing vegetables. But what is the 'right location' for a vegetable garden?

Light Requirements for Vegetables

Vegetables need full sunlight, which gardeners define as six or more hours of direct, bright sunshine per day. They actually do best with 8 or more hours of sunlight per day. While some vegetables such as green beans and a few herbs can be grown in a location that receives fewer than six hours of direct sunlight each day, most vegetables will fare poorly with low light conditions. So your first step in choosing a spot in your backyard for your vegetable garden is to find the brightest, sunniest spot you have.

What if you don't have enough sunlight in your garden? Look for other locations near your home that get more light. How about your patio or deck? Many vegetables can be grown successfully in containers. You can grow tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, herbs, cucumbers, eggplant and even a few 'midget' type melons in containers on the patio or deck.

What about your front yard? Unless you have strict homeowner association or similar covenants or laws prohibiting all but a stately lawn and sedate shrubs, why not grow vegetables in your front yard if that's where you receive the most sunlight? A pleasing kitchen garden mingling herbs, flowers and vegetables may be just the thing to greet visitors to your home - and provide vegetables for your table!

Look for Level Ground for the Garden

Another aspect of site selection or choosing a good location for your vegetable garden is level ground. Sloping or hilly ground can be difficult to work with and may require some terracing or other boundaries to prevent soil from eroding. It also allows water to drain off too quickly, which can make watering your vegetables more difficult. You should also avoid planting your vegetable garden at the base of a hill for a similar reason; water can run off the hillside and pool in the garden, creating soggy, muddy conditions that rot your vegetables instead of watering them.

Water Sources and Convenience

Lastly, make sure you place your vegetable garden near a water source and near your home. Whether you're irrigating your vegetable garden using a standard garden hose, sprinkler or soaker hose, or you want to use a watering can and hand-water your garden, placing the garden near the source of water makes it easier for you to give your plants life-sustaining water during the heat of summer.

Why locate your vegetable garden near your home? If the garden is too far away from your home, the tendency to neglect it may be too strong to overcome. It may be too much of a hassle to lug down the hoe, the shovel, the wheelbarrow of compost if it's far away. The same goes for harvesting your vegetables. It's tempting to reach into the pantry for a can of green beans instead of take your bowl, basket or bucket out into the garden and pick fresh ones if it's a hike down to the vegetable garden. Planting your garden near your home makes it convenient to both work in and enjoy your beautiful vegetable garden.

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Step by Step Guide to Starting a Vegetable Garden

Now that you've selected your location for the garden, it's time to begin your vegetable gardening. This step by step guide should help beginners grow a vegetable garden or new homeowners plant their first garden.

Step by Step Guide to Starting a Vegetable Garden

  1. Choose your location using the tips above - bright, sunny, level, near water and near your home.
  2. Contact your local County Cooperative Extension office and ask how much a soil test costs. It's money well spent and usually between $5-$10. They will instruct you on how to take a soil sample and where to mail it. Once you get the results back, ask for someone to go over them with you. This will help you understand the soil type, pH and nutrients your soil needs.
  3. Add soil amendments according to what your soil test dictates. You can always add compost. Be sure to rototill or turn over the garden soil and work in the amendments in according to the amounts listed on your soil test. Randomly adding lime, fertilizer and other amendments isn't just wasteful - it can be harmful to the environment if the excess runs off and into the water supply. Using the right amount saves you time and money!
  4. Mark out the location for your garden beds. It's easier to grow vegetables in smaller plots with about a three to four foot space between each plot or row. That gives you enough room to walk among the plots and tend to them, or to push a wheelbarrow around to help you move things through the garden.
  5. Get your water supply ready. Purchase a hose and sprinkler that reaches your vegetable garden area.
  6. Choose vegetables for your location. You can plant them around the date of the last expected frost, or the 'frost free' date for your region. Remember that this date is an estimate; nature changes yearly, and some years you may get a frost earlier or later than others.
  7. Decide on which vegetables you will plant. Plant only vegetables that you know you and your family are likely to eat. If you all love tomatoes, tomatoes are a great vegetable to plant. If you all hate green beans, don't plant them no matter how nutritious they are or how much you 'think you should.' They'll just go to waste!
  8. Find out the general planting timeline from your local County Cooperative Extension office. Some vegetables are planted in early spring as soon as the soil can be worked in your area while others need hot weather to do well. This varies by location, and your local extension office can guide you. They may also have pamphlets, flyers and information online; search for your state + extension office online and see if it comes up!
  9. Know which plants like to be started directly from seed, and purchase good-quality seeds from the garden center. As a general rule of thumb, anything in the squash family including cucumbers, zucchini and squashes of all types prefers to be grown directly from seed and dislikes being transplanted. Lettuce, radishes, carrots, beets, turnips and many root crops are like that, too. Corn also should be directly sown into the garden at the right time.
  10. Purchase started plants at your favorite nursery or garden center for plants such as tomatoes, eggplant and peppers if you are new to gardening. Your local garden center probably stocks varieties chosen for your area. Plants have been grown by professional nurserymen and are likely to be hardy and ready to be planted into the garden.
  11. When the time is right - plant your vegetables! Don't forget to use plant markers or make them yourself. Mark each row of vegetables so you know what you have planted.
  12. Water regularly and use a rain gauge to help you ascertain your garden's water needs. If it rains less than one inch per week, you will need to water. Mulching around your plants or mulch placed on top of vegetable garden beds keeps the weeds down and the moisture in the soil where it can help the plants.

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