Updated December 3, 2016 . AmFam Team
Fresh veggies and time spent out in the sun? Yes please! Starting a vegetable garden is a great idea for so many reasons: healthy foods, hours of activity, fresh air, and the empowering feeling of feeding your family with the help of your own green thumb. So where to start? Use these tips to get your seeds in the dirt and your vegetable garden off the ground.
Decide what to plant. First-time gardeners have the tendency to plant more than they need, or don’t yet have the skills to grow. Think about how much your family eats, and choose a few easy-to-grow plants to kick off your garden.
Find your size. Whether you’ve got a sprawling yard or a small balcony, it’s important to build the garden that works for your space. Think about the amount of time you want to spend on your garden. A smaller, well-tended garden typically harvests more than a larger, sickly garden.
Pick your spot. When it comes to choosing a location for you to plant, there are three requirements: lots of sun, plenty of water, and good soil. Most veggies need about 6-8 hours of sunlight in order to keep bugs and disease at bay. Also, the closer your garden is to a water source, the better, since veggies don’t do well in drought conditions. Likewise, look for moist, well-drained soil that’s filled with organic matter like compost or peat moss.
Plan it out. Depending on the size of your garden, you’ll want to lay it out accordingly. For large gardens, row cropping is typical, and is often what you think of when planting a garden — long rows of plants with a walking path between each row. For smaller gardens, intensive cropping is more popular. This method means planting vegetables in wide bands, closer together.
To dig or not to dig? Before you begin planting, it’s important to test the soil. Check drainage by watering the soil with a hose, waiting a day, and then digging up a handful of soil. After you squeeze the soil in your hand, if water streams out — you’ll want to add organic material to improve it. Next, check its consistency, if the soil doesn’t form a ball or the ball falls apart easily, the soil is too sandy. If the ball holds up very well through a few hard pokes, there’s likely too much clay in it. What you’re looking for is soil that forms a ball, but crumbles when it’s poked. If your soil isn’t ideal, it’s best to build raised garden beds with wood frames, newspaper lining, and a good soil filling.
Prep your soil. Before you plant, loosen your soil and work in any compost or peat moss. Avoid stepping on freshly tilled soil, since compacting it will undo all your hard work! When you’re done, smooth the surface with a rake, water thoroughly, and then let it rest for several days before planting.
Select your plants. There are thousands of plants to choose from when picking seeds — don’t be overwhelmed! It’s best to pay close attention to the descriptions on the tags, that’ll give you some insight into what to expect and plan for.
Once you’ve got your seeds in the ground, caring for your plants takes patience, persistence, and some dirty work. But in no time, you’ll be harvesting your vegetables and cooking up some delicious recipes for your family — and there’s no better reward than that!