A home vegetable garden can be an incredibly rewarding project. Fresh and tasty veggies, the chance to get more fresh air and exercise, the opportunity to increase your enjoyment (not to mention the appeal) of your property, and the satisfaction that comes from eating food that you’ve grown yourself—these are just a few of the many benefits that a vegetable garden can offer. And while there is certainly lots of know-how involved in gardening (much of which is best learned by doing!), getting into your very first vegetable garden is probably easier than you think.
Here’s what you need to know before getting started.
1. A good plan is the first step to a good garden.
Starting a vegetable garden doesn’t have to be complicated, but there’s a bit more to it than just buying some seeds and tossing them in the dirt. To help your garden be as productive as possible, you’ll need to do some homework first. Think about what vegetables you want in your garden, then learn about what they need to grow (in terms of light, water, nutrients, soil conditions, etc.).
Make sure that the plants you’ve chosen are appropriate for your climate and growing zone. To find out more about this, it can be helpful to talk to neighbors and friends in your area about what they have in their gardens. For your first gardening attempt, you might want to stick to common and productive plants such as tomatoes, zucchini, lettuce, and carrots—these are relatively easy to grow and can give you a chance to develop your green thumb before moving on to more challenging crops.
2. It’s better to start small.
There are so many wonderful things to grow that it’s easy to get carried away when planning your first vegetable garden. However, it’s best to start small. A successful small garden will give you a taste for more, but a challenging large garden may put you off gardening altogether. Many gardening experts recommend that your first vegetable garden be no larger than 10 feet by 10 feet, which is about the size of a small bedroom. Of course, you don’t need even this much space—if you don’t have room on your property or if you’d prefer to keep things very small, you can have a very successful vegetable garden in just a few large pots or containers.
3. Location matters.
When it comes to starting a garden, the “where” is just as important as the “what.” A properly sited garden plot will benefit you and your veggies alike, so choose your location carefully. In general, the more sun you can get, the better. Most fast-growing vegetables need at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight every day, and it can help to orient your planting from north to south so your plants don’t block or shade each other. You might also want to consider keeping your garden close to your house so that you can keep an eye out for things like dry soil or pest damage, and to make it easier to quickly pick a few veggies or a handful of herbs for dinner.
4. You’ll need to get started earlier than you think.
You might think of vegetable gardening as a summer activity, but you’ll typically need to get started on your garden well in advance of the warmer months. If you’re planning on starting vegetables from seed, check whether they can be sown directly into the garden or if they need to be started indoors (for veggies that need an indoor start, the recommended timeframe is usually six weeks before your region’s last frost date). If you’re experimenting with slower-growing plants or if the start of spring has already come and gone by the time you’re getting going with your garden, consider buying seedlings from your local nursery and simply transplanting them straight into your garden.
5. You may not save money right away.
Many people get started with vegetable gardening as a budgeting measure, the idea being that it’s much less expensive to grow your own produce than to buy it at the store. But while this is broadly true, it’s important to have realistic expectations about the cost savings that your first vegetable garden will yield. When you’re just starting out, there may be more costs than you anticipate (such as soil and gardening equipment), and your first plants may not be as productive as you’d hoped. However, the more experienced you become with vegetable gardening, the bigger your cost savings are likely to be. You might just need to be patient in the meantime.
6. It’s helpful to keep a journal.
You’re going to learn many things during your first season as a home vegetable gardener, and it’s vital to remember them so that you can build on successes and avoid repeating mistakes in future seasons. To help with this, you can keep a journal of your first vegetable garden. Note what you did, what worked, what didn’t, and thoughts about what you might do differently next time. This will be an invaluable resource for you the next time you’re getting ready to plant.