1. Decide What to Plant
With more than 1,000 vegetable species to choose from, start by selecting the ones you and your family enjoy most. Then, make sure your favorites grow well in your geographic area. Determine which hardiness zone you live in to choose vegetables that thrive there.
Also consider the growing conditions on your property. If your desired garden spot is in full sun, for instance, make sure you plant sun-loving species. Or, if space is limited, avoid crops such as squash that need ample room to sprawl.
2. Choose a Location
When learning how to start a vegetable garden from scratch, the location you place it in is key to success. Most vegetables need at least six hours of full sunlight per day for growth. Pay attention to the sunlight patterns in your yard to determine which areas receive direct sun.
Also look for a spot that’s level, drains well, and won’t be exposed to strong winds. Planting against a building such as your house or a shed can provide a natural windbreak. Make the garden away from places where wildlife, pets, and people travel. Consider convenience, as well â€” you might appreciate a garden constructed near a spigot when it comes time to water your plants.Â
3. Design Your Beds
Part of starting a garden is choosing your bed type and size. A bed that’s 3 to 4 feet wide allows you to reach the middle from either side. Maximize space and create natural walkways for garden chores by planting in rows or a grid. While most gardeners prefer square or rectangular beds, don’t be afraid to get creative to fit the space you’re working with. A livestock water tank, for instance, can make for an instant vegetable planter.
Many gardeners find raised beds to be some of the most productive, attractive, and easiest to manage. You’ll have fewer weeds to combat and will get great yields from the rich, loose soil. When constructing raised beds, aim for a depth between 12 and 18 inches.
4. Prepare Your Soil
When starting a garden, you also need healthy soil. Plants require a growing medium that’s rich in organic matter and drains effectively for their roots to grow well and to produce vibrant crops.
If you’re creating an in-ground vegetable garden, you’ll need to remove the existing layer of sod or smother it with cardboard or newspaper, then build your bed on top. If you’re using raised beds, you don’t have to remove or use existing soil. You can concoct the perfect mix of soil and amendments such as compost, coco coir (fiber made from coconut husks), or vermiculite.Â
Just remember that you might need to prepare the soil media before using it. Coir bricks, for instance, must soak in water for at least 15 minutes before they’re soft enough to mix with the soil. Stick with a 40% coir and 60% soil ratio when combining these materials.
5. Start Planting
Seasons will dictate what vegetables you should plant and when. Cool-season crops such as broccoli, carrots, lettuce, and spinach grow in the spring. Plant these right after the spring frost. Warm-season crops such as beans, peppers, squash, and tomatoes grow in warmer soil and should be planted later.
You can plant vegetables from seeds or as seedlings. Hardy species such as beans, carrots, corn, cucumbers, lettuce, peas, radishes, and squash are suitable to plant as seeds. Brussels sprouts, peppers, and tomatoes do well as seedlings. Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and spinach grow successfully both from seeds and seedlings. Follow the container or packet’s label directions to determine how deep and far apart to plant them.Â
Organize your garden layout by the types of vegetables you intend to plant. Place tall plants, such as corn or pole beans, for instance, on the north side of the bed so they don’t overshadow shorter plants. Place cool-season species in the shadiest spots of your garden.Â
6. Care for Your Plants
Set aside enough time to maintain your vegetable garden. Check soil moisture levels every day. Dry beds rob plants of the organic matter they need to grow and thrive. Overly wet soil, on the other hand, can cause roots to rot. Determine whether it’s time to water by sticking your finger about an inch into the dirt. If it’s dry, get your watering can out.
You might need to water your young vegetable garden daily at first. As plants mature and their roots establish, however, you’ll find that you need to water less frequently, depending on soil type, humidity, and rain received. Clay-based soils dry out more slowly than sandy ones and, thus, won’t need as much water. Soils enhanced with materials such as coco coir retain water well and don’t need as frequent waterings, either.Â
Apply a balanced fertilizer to your vegetable garden to encourage robust growth. Depending on your soil conditions, plant species, and fertilizer type, you might need to apply it as frequently as once a month or as infrequently as once a growing season. Follow seed packet and/or fertilizer instructions to find out.
Watch for weeds in your garden that will compete with your vegetables for water and nutrients. Pull them while they’re small and easy to remove. Also remove dying or diseased parts of your crops so the plants aren’t wasting nutrients trying to sustain them.Â
7. Enjoy Your Harvest
As your vegetables grow and ripen, you’ll want to harvest them at their peak. Most vegetables have the best taste and texture just before they’re fully mature, so pick them young. Don’t be afraid to harvest frequently, too, which encourages more production.Â
Cucumbers, for instance, should be smooth and firm, while tomatoes should have a rich color and a slight give. Leaf lettuce, kale, and Swiss chard should have their outer leaves cut at around 4 inches; the younger inner leaves will continue growing. Broccoli and cauliflower should be picked before flowerheads bloom.
Now that you know how to start a garden in your backyard, you can design a bed and choose the vegetables you want to enjoy. Start small, as you can always expand your beds as your gardening prowess improves. Remember to ensure good soil quality, moisture levels, and sunlight for a healthy crop.