Home & Gardening

How to start a vegetable garden in 5 easy steps

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homegrown tomatoes bowl of tomatoes

Spring time in our house always means talk of our annual garden – a tradition my husband and I have been carrying out for 10 years. Before we had kids, our backyard was 50% garden. It was so amazing the amount of fresh, organic, delicious food we were able to grow! Since having kids and moving, our garden has significantly decreased in size, but it’ still something I enjoy doing every spring and maintaining through the fall.

When I made my first garden, my Dad helped us dig out a plot in our backyard

about 10 feet long by 4 feet wide. We had a nice little garden space, and planted a few tomatoes and peppers. When early summer came and I was harvesting BOWLS of the most delicious, organic tomatoes I had ever tasted, I was instantly hooked on growing my own food.

backyard garden vegetable garden

The next spring my husband and I went big with our garden. We dug up almost half of our yard and planted all kinds of veggies and herbs (this was before we had kids, so we had lots of free time). If it can even remotely grow in North Texas, we tried it. Some things were flops, didn’t grow at all or were quickly eaten by pests (RIP broccoli plants), and some plants produced more than we knew what to do with (I’m looking at you, okra and zucchini plants of 2010).

Often when I mention to people that I have a backyard garden, they instantly say something like “oh, I don’t have a green thumb”, or “I have no idea how to start a garden!” While I’m certainly no expert, I have learned quite a few tricks along the way and am here tell you that ANYONE can start a garden! And there are lots of great reasons to grow your own food, herbs or even flowers.

If you have kids, gardening is such a great project to include them in. I have 10 great reasons to garden with your kids in this post.

Okay, let’s get started on your garden! Eeek, are you as excited as I am?!

How to start a garden in 5 easy steps

vegetable garden bed community garden

photo by Travis W. Photography

1. Pick a spot for your garden and decide how big to make it.

Veggie plants need at least 8 hours of sun to thrive, so choose a sunny spot. I prefer morning sun since where I live the summertime afternoons are plant wilting, but use what you have available. There are lots of different ways to garden, and it will not look the same for everyone. Do what works for you.

I think a great size for a first garden is about 10’ x 4’, but determine what you have space for and go with it. Our first garden was about this size and we had 4 tomato plants and 3 pepper plants (it was a little crowded, but worked!). You can plant a lot of things in a small space if you plan well! If all you have space for is a pot or 2, don’t let that deter you, go for it!

2. Build/Purchase/Prepare your garden space

  • If you want to install a couple of raised beds in your backyard that is a great way to get started! You can purchase raised bed kits (like this one or this) that are super easy to install because they don’t require you to dig up your yard. You can also check your local Home Depot or Walmart during the spring planting season for something similar.
  • Repurpose an already established flower bed (inexpensive and easy!). Make sure to weed it well and add some high quality, organic garden soil to the top.
  • Choose a sunny spot in your yard and dig it up! Fence posts stacked 2 high make a great, sturdy border and are a fairly inexpensive option. Here is a great tutorial on how to make your own garden bed.
  • If you are using pots, you will only be slightly limited on what you can plant. There are lots of plant varieties that are made especially for container gardening, make sure to look for them when you shop for transplants or seeds. Plants in containers will dry out much faster than those in the ground, so check for dryness and water often! Check out this post with some great suggestions for veggies that thrive in pots.

3. Gather your planting supplies

Good quality soil is a must. Other supplies you’ll need include: a basic gardening shovel, a pair of gardening gloves, tomato cages if planting tomatoes (or make your own tomato cages) and any other plant supports you might need (especially for vining plants, like melons or pole beans).

Note: your planting time, season length, and to some degree, types of plants to plant will be largely determined on where you are located and your climate. I live in North Texas, where spring comes early and the summers are very hot. So my planting schedule and plant choices may look different than yours. Check out this Hardiness Zone Finder to determine when is the best time for you to plant, what ‘zone’ you are in, and if there are any plants that do especially well in your area.

You can also head on over to your local garden shop (a real garden store, not Home Depot) and ask the experts there. They are in your area so will know exactly what grows best and when to plant. Years ago I found a wonderful local organic garden store and they helped me SO MUCH when I was first learning!

badkyard garden raised bed garden vegetable garden

4. Determine what you will plant

I have been known to draw out my garden before I head to the store to purchase my plants (yes, I know, I’m a weirdo). I always seem to end up with a couple more plants than I planned, so it’s good to have an idea of how many plants you actually have room for. Some veggie and fruit plants grow HUGE, so don’t underestimate those tiny transplants (tomatoes and zucchini need 2-3 feet for EACH plant, while melon vines). Melon vines can be 10 feet long, so plan for it to take over a large portion of your yard if you choose these (or better yet, build/buy a trellis for the vine to climb up). I had a cantaloupe pop up from my compost one year, and I let it grow. It got at least 20 feet long, snaked all around my garden, and produced a couple of melons.

5. Plant your garden!

I buy mostly transplants, but there are a few things I prefer to plant from seed. Tomatoes and peppers are 2 of my garden favorites, but they take a long time to grow from seed. I always look for good quality transplants of these. Lettuce, spinach and green beans are a few of my favorites to plant from seed, as they grow quickly and can be planted directly in the garden instead of started indoors.

tomato transplant in pot

photo by Travis W. Photography

TIP: Tomatoes can grow roots off on ANY part of the stock, so they should be planted deep to ensure they will establish a strong root system.

Water your fresh transplants and seeds right away so they can start getting used to their new home.

Once you have everything planted, keep a close eye on your baby plants. They need lots of attention for the first few weeks to ensure they will be healthy all season. Transplants will sometimes look wilted after first planting – just make sure they are getting plenty of water to help establish their roots. I like to put up cages right at planting around my tomatoes even though they don’t need them yet. It helps to deter pests (and pets) from trampling or eating them.

How often should I water vegetable plants?

Most vegetable plants will do best if they are watered deeply a couple times a week. Remember that the roots of many of these plants grow deep, so they need lots of water to reach the entire root of the plant. If you have not had rain, water your garden for 20 minutes 1-2 times per week. You can check the soil to see if it’s dry to determine if it’s time to water again. If the soil feels moist when you stick your finger in about an inch, you’re plants are doing just fine. If it’s all dry soil with the finger test, your plants are thirsty. I water more frequently during the hot summer months because the plants need it.

I have found that many vegetable plants are very hearty, and can thrive with very little effort once they are established. Just make sure to water them regularly, especially once the summer heat sets in.

That’s it! Once you taste that first homegrown tomato, I think you’ll be hopelessly hooked just like me 🙂

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