Starting a home garden

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Starting a vegetable garden from scratch

If you’ve ever thought of starting a vegetable garden from scratch then start with this article. It will tell you everything you need to know about starting your first veg plot.

Is your back garden just a waste of space or do you have a few square feet with potential? Are you past the stage of needing a big lawn for football and could you reclaim some of it for vegetable beds? If none of this applies, are there some allotments nearby, or, as a starting point, do you have room for a few big pots on a terrace, balcony or window ledge?

There are few more balancing and rewarding ways to spend an hour or two a week than growing even a few of your own vegetables. Let this be the year when you start to grow your own – it will then almost certainly become a lifetime’s habit.

Over the years I’ve been growing veg, certain plants and varieties have emerged clearly as front runners in the time/reward ratio. They are quick and easy to grow, so that with little or no gardening experience, they still do well and go on to form the basis of hundreds of free and delicious meals over the next few months with very little sweat. This exercise is not about growing every single edible plant you and your family eat.

You should continue to buy the things that are tricky, or need too much TLC (such as red peppers and aubergines), or that take up tons of room for months at a stretch and then only give you a minimal harvest (eg Brussels sprouts, maincrop potatoes and parsnips). These are the crops of the devoted, almost full-time veg grower with lots of space – not high-priority plants for those of us who prefer to dip in and out of a vegetable patch, with almost instant rewards and abundant, self-perpetuating harvests.

The key here is to choose as many cut-and-come-again plants as possible, from which you can harvest on a Monday for supper and, by the following Monday, more will have grown back for you to eat.

The grand plan

I’ve created a series of articles which will tell you how to create a veg patch from scratch. Even if you’ve never sown a packet of seed before, you’ll be bringing in baskets of salad, herbs and veg from just outside your back door in a few weeks. I’ll try to cover all the basics about site and soil, as well as what to grow. Below, I’ll cover where to put the patch and how to clear the ground, getting rid of lawn or weeds, and then how to keep on top of the weeds once the plot is cleared.

Then I’ll cover how to structure the space, giving a simple and flexible layout and help you work out whether to create raised beds or not, and what to do with the soil. I will also include companion planting (mixing two plants closely together for beneficial effect) and tips on how to make your productive patch look good. Well planned, these abundant plots are often the best-looking areas of a garden.

Next, I’ll give you the list of edible plants I recommend if time, space and experience are short, and include those which, in my experience, are the best varieties of these vegetables to give you fantastic flavour. I’ll then tell you, briefly and simply, how to grow them in a perhaps less-than-perfect, but time-saving way.

I’ll also talk about what comes next, showing you how to use my successional sowing charts so you remember to sow little and often, and give you the list of veg, salad and herbs that will keep your garden producing right through the winter and into next spring.

Where should the veg patch go?

Go out into the garden and work out the best possible place for your plot. If you have the choice, it’s good to grow veg in the kind of sunny, sheltered spot where you might want to sunbathe. Most of the plants going into the patch are annuals. They are working with a short timescale and need to grow rapidly. To enable them to put on this performance, they need all the help they can get and plenty of food to fuel this growing process. That’s only possible in full sun, so avoid overhanging trees and shade-throwing sheds and buildings as far as possible.

As well as sun, many plants such as tomatoes and cucumbers need shelter from the wind. They won’t grow well if rocked at their roots and their leaves will blacken with wind burn. Try fencing panels, hurdles or even think of planting a permanent hedge on the windy, western side of the plot. These will give the more delicate plants a chance of survival outside. If you can’t find hurdles, use a few straw bales for instant effect. These provide a cheap, but perfect temporary wind break, which can be removed once the worst of the spring winds are over in early May.

It’s worth knowing that a wind break will protect an area about five times its height, so a two-metre hurdle protects for 10 metres.

Clearing the ground

With an intensive patch like this, make sure you clear the soil of perennial and annual weeds before you plant.

If you want to be 100 percent organic, you’ll need to clear the grass (stack the turf somewhere upside down and it will compost into beautiful top soil which you can put back into the beds in a few months), then carefully dig it over, meticulously making sure you’ve got rid of any roots of the nightmare invasive perennial weeds such as marestail (which looks like a one-stem fir tree), couch grass, Japanese knotweed (tall, green and pink stems looking slightly like rhubarb as it emerges), bindweed (bright green, shield-shaped leaves and white trumpet flowers) or ground elder (like a large flat-leaved parsley with mini, white, cow-parsley-like flowers).

Keeping on top of the weeds

If the perennial weeds are already cleared and only annual weeds (for example, groundsel with yellow flowers, bittercress with white flowers and cress-tasting leaves, speedwell with pretty blue saucer flowers), are your problem, it’s a good idea to cover the patch for a couple of weeks now in early spring. This helps warm the soil so you can plant or sow a couple of weeks earlier than if you left the patch open to the elements. Use sheets of clear plastic –it warms and dries the soil, and – transparent – encourages the germination of any dormant weed seed. When you uncover the patch to plant, these are easily cleared by hand hand or hoe and you will have a weed-seed-free bed. Fleece also works well.

The other key thing with weed control is to use a carpet of mulch to prevent any weed seed that drifts in from germinating in your soil. As you plant out your seedlings in a few weeks, lay a good 2in of mulch (cheap municipal compost available from many town councils, mushroom compost or leaf mould) in between your rows. This should make your patch relatively weed-free through the summer and so easier to maintain.

You may also like:

  • How to layout a vegetable garden
  • Autumn in the vegetable garden

25 Tips for Starting a Small Vegetable Garden

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Whether you’re looking for ways to save money, eat more healthily or just enjoy working the land, a small vegetable garden is a great idea.

You can do quite a lot with a small amount of space, so there’s no need to have a huge backyard.

Once everything is set up, the actual work is minimal.

It definitely helps if you enjoy gardening, but you might learn to enjoy it after reaping the benefits.

1. Choose a Sunny Spot in the Yard

Choose the sunniest spot in the yard for your vegetable garden.

If your entire yard is shaded, your options are going to be pretty limited.

Lettuce and spinach do fairly well in shady conditions, but most other vegetables do not.

If possible, have the trees trimmed in order to get more sun into your yard.

If the side of the house is sunnier, you might want to start your garden there.

2. Map it Out

It’s a lot easier to get the right arrangement when you make clear plans ahead of time.

You don’t have to be an artist to do this.

Just grab a sheet of paper and start with a square.

Map out different quadrants for different vegetables.

It’s smart to start small, so stick with just a few things at first.

Now is not the time to be overly ambitious.

3. Start Seedlings Indoors

Waiting for seeds to sprout in a vegetable garden can be frustrating.

It will leave you wondering whether you’ve done it right or not.

A great way to alleviate this problem is by starting seedlings indoors before warm weather is here for good.

You can monitor their progress to make sure they are growing properly.

When the time comes, just transplant them out in the garden.

4. Invest in Excellent Tools

You may be tempted to buy the most affordable gardening tools possible, but that’s a mistake.

You’ll have a much easier time working in your garden when you have decent tools.

It’s well worth it to spend a little more for quality.

Begin with a basic assortment of tools.

As you work on your garden, you may need to buy additional tools.

Eventually, you’ll have everything you need and will be able to keep up with the maintenance of your garden with ease.

5. Use Trellises

Plants like cucumbers and beans are tasty, but they take up a lot of valuable space.

You can still grow them, though.

You just need to set up a few trellises.

You can find affordable trellises at the local big-box hardware store.

Make sure they are secure.

As the vegetables grow and ripen, they will put a lot of strain on the trellis and could break it.

6. Start a Compost Pile

One of the best ways to have great soil for your garden ready to go is by starting a compost pile.

This also gives you a way to reuse old scraps of food and other items.

Do plenty of research before starting a compost pile.

There’s a definite science behind it.

Whether you build a bin for your compost pile or invest in a composter, you will love having ready access to great soil.

7. Devote a Section to Herbs

If you normally use dried herbs while cooking, you’re in for a real treat.

Devote a small section of your garden to herbs and start planting.

You will love how much more flavorful your dishes are when you use fresh herbs, and most of them are quite easy to grow.

Options like chives, cilantro and dill are all popular, but you can successfully grow just about anything.

8. Position Your Garden Near the Kitchen

It’s not always possible, but you should try to position your garden so that it’s close to the kitchen.

Use pavers to make a nice pathway from the back door to the garden.

While you’re in the kitchen dreaming up meal ideas for the night, your garden is sure to inspire you.

It’s nice to just dart out to the backyard for freshly grown tomatoes, carrots and other ingredients.

9. Have a Water Source Nearby

Make it as easy as possible to water your garden.

Most vegetables need a lot of water to thrive.

If you have to drag a garden hose from around the side of the house every time, you’re going to dread watering your plants.

Buy an extra hose if necessary to make it as easy as possible.

You’ll thank yourself later.

10. Buy Seedlings from a Nursery

There’s no law that says you have to start all of your vegetables from seeds.

Plants like tomatoes are actually easier to grow from seedlings, and there’s nothing wrong with visiting a nursery to get what you need.

Whether you strictly plant seedlings or do a combination that includes plants grown from seeds, the point is to grow fresh vegetables in your backyard.

How they begin is inconsequential.

11. Make Sure the Soil is Vegetable Friendly

Take the time to make sure that the soil is suitable for growing vegetables.

All too often, people assume that all soil is the same, and they are crestfallen when their veggies don’t thrive.

Ideally, your soil should be well-drained, moist and mixed with plenty of organic matter.

Compost and peat should be used liberally.

You don’t have to perform a chemical analysis of the soil, but you should do what you can to make it as suitable as possible.

12. Grow Flowers around the Perimeter

Your garden will look even lovelier when you plant flowers around its perimeter.

The sky’s the limit, but many people like to grow things like morning glories, which crawl up chicken wire and other fencing materials to add a lot of charm to a vegetable garden.

This is especially nice when your fence is a little on the unsightly side.

13. Soak Seeds before Planting Them

Always check the directions that come with seeds you buy before planting them.

However, it’s usually fine to soak them for a while before planting them.

This can help speed things up a lot.

Many times, specific instructions on soaking the seeds will be included.

Some seeds need to be soaked for a few days while others just need to soak overnight.

You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much more quickly they produce plants.

14. Choose Productive Plants

Some vegetables thrive better in some areas than in others.

Also, some plants produce more vegetables than others.

Maximize the output of your garden by selecting plants that are highly productive in your neck of the woods.

It’s usually better to have a few plants that produce vegetables throughout the year than it is to have plants that only produce edible veggies once or twice.

Speak to someone at a local nursery to get advice.

15. Grow Vines on Tepees Too

If you’re not a fan of trellises for whatever reason, a tepee is another good option.

That doesn’t mean you should build a tent over your garden.

It means you should grab six to eight poles that are about 6 feet in length and position them in a tepee shape.

Plants like beans and cucumbers can then grow up them, and you can plant other things below them.

16. Study, Study, Study

In the months leading up to planting season, do as much research as possible about vegetable gardening.

Thanks to the Internet, you don’t even need to leave the house to do so.

However, you might also want to buy at least one or two decent books on the subject.

Read them from cover to cover to learn as much as you can.

This knowledge will pay off later.

17. Rent a Rototiller

There’s something to be said for working the soil with your bare hands.

It loses its charm quickly when you’re trying to set up a vegetable garden for the first time, though, so you should plan on renting a rototiller.

You can usually rent one by the hour, and you’ll only need it for part of the day.

This tool will quickly churn the soil to make it ready for your seedlings or seeds.

18. Use Fertilizer

It’s great to want to have an organic vegetable garden, but fertilizer is crucial if you want to have a real stab of growing veggies on an ongoing basis.

Luckily, there are ways to fertilize a garden without using harsh chemicals.

This is another example of something you should research before the time comes.

When you’re ready to plant, have a few different options for fertilizing everything.

19. Share with Other Gardeners

You probably know at least a few other people who have vegetable gardens.

Talk to them to see about pooling your resources.

One person might actually own a rototiller, for instance, and another might have a nice selection of spare seeds.

You can also trade seedlings with each other and turn to each other for advice and guidance.

As an added bonus, you can share the bounties of your respective gardens later in the year.

20. Use Mothballs to Keep Critters at Bay

Nothing is worse than discovering that a rabbit or other critter has gone to town on your veggies.

Bunnies dig beneath fences, so you can’t rely on them alone.

A great idea is to sprinkle mothballs below where your fence will be placed.

The scent of the mothballs will scare away many critters, and they won’t try to burrow beneath your fence.

21. Improve Drainage with Compost and Other Materials

It’s crucial to make sure that your soil is adequately drained.

Otherwise, your plants will become waterlogged and won’t thrive.

Test the drainage of your soil by soaking it and then digging up a piece a day later.

If it’s still soaked, you have drainage issues.

Add more peat and compost to the soil to help it drain better.

Keep testing it until it is properly drained.

22. Use Newspaper and Straw between Rows

Drainage is important, but you need to keep the soil moist too.

You also need to work continually to keep weeds at bay.

Shred some newspaper and lay it between the rows of your garden.

Mix in some straw too.

It may not be the prettiest thing, but it is a very effective way to help the soil retain moisture, and it will do a lot to keep weeds from growing.

23. Use Pavers and Chicken Wire to Keep Critters Out

In some areas, critters aren’t a major problem.

If you already see bunnies and other critters in your yard, you’re going to need to plan accordingly.

A simple chicken wire fence is a great starting point.

However, many critters dig beneath fences to gain access to vegetable gardens.

Take flat pavers and bury them around the perimeter of your garden too.

Bury the chicken wire fairly deep as well.

24. Harvest Your Veggies Properly

As exciting as it is to see fresh veggies growing in the garden, resist the urge to harvest them prematurely.

Some vegetables need to be harvested at specific times.

Before planting something, find out when and how it should be harvested.

Some plants can be harvested at different stages, so do a little experimenting too.

You’re going to want to make the most of your delicious veggies.

25. Grow Veggies that You and Your Family Like

This may seem obvious, but many people are more concerned about choosing veggies that are easy to grow than with selecting veggies they actually like.

What’s the point of growing something if no one is going to eat it?

Even if it involves more work, it’s way better to plant a vegetable that you truly love.

Get the whole family in on the act and have each person select one veggie to grow.

Final Thoughts…

At first, starting a small vegetable garden may seem like a huge chore.

By taking a methodical approach and keeping a few things in mind, though, it’s actually pretty easy.

Your efforts will really pay off when your table is piled high with fresh, delicious vegetables later in the year.

How to Start a Vegetable Garden

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So, you’ve been reading more and more about how nice it is to have a small vegetable garden, but you don’t know where to start. Well, I am going to break that down for you and easily show you How to Start a Vegetable Garden.

The first thing you need to know is anyone can have a green thumb. It’s really all about paying attention to the plants in the garden. There’s an old saying, “The best thing for your garden is your shadow.” Spend time in your garden and things will grow well.

The second thing you need to do to be a successful vegetable gardener is, “Don’t overthink this.” Really, it’s just plants in dirt. All they really need is air, water, and sun. Provide those things in a balanced way and your garden will grow.

1. Choose the right location

A successful vegetable garden needs a lot sunshine and a little afternoon shade. This requires some thought, so spend a bit of time in your yard watching the light at different times of the day. Also, pay attention to your trees and your neighbor’s trees. Watch the way the sun shades an area beneath a tree. A sunny winter spot under a deciduous tree might be completely shaded when the tree leafs out.

2. What type of beds do you want

This decision should be made fairly early in the planning process. There are several types of beds that are all good options with a blending of the three being an option, too. I have a few tips in this Beginning Gardening Tips.

  • Raised/Square Foot Beds– Raised or square foot beds are one of the simplest ways to start a vegetable garden. The materials are inexpensive, you don’t need to till the soil, and there is a weed barrier which helps prevent grass from getting into your garden. While square foot beds are the most common, there are other options that work just as well. Galvanized animal troughs are a perfect example.
  • Pots – If space is limited then pots are a great solution. Large, medium, and small pots are great for growing all sorts of vegetables. Some veggies that do great in pots are lettuce, peppers, herbs, and garlic. A pot is infinitely practical and can be moved easily to find the best sun.
  • Plant directly in the soil – People have used this method of vegetable gardening for centuries. You till and amend the soil prior to planting. Our ancestors did the tilling by hand and used manure to amend the soil. This still works today but using a tiller (which can be rented at most home stores and occasionally borrowed from a friend) is a lot faster. It is best to get a soil sample tested to see what your soil is missing. Most nurseries will have information on this as well as soil amendments. You will want to create rows with mounds for most planting. The concept of companion planting is ideal for these sorts of beds.

3. Starter Plants or Seeds?

I know you’ve done this before. You see a collection of seeds at the garden center, purchase them, and think that will just pop up after planting. Well yes and no. Some seeds like lettuce are better at this than others (like broccoli). For new gardeners I strongly recommend purchasing small starter plants rather than trying to propagate from seeds. At my garden center, they sell ready-to-plants starters for $1.29. For around $30 I can get 20-25 plants. If you’re new to vegetable gardening, then that should probably be your limit anyway. Purchase seedlings for plants like tomatoes and peppers. Choose plants with strong stems and good color.

Some seeds need to be sown directly into the soil. Try simple ones like radishes, carrots, beans, lettuce, spinach, and chard. Check the package because some seeds do better with soaking prior to planting.

4. Plan for Watering

Unless you live in a place that gets a little rain shower every day, you will need a way to water your garden. I’ve had a watering system set up on a timer and I’ve used the hand watering method. Personally, I have better luck when I water by hand because I’m also pulling weeds and checking for bugs. Hand watering a garden is also a little bit of therapy. It usually takes about 15 or 20 minutes a day and I think it’s a great way to start off a day or relax at the end of a day.

No matter which way you plan to water, the point is you need a watering plan. Get some hoses and watering nozzles and plan to spend a few minutes every day in your garden.

(Psst. My 9 year old niece took this photo – isn’t she talented)

5. Those Pesky Pests

Pests in the garden have been plaguing gardeners since the first gardens were planted. Birds will peck at your tomatoes and squirrels will snatch anything they can grab (except okra). Then there are the insects that invade. They’re all hungry; either plan to share or plan to keep them out.

For insects I recommend using natural and organic methods. I have a recipe for Garlic Pepper Tea that works great for a lot of pests (such as aphids). There are also some great products that work for getting rid of worms (like those evil tomato horn worms and cabbage loopers). For these types of pests you will need a Bacillus Thuringiensis killer like Thuricide. Another good option is a insecticidal soap like Safer Brand 5118. (affiliate links) One thing to remember about garden pests is this: If your soil is healthy then your plants will be healthy, and pests will not stick around.

For birds, squirrels, snakes, and any other critter, create barriers. I’ve used tulle netting to discourage birds and squirrels. Fencing your garden will also help keep out unwanted animals. (Think Peter Rabbit and Mr. McGregor!)

6. Fertilizer

If you want plants that produce healthy fruit you will need to fertilize those plants. I suggest using natural and organic products. There are so many options that I am going to point you to your local garden center for ideas and amounts.

There are two key things to remember about fertilizing your vegetable garden:

  • Healthy soil produces healthy plants and healthy plants don’t need a lot of fertilizer (but they do need a little).
  • Over-fertilizing will cause insect infestations. Don’t over-fertilize.

7. What and When to Plant

I have several books on vegetable gardening that talk about things like planting dates and companion planting. All of this is useful for experienced gardeners, but really what first time veggie gardeners need to do is plant things that grow well in your area. Ask at your local garden center which plant varieties do well for novice gardeners in your area. Things like tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, spinach, chard, radishes, sugar snaps, and bush beans are some great starters.

Knowing the right time to plant is also important. Most garden centers will have a Planting Guide for YOUR area. Stick with this and you should have success. Another option is to stagger your plantings. After all, do you really want all of that lettuce coming in at once? Some plants will hold out all season (like chard) while others have shorter lives (like lettuce). Plan for this and you won’t have to leave bags of zucchini anonymously on your neighbors porch at night.

8. Final Thoughts

A very experienced gardener once told me to ‘find an old-timer’ to help learn about vegetable gardening. Nothing could be truer. Someone who has spent years vegetable gardening in your area will be the most valuable resource you can find. They will have experienced every insect imaginable, shooed away untold numbers of critters, and shared overflowing baskets full of delicious vegetables.

Follow my Pinterest Vegetable Gardening Board

Follow The Seasoned Homemaker’s board Gardening {Veggies} on Pinterest.

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Just off of Highway 31 in East Nashville, tucked between a newly built two-story home and an old shotgun house fronted by a merry mix of bird baths and plastic flamingos, is a yellow cottage whose broken doorbell is taped over with a sign that reads, “Nope!” You’d never guess from looking at it, but walk around to the backyard and there’s a glorious vegetable garden bigger than the interior of the house itself.

Last fall, the 900-square-foot garden teemed with several varieties of cabbage, beets, carrots, cauliflower, scallions, garlic, and leafy greens, and this spring and summer it will contain a slew of diverse crops including tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, heirloom varieties of melon and corn, and even peanuts.

Amazingly, not long ago this thriving micro-farm was a scrappy expanse of grass and weeds. According to Suze Bono, the garden’s creator, the transformation from lawn to plot was fast. “I spent a solid few days preparing the garden beds,” she says. “It was sweaty hard work, but it didn’t take that long.”

Louisa Shafia

Bono is an accomplished farmer, cook, fermentation expert, and currently, goatherd and maker of goat milk soaps, so creating a garden from scratch may come a little bit easier to her. She started the garden with the goal of growing enough vegetables to supply her bi-monthly fermentation share, Salty Cellar, for which she creates delectable fermented goods like cranberry apple relish and rainbow kimchi.

But she also grows food for the sheer joy of sharing it with others, like her elderly neighbors with the lawn ornaments. “I will give food to absolutely anybody who wants it!” Bono explains passionately. “I have taken veggies to the proprietors of the laundromat where I wash my clothes and to the trash collectors when they were emptying out my bin. Providing food for people is a way to be in tangible communion and community with people.” No wonder then that Bono is a popular addition to the neighborhood.

Louisa Shafia

One reason that Bono chose her little yellow house was for its good, clean soil: “This yard has been gardened since the ’70s. It was dormant for the last decade or so, but there wasn’t anything industrial going on here.” If you have any doubts about your soil, or are just curious to know its nutrients and deficiencies, it’s easy enough to get it tested.

Although Bono may have gardening skills that are more sharply honed than most people’s, don’t be intimidated. The best way to learn to grow food is to grow food. “Don’t get sucked into so much research that you become immobilized by all the opinions and advice of other gardeners,” says Bono. “Pick a method, stick to it, and you’ll know if it works for you or not.”

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With that said, the steps below provide a blueprint for going from grass to garden. If you don’t mind using a little elbow grease, then you too can turn your yard into a bountiful plot.

1. Map out the garden.

Decide where you want the beds to go and mark them off. “There is no wrong way for the garden to be laid out, just a bunch of different perfectly fine ways.” With these encouraging words from Bono, lay out the location, shape, and size of your garden. You can always change it as you go along.

2. Till the soil.

Use a garden tiller to loosen and break up the mats of grass below your garden bed. If it’s Bermuda grass in particular, there will be quite a bit of grass choking the soil. A garden tiller can run into the hundreds of dollars, so if you’re just starting to explore vegetable gardening, look for one to borrow or rent, as Bono did.

3. Turn the soil.

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Turn the soil, one shovel at a time, in order to reveal Bermuda grass roots and loosen up the hard-packed yard. Go through every bit of the soil with your hands, picking out as much grass as you can. This is the most time consuming part of the process, but it makes all the difference in preventing pesky new blades of grass from sprouting up.

4. Add worm castings.

Worm castings, a.k.a. poop, are a rich natural fertilizer that stimulate plant growth and help soil retain water. You can order it on Amazon, find it in garden stores, or make it yourself by composting with worms! Work in the worm castings as you turn and break up clumps of soil. If you’re not seeing a lot of earthworms in your soil already, be generous with the castings. Your garden store can advise you on how much to add.

5. Mulch the seed beds with straw.

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Cover the beds with 1 foot of straw, which will settle to about about 4 inches or so after a couple of good rains. Part the hay slightly where you sow seeds so the sun can shine directly on the soil. As plants sprout and grow, add straw several times, particularly where weeds come in. The heavy mulch retains moisture so you don’t have to water as much, encourages earthworms to stay closer to the surface, and keeps leafy greens clean because there’s no soil splashing back up onto the leaves when it rains.

One downside of straw mulch is that it provides a hide-out for slugs during the day. Bono recommends hand-picking them off at night with a headlamp and a tub of soapy water to toss them into. Companion planting with alliums, which naturally ward off slugs, is also a good idea.

Last Updated: July 29, 2015 | by Mike McGroarty

More and more people these days want to start a vegetable garden. But not having any experience in vegetable gardening, they may not know how to begin to produce their own food.

For our grandparents, a vegetable garden was just a fact of life, something they did annually to put fresh food on the table before the days of supermarkets brimming with produce from around the world at any time of year. But as our society has evolved, we’ve unfortunately moved away from growing our own food as we have become more and more reliant on purchasing food grown by others. Many folks have never had the fulfilling experience of tilling the earth, planting seeds or harvesting homegrown vegetables. So when they want to start a vegetable garden, they cannot rely on past experience to help them tackle the project.


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Anyone can start a vegetable garden, and growing your own food doesn’t require a lot of money or fancy gadgets. Just take it one step at a time and soon you’ll be harvesting fresh, tasty food from your very own garden.

You don’t need to spend a lot to start a vegetable garden. You can begin with just a few basic tools, then as your gardening desire and skills increase you can add more specialized tools a bit at a time. You will want to have a good, strong shovel or hand trowel. A hoe will come in handy for weeding, and you may want a pair of gardening gloves to protect your hands. A pair of pruners comes in handy for harvesting prickly cucumbers or cutting through tough squash stems. These few simple tools will be enough to get you started.

The first thing to do once you decide to start a vegetable garden is to do some research. You’ll need to know what growing zone you live in so you can plan on growing vegetables appropriate for your climate. Some vegetables, artichokes for example, grow very well in warm climates but they need much more care to flourish in a northern climate. If your growing season is too short, artichokes would not be a good choice for an inexperienced gardener.

When buying seeds to start a vegetable garden, most seed catalogs will indicate which growing zones are suitable for each particular vegetable. You can find your growing zone here: http://www.usna.usda.gov/Hardzone/ushzmap.html

Before you start a vegetable garden you may also want to research various gardening styles to determine which style suits your needs. You might decide to garden organically, or perhaps you don’t mind using chemical pesticides and herbicides in your garden. Will you grow in raised beds, practice square-foot gardening or lasagna gardening? You might decide that double digging your planting beds is the way to go, or perhaps the only option for you is to grow everything in pots. Reading about how others garden will help you decide how you want to garden.

Wanted! People who would like to work at home
making and selling rooted cuttings.

The next step to start a vegetable garden is deciding where the garden will be. Nearly all vegetable plants require full sunlight for best production, at least six hours daily. The location for your garden should receive plenty of unshaded sunlight, and it should also be fairly close to your house. If you can see the garden from your house you’ll be more likely to keep it looking neat and tidy. A garden that is hidden behind a shed or one that is way out in the back forty will be too easy to neglect, and you’ll be less likely to dash out to a faraway garden to grab a handful of lettuce or a ripe tomato for dinner.

Finding a suitable location to start a vegetable garden may also determine the size of the garden. But even if you have nearly unlimited space to work with, don’t go overboard with your first garden by making it too large and unmanageable. Start out small the first year. You can always expand the garden in later years as you gain more experience and confidence in your gardening skills. Like any other new endeavor, you’ll become better at gardening with practice, practice, practice.

Once you’ve decided where you want to start a vegetable garden, you’ll need to prepare the soil for planting. The quality of the soil will determine how it needs to be prepared, and it may also be a deciding factor in the gardening style you choose.

If the soil is heavy clay, or if it is weak and can barely even support a weed, you may choose to build raised beds for your vegetable garden. Raised beds will ensure that your garden has good drainage, and by bringing in or creating soil for the raised beds, you will also be providing good nutrition for the vegetable plants. You can learn how to create raised beds here: http://freeplants.com/preparing-raised-planting-beds.htm

Raised beds work well for traditional gardening in rows, and also for square-foot gardening or lasagna gardening. Lasagna gardening is just another way of building raised beds, as it involves layering different organic materials together that will gradually decompose into rich soil. When building raised beds, keep in mind that you want to be able to reach into the middle of the bed from either side without having to step onto the bed. Stepping on the raised bed compacts the soil, and you want the soil to remain loose and fluffy for the roots of your plants. Don’t make the raised beds so wide that you can’t easily reach the center of the beds.

If the soil in your chosen garden area is already rich, a raised bed may not be necessary. If this is the case you can start a vegetable garden area by tilling the soil or turning it with a shovel. If you want to till the soil but you don’t want to invest in a rototiller, they can be rented from rental centers, or look in your local paper for someone who offers to till gardens in the spring.

Once the soil is prepared and all danger of frost has passed in your area, it’s time to start planting. You may have decided to start a vegetable garden because you already know what you want to plant. But if you aren’t quite sure what to plant in your new vegetable garden, begin by making a list of the vegetables your family enjoys eating the most.

For your very first vegetable gardening experience, stick with plants that are easy to grow. As you gain experience in vegetable gardening, you can add some of the more difficult to grow vegetables to future gardens. Vegetables that are easy to grow include leaf lettuce and other greens, beans, cucumbers, garlic and onions, peas, potatoes, pumpkins, radishes, spinach, squash and zucchini.

If you want to grow tomatoes or peppers the first year you start a vegetable garden, it would be best to buy small plants from a nursery. Later on after you’ve gotten the hang of gardening, you may want to try growing your own tomato and pepper plants from seed.

No matter what you are planting in your vegetable garden, always read the information that is on the seed packets. Most seed companies will include information on the seed packet that will tell you how far apart to plant each seed, and how far apart each row of seeds should be. If you are planting vegetables with sprawling vines, such as pumpkins, squash or melons, give them plenty of room to grow so they don’t overtake neighboring plants.

Always mark the rows well so you’ll know what is growing where in the garden. I learned that lesson the hard way myself with my very first vegetable garden. Pumpkins and watermelons were planted a bit too close to each other, and the lush vines intermingled so much that by midsummer I could no longer tell one plant from another. In September I watched a watermelon growing larger and larger, but when I thought it was finally ripe and sliced into it, I found that the big ol’ watermelon was actually an unripe pumpkin. Sure, it was a beginner’s mistake, but also a valuable lesson! Don’t be afraid to make mistakes with your first garden. Not only will you learn from those mistakes, but you’ll also have a good story to tell later on.

Some vegetable plants are very easy to grow, but because of the insects they attract and the damage those insects can cause, it can be frustrating for new gardeners to grow these plants. Broccoli is actually quite easy to grow, but it inevitably attracts little green worms that hide amongst the leaves and florets. If you proudly harvest a head of broccoli only to find little green worms floating in the cooking water, you may never want to grow broccoli again! Until you’ve learned how to thwart the worms, it might be best to buy your broccoli at the farmer’s market.

Like any other hobby, gardening does have its pitfalls, and those little green broccoli worms are just one of those pitfalls. Insects will be attracted to your garden, and the neighborhood deer and rabbits may also see it as a good place for an easy meal. If weeds aren’t kept in check they can quickly overwhelm the vegetable plants and reduce your harvest. The weather won’t always cooperate either. Gardening can be a challenge, but you must learn to rise to the occasion and deal with each challenge as it presents itself.

There are any number of pesticides available, both organic and non-organic, for dispatching or repelling insects. If deer or rabbits are a problem, a fence around your garden may be a necessity. If rainfall is irregular or nonexistent, you may have to get out the hose or watering can. An early frost can wipe out your plants, but being aware of the impending weather and having floating row covers on hand can save your garden. If you don’t have floating row covers, an old bed sheet will do just fine in a pinch.

Above all, gardening should be fun and enjoyable. When you first start a vegetable garden, don’t worry if it’s not perfect, beautiful or bountiful the first year. You’ll learn from your mistakes and your next garden will be much better than the first. A gardener never stops learning how to garden even better.

Questions? I do my best to answer all questions on my blog…

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Want to learn how to start a garden, but not sure where to begin? In this post I’ll cover the basic steps of gardening, and provide links to more detailed information so you can garden with confidence and have fun doing it. Get ready to enjoy some of the best tasting fruits, vegetables and herbs you’ve even eaten.

How to Start a Garden – 10 Basic Steps

  1. Decide what you’d like to grow
  2. Choose a location
  3. Plan your garden beds
  4. Invest in basic garden tools
  5. Test your soil
  6. Prepare the soil
  7. Choose the right seeds or transplants
  8. Plant with care
  9. Nurture your garden
  10. Enjoy your harvest!

#1 – Decide What You’d Like to Grow in Your Home Garden

Rule #1 – If you won’t eat a crop, don’t grow it in your vegetable garden. (I break this rule for flowers. Edible or not, I like to see at least a few in every garden.) Focus on the fruits, vegetables or herbs that your family enjoys the most.

Make sure your top choices make sense for your area. Figure out your gardening zone and estimated first and last frost dates. If possible, talk to successful gardeners in your area to find out which crops grow well and which don’t.

See “USDA Hardiness Zones & Your Microclimate” for a more detailed explanation of how growing conditions affect garden plans.

In my northern garden, crops that take over 100 days to mature or high temps are a gamble. For example, we enjoy watermelons, but I stick to varieties like Blacktail Mountain (70 days) instead of Carolina Cross (90 days). My southern gardening friend, Amber, has challenges with crops like peas, which prefer cooler temperatures, and vine crops like cucumbers, which are prone to mildew in high humidity.

If you only want a small garden, don’t attempt to grow something like a giant pumpkin, which will spread over a very large area.

Do you want to plan for storage vegetables, or only enough to eat fresh? It’s probably best to start your garden mainly with fresh eating in mind, but some vegetables are extremely easy to store. See The 5 Easiest Vegetables to Store for more information.

#2 – Choose a Location to Start Your Garden

Most fruits and vegetables need full sun, with a minimum of five hours of direct sunlight per day for fruiting. Greens, herbs and root veggies will grow in partial shade. Southern gardens may benefit from late afternoon shade, whereas northern gardens likely need all the sun they can get.

Think about how you will access the garden for picking, watering and caring for your plants. Out of site often equals out of mind – and a neglected garden. Avoid high wind areas and frost pockets (low areas where frost is likely to settle).

Watch out for wildlife, pet damage and children’s play areas. When we first moved here, our neighbor’s dog would randomly visit and dash through the garden. This was very hard on new seedlings. Now the dog is gone, but the deer and wild bunnies come to visit, so we plan accordingly.

See Keep Deer Out of Your Garden – 5 Deer Deterrent Strategies and 6 Ways to Use Garlic in the Garden for tips.

For more ideas on gardening in limited space, see “Small Garden, Big Yield – 10 Tips for a Great Harvest“.

#3 – Plan Your Garden Beds

Once you know where you want your garden, decide on the type and size of garden bed(s). Raised beds are attractive and may make it easier to work in your garden, but they also dry out more quickly. In very dry areas, sunken beds can be used to gather available moisture.

Think about planting your garden in blocks or beds of plants instead of single rows. Beds should be 3 to 4 feet across – narrow enough that you can reach the center from either side. Beds should be roughly 10 feet long or less, so you’re not tempted to step into the bed and compact the ground.

Within the garden beds, place plants in rows or a grid pattern. The goal is minimize walkways and maximize growing space. You only add fertilizer and soil amendments to the planting area, saving time and money. Work with companion plants to attract beneficial insects and improve yields.

Start small, and make sure to give each plant enough room to grow. The seeds and transplants are tiny, but full grown plants can get huge. Overcrowded plants have difficulty thriving. A small, well-tended garden can produce as much or more than a large, poorly tended garden.

Rectangular or square beds are the most common, but you’re only limited by your imagination and building skills. Most raised bed kits are rectangular, but you can also plant your garden in found items like old livestock water tanks or sections of drain pipe.

Vertical Gardening

If you grow up you can squeeze more crop in less space. The best book I’ve found to date on the subject is “How to Grow More Vegetables, (and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine“.

I trellis/fence or otherwise grow vertically my tomatoes, beans, peas, cucumbers, and occasionally other crops. Check out Transform Your Landscape with Vertical Gardening – 10 Reasons to Garden Up Instead of Out for more details.

Don’t have a yard or soil for your garden? Consider grow bags or containers to start your garden. Self-watering containers are a lot more forgiving than terracotta flower pots, which tend to dry out quickly.

#4 – Invest in Basic Garden Tools

The right tools make working in your garden a pleasure instead of a chore. You don’t use a butter knife to chop up raw carrots, and you shouldn’t use dull or flimsy tools to work in your garden. Basic gardening equipment includes:

  • Garden hoe
  • Scuffle hoe
  • Dirt rake
  • Leaf rake
  • Garden Shovel or D handle Shovel
  • Hand tools

For a full list of my favorite gardening tools, check out, “My Favorite Gardening Tools – Save Time, Boost Yields, Enjoy Gardening More”.

Don’t buy cheap plastic tools if you can avoid it. Shop yard and estate sales for bargains on real metal tools, or visit your local garden center. Get tools that are the right size for you to reduce the risk of injury.

Good tools will save time and effort, and your back. Keep tools clean and sharp, just like you should treat a good knife. To learn how to keep your tools in good condition, visit “Cleaning and Sharpening Garden Tools”.

#5 – Test Your Soil

Before you start building your garden beds or planting, you need to know something about your soil.

Is your soil acidic, alkaline or neutral pH? Do you have sand, clay, silt, rocks, or a mix of all four? Is there a risk of soil contamination from nearby structures, roadways or other sources? Does it have a good amount of basic nutrients?

Some of these characteristics can be determined just from looking at the soil. Others may require home tests or professional lab tests. (For instance, lead contamination from old house paint or nearby roadways with heavy traffic is a problem in some areas.)

Most garden crops prefer soil with a pH around 7 (neutral), although some like conditions that are slightly acidic (potatoes, for instance) or slightly alkaline (brassicas). Balanced nutrient levels are also important, as is the presence of organic matter.

See “Soil Testing – 5 Easy Tests for Your Yard and Garden” for easy home test options. In the U.S., you can contact your local cooperative extension office or land conservation office for assistance.

#6 – Build Your Soil

If you’re starting with sod, you’ll either need to cut it up in chunks and repurpose it, till it in, or lay down wet newspaper or cardboard to smother it and build a bed on top. Preparing in fall is best, but don’t let that stop you from starting in spring.

Most plants prefer a deep, well-drained, fertile soil rich in organic matter. Once you start a garden, you’ll gain a new appreciation for healthy soil as it improves year after year. Healthy, vibrant soil = healthy, vibrant plants with built in disease and pest resistance and more nutrition.

Each year I add a combination of different types of organic matter, including compost, worm castings and mulch. You can learn more about soil building in the post, “Feed Your Plants, Soil and Microbes“.

#7 – Choose the Right Seeds or Transplants

My favorite seed sources can be found in the article, “My Favorite Seed Sources, Seed Storage and Germination“. Dave’s Garden Watch Dog is a great place to check out a company before you order from them.

To learn which plants grow best directly seeded in the garden and which plants are better as transplants, visit the seed starting calendar. If you want to grow specific varieties, especially heirloom varieties, you’ll probably need to grow your own transplants from seed. Starting your own transplants is a great way to save money, too.

You can view my seed starting setup and more detailed information on tomato transplants in Grow Tomatoes from Seed – Save Money, Get More Varieties.

If you’re not ready to tackle growing transplants for your garden, here are some tips to help you spot the best plants at the nursery:

  • Look for pots that are roughly equal in size to the plant. Big plants in tiny pots are more likely to be root bound (with roots tangled and growing in circles inside the pot) and suffer from transplant shock when planted in the garden.
  • Watch for signs of stress such as insect damage or yellow leaves. Many stores now set up seasonal plant sales in their parking lots. Even with regular watering, baking asphalt is hard on seedlings.
  • Ask whether or not your plants or seeds were treated or sprayed with potentially harmful chemicals such as neonicotinoid pesticides. Pollinators are critical for fruit set in the garden, so you don’t want to buy plants that may harm them.

#8 – Plant with Care

Most seed packets and transplant containers come with basic planting instructions. Once you’ve done the ground work (literally), you just need to jump in and plant. Just give it a try and you can learn the rest as you go.

Rules of thumb for planting in your garden:

  • Plant seeds roughly 3 times as deep as the diameter of the seed, unless otherwise directed on the package. Some seeds require light for germination.
  • For transplants – most transplants are planted at the same depth they were growing in the pot. The exception is tomatoes, which can be planted deeper or trenched in. See “How to Grow (Lots of) Tomatoes Organically”.
  • Wait until danger of frost is past to plant heat loving plants such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, okra, etc.
  • Young plants are more tender than older plants, so they may need protection or hardening off when they are planted outside.

We have printable calendars to help you plan your seed sowing in the article, “When Should I Start My Seeds? Printable seed starting calendar”. The 5-Minute Gardener: How to Plan, Create, and Sustain a Low-Maintenance Garden is a good reference for those who are short on time.

You can also click here or on the image below to download this handy pdf excerpted from the USDA school garden program that shows planting depth, plant spacing, days to germination and days to harvest for a variety of common garden crops.

#9 – Nurture Your Garden

There’s an old saying that says, “The best fertilizer is the gardener’s shadow.” If you’re not prepared to make time in your schedule to tend to your plants, you may be better off hitting the farmer’s market, or sticking with extremely low maintenance items like sprouts or herbs. Depending on the size of your plantings, time requirements may range from a few minutes per day to a full time job.

Nab weeds when they’re small with a scuffle hoe – or use them as groundcover, food or medicine.

A rule of thumb for watering is that plants need around one inch of water per week during the growing season. If you don’t get rain, you’ll need to water.

Over watering is as bad as under watering, so always check the soil before turning on a tap or hitting the rain barrels. Soil that is too wet can cause seeds and roots to rot. Foliar feeds like compost tea can be added to give plants extra nutrition and a dose of healthy microbes while watering.

Bugs are more attracted to plants that are stressed or in some way deficient, so if you have healthy, well-nourished plants, your pest problems should be minimal. If you have a problem, chances are there’s an organic solution. If you’re going through all the effort to grow your own food, why would you want to put toxins on it?

For more detailed information on controlling everything from slugs to rabbits, check out Natural Pest Control in the Garden.

#10 – Enjoy Your Harvest

As crops mature, make sure to harvest promptly for best quality. Leafy greens like lettuce are typically “cut and come again”, which means you can clip off the leaves and they will regrow for another harvest.

Pick beans and peas every two to three days. Harvest sweet corn when cobs are well filled out and silk is dark. Harvest tomatoes and peppers green, or allow them to ripen to full sweetness and flavor.

Flavor is typically at a peak when the morning dew has cleared, but before the afternoon heat has settled in. Sample and decide what tastes best to you. See How to Grow and Cook Nutrient Dense Foods for harvesting and storing tips.

One of the reasons I love gardening is because if things don’t work out right the first time, there’s always next year. There are dozens of different ways to do just about everything, but you won’t know what works best for you and your garden until you try. If a plant/crop does poorly the first time you plant it, try again. I usually try a crop for at least three years before I give up on it, because different varieties grow best under different conditions.

Gardening is also good for your health. It can fight depression, reduce stress and improve your diet. See “Dirt Therapy – 8 Reasons You Need to Have a Garden” for more information.

More Gardening Information

I invite you to visit the Common Sense Gardening page for a full listing of more than 80 gardening posts on the website. There’s advice on everything from seed starting to preserving the harvest, including our Free Gardening Journal Templates.

Still have questions about how to start a garden? Leave a comment and I’ll do my best to help.

Originally published in 2012, last updated in 2019.

Money Crashers

I love gardening. Every spring I start dreaming of all the veggies I’m going to plant, and I love going to my local farmers’ market and picking out tomatoes, cucumbers, and field peas to plant.

Have you ever thought about starting a home garden?

With food prices rising and more people trying to save money due to the economy, home gardening has taken off in a big way in recent years. Many vegetable seed companies report sales have shot up 30-50%, which is a clear indicator that more people are putting on their gardening gloves and getting to work.

Home gardening is a hobby that can bring great joy to your life, enable you to get some free exercise, and bring the entire family together. Although it may not sound exciting on the surface, it’s something you should consider if you enjoy the outdoors and are interested in reaping the rewards of hard work.

Benefits of Home Gardening

So, still wondering if home gardening is right for you? Wondering if a home garden can really save you money? First, let’s look at the benefits of starting a home garden.

1. Home Gardening Is Versatile

Some people think they need a huge yard to have their own garden, but nothing could be further from the truth. No matter how much space you have, you can always find room for a few plants. This is true even if you live in an apartment or only have a small porch. All you need is a DIY attitude and a bit of creativity.

Case in point: you’d laugh if you saw my backyard. Its picture is next to the word “tiny” in the dictionary. But last year I grew a bumper crop of tomatoes, climbing peas, and several other wonderful veggies in my little space – all using some creative techniques I’ll talk about in just a bit.

So, don’t think that because you don’t have a ton of space you can’t grow a garden. Home gardening can be really versatile, and easy to get into!

2. Home Gardening Relieves Stress

I find gardening to be a very soothing hobby. Digging in the dirt and watching my veggies grow a bit every day is incredibly rewarding.

Gardening is a wonderful activity to relieve stress. You’re outdoors, you’re getting exercise, and best of all, the activity often takes your mind off work and other stress in your life. I know it does for me!

3. Home Gardening Is a Family Activity

For some, gardening is a solo activity. But this doesn’t have to be the case. Why not ask your spouse and/or children to give you a hand in the garden? You may be surprised by how much fun you can all have together. Finding fun activities for the whole family to participate in can be tough and we often resort to spending a bunch of money to have fun, but working in a garden together costs nothing.

Another thing to consider is that due to steep budget cuts, more and more cities are closing their community pools and cutting public library services and resources. If you and your kids rely on city perks like these for your summer fun, you might be twiddling your thumbs this year. I know several pools in my own community won’t be open, and my local library is cutting back their hours to try and save money.

Your kids might love helping you grow veggies in the garden, so this can be an inexpensive alternative to consider.

4. Home Gardens Save Money

For many people, this is the number one reason to start a garden. Burpee Seed Co. estimates that for every $50 a family spends on seeds and fertilizer, they’ll reap $1,250 in produce. Amazing!

If saving money on fruits and vegetables is your end goal, make sure you plant seeds for things you’ll actually enjoy eating. Some of the most popular options include tomatoes, green peppers, banana peppers, and zucchini.

I’ve never estimated how much money I save with my own garden. My first year starting seeds I lost my entire crop because I didn’t know what I was doing and overwatered. Last year, I lost half my crop and had to start over. So there will most likely be failures and successes, but that’s part of the fun.

However, you can maximize the money you save by being smart about what you grow. For instance, cool weather crops like carrots, potatoes, onions, and winter squash can be stored for quite a long time. When these vegetables are harvested, you can easily store them in your basement for several weeks, or even months, if you keep them packed in sawdust. So even if you can’t eat them right away, they’ll keep long enough for you to use them up over time.

Other vegetables, like tomatoes, peas, cucumbers, and beets are easy to preserve with home canning or freezing.

A good rule of thumb is to look at the vegetables you’re buying at the store already. For instance, I eat a ton of kale and spinach, so these are two crops I always try to grow at home. I also love green beans, so every year I make my own homemade Dilly Beans, and can them myself.

5. You Can Grow Your Own Herbs and Spices

You probably already know that herbs are really expensive to buy in the store. Growing rosemary, basil, oregano, and other herbs and spices in your garden is a great way to save some money and diversify your crop.

Herbs are usually my biggest crop every year, and I always find a use for what I grow.

For instance, I have several lavender bushes in my yard. I dry the lavender, make lavender infused olive oil and lavender shortbread cookies, and even sprinkle dried lavender in my carpets. I’m also getting into soapmaking (a great green small business idea), so I’ll have plenty of lavender to use in my homemade soaps.

I also grow a lot of parsley, which I sprinkle on potatoes and use to make homemade tabbouleh.

Keep in mind that even if you can’t use your herbs fresh right now, you can always dry them and use them over the next several months. This can save you money because you won’t need to buy these dried herbs at the grocery store.

6. Home Gardens Are Green and Sustainable

Buying natural organic food is expensive, but often desired due to all of the chemicals and genetic altering done by farmers nowadays. Growing your own fruits and vegetables is the most organic you can get! You’ll be helping the environment and saving money at the same time.

You can also save money and help your garden be more organic by creating your own compost at home. For instance, I have my own vermicomposting bin, which means I compost my food scraps with worms. It may sound gross, but worms are amazing at breaking down food and turning it into thick, rich compost.

This compost is very expensive if you buy it at the store. The same is true for liquid fertilizer, which my worms also produce for me. The best part is that, for me, these garden essentials are 100% free, and I’m lessening my impact on the environment by keeping all my food waste out of the landfill.

How to Start a Home Garden

If you’ve never started a garden, you might be tempted to run out to Home Depot and buy a ton of seeds, dirt, and fertilizer.

Let me say this now: don’t do it. At least, not yet. There are cheaper ways to get into home gardening!

Step 1: Look at Your Sun Availability

First, look at your yard. Where do you get the most sun? How much sun does each area get?

One of my biggest mistakes when I started gardening was assuming that my garden needed 8 hours of sun every day. Thanks to my partly shady yard, this kept me from gardening for many years. But the truth is that many vegetables grow very well in part shade; that is, if they get at least 3 hours of sun, or consistent dappled sun, throughout the day.

What grows well in part shade? Here’s a list of 10 types of vegetables to get you started:

  • Salad Greens, such as leaf lettuce, arugula, endive, and cress.
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Peas
  • Beets
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Radishes
  • Swiss Chard
  • Leafy Greens, such as collards, mustard greens, spinach, and kale
  • Beans

These 6 vegetables, on the other hand, grow best in full sun:

  • Tomatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Eggplant
  • Peppers
  • Squash
  • Corn

You can save money on your vegetables by purchasing them from independent farmers and nurseries, or starting seeds yourself. Big chain stores like Home Depot and Lowes usually have the most expensive prices on these plants.

Step 2: Look at Your Space

Now look at the land or space you have to work with. Remember, you don’t need a lot of space to grow a garden!

If you’re working with limited space (like me), then you’ll want to consider two options: container gardening, and vertical gardening.

Container Gardening
Thanks to my tiny backyard, I have to think small. So I always use container gardening. I have pots of tomatoes and herbs sitting on my back patio right now. And, they’re doing great!

You can save a lot of money on your containers by shopping at garage sales. And, don’t limit your search to traditional terra cotta pots! For instance, you can grow herbs and greens in chipped teapots and vintage olive oil cans (as long as you put sand or stones at the bottom for drainage). These containers can be picked up for a song at garage sales or thrift stores, and have a lot more character than traditional terra cotta pots or plastic pots!

Vertical Gardening
I also go vertical; instead of planting a garden out (like a traditional garden in the ground, which requires far more land), I go up.

For instance, you can attach rain gutters to the side of your house and plant shallow crops, like lettuce and herbs, in them. You can use canvas hanging shoe organizers off your patio for shallow crops – for instructions, check out how it’s done. You can build outdoor shelving and have several layers of pots on your deck. You can use your backyard fence to grow climbing veggies like peas and cucumbers.

There are tons of creative (and frugal) ways to plant fruits and vegetables in your yard. And, going vertical is a great option if you don’t have a lot of space.

If you do have some extra land to work with, you’ll be able to plant your veggies right in the ground. You’ll first need to rip up the grass (or whatever plants are currently growing there) and till the soil, making it nice and loose for the vegetables you’ll be planting.

You’ll probably also want to put up some kind of fencing to keep rabbits, squirrels, and deer out. This doesn’t have to be expensive; even chicken wire will work.

Step 3: Consider Your Watering Needs

How are you going to water your garden? Is the site you’ve selected easily accessed by your water hose?

It’s important to analyze how you’re going to water your garden before you plant it. And, now is a good time to seriously consider investing in a rain barrel. I have two, and they are essential in the summer months for keeping my garden well watered.

Step 4: Plant Your Garden

Once you’ve analyzed your light, selected a site, and prepared the garden, you can now start planting!

Make sure you give your plants a drink of water before you stick them in the garden; this wets the root ball and makes it less likely they’ll go into shock when you transplant them.

Your garden will likely need water at least twice a week. Of course, this depends on how much rain you get, and what you’ve planted. Research the plants you’re growing so you’re informed on how much water they need. As a rule, it’s best to water either early in the morning or later in the evening; watering during the afternoon can actually burn your plants.

More Home Gardening Tips:

  • Try starting seeds from scratch rather than buying established plants from a store. You’ll save a ton of money this way, although this does require more work.
  • Don’t waste money buying peat pots or other seed starting kits. Check with your local nursery; they likely have a ton of black plastic pots and plant trays they’d be happy to give you. You can also use egg cartons and plastic cups to start seeds in (that’s what I use).
  • Visit your local farmers’ market to look for fruit and veggie plants. You’ll not only support families instead of a big corporate store, but you’ll also save a ton of money. For instance, I can buy a basil plant at Home Depot for $3.50, or buy the same plant at my local farmers’ market for just $1.
  • Don’t waste money buying garden labels (i.e. the plastic spikes you write on and then stick into the ground to identify your plants). Cut up a plastic milk carton and use a black Sharpie instead!
  • If you have a problem with birds and rodents eating your veggies, cut up an old garden hose into three or four feet segments. Animals will often mistake these for snakes, and steer clear of your garden. You could even get your kids involved by having them paint the hoses to look even more like snakes.

Final Word

Do any of you have your own garden? If so, do you have any additional advice for those who are interested in getting started?

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