Your First Vegetable Garden

Your First Vegetable Garden

Suggestions from a guy who has gardened for more than 25 years …

Start Small – For most beginners, smaller is better. A 100 square foot garden – say, 10 feet by 10 feet – is plenty. Even a 4 ft. by 5 ft. garden or a few containers on your deck or patio can be very rewarding.

The Basics – there are 5 basic requirements:
– Good soil
– Seeds and/or plants
– Water
– Fertilizer
– Weed and bug control.

Good Soil – Good gardening starts with good soil. Good soil contains a mixture of small and large mineral particles, organic materials, air, water, and millions of living organisms, from microorganisms to worms. If you have either thick clay or loose sandy soil, the best solution is to add compost or top soil to your garden. Rent or borrow a mini-tiller, like the Mantis tiller, to do this most effectively.

For a more thorough discussion of garden soil, see The Dirt on Soil, elsewhere on this site.

When You Should Start – Ideally, you should prepare your soil a couple of weeks prior to your last frost date. To estimate your last frost date, see

Start gardening anytime after your last frost date. You can even start a garden in mid summer.

Seeds and Plants – Rule #1 is to grow what you’ll eat. And, grow the right quantity. Six zucchini plants will produce more squash than you and all of your friends and relatives can handle! Start with 1 or 2.

Tomatoes – 1 or 2 beefsteak tomato plants for sandwiches, salads, and sauces. One cherry tomato plant for snacking and for salads.

Leaf Lettuce – easy to grow, and high yielding.

Spinach – easy to grow, very nutritious, and somewhat more heat tolerant than lettuce.

Bush Beans – easy to grow and very nutritional. The big seeds are easy to handle.

Summer Squash – options range from buttery yellow varieties of squash to the traditional green zucchini.

Beets – easy to grow and good for you. Thin the young seedlings so that the remaining plants have room to develop.

Water – Plants get their food by absorbing water and dissolved nutrients through their roots. Rule of thumb – about 1” of rainfall or watering per week.

To reduce the amount of soil moisture lost to evaporation, add a layer of mulch to the top of your garden soil. Grass clippings, shredded dry leaves, hay, and straw are excellent mulches.

Fertilizer – Plants, like people, need food. Organic fertilizer can be added when you plant and throughout the season.

The best long-term solution for creating healthy soil is to continuously add compost. For lots of practical information, see Composting 101, or visit

Weeds and Bugs – The best treatment for weeds is prevention – lots of mulch will significantly reduce weeds.

Bugs are more complex. Some bugs are good, some are bad. Consider using a natural pesticide like Pyola® or Bulls-Eye™; both are environmentally responsible and available from Gardens Alive!

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