If you’re a DIY hobby champ or an organic-only food snob, you know that nothing parallels the taste of your own freshly grown vegetables. Despite this romantic, bucolic urge, starting a garden — especially one that bears produce — can seem very daunting.
From size and species to soil and season, there are a lot of variables that play into a successful harvest. With the right information, a student mentality and a little planning, maintaining a sustainable home vegetable garden is a hobby well within reach.
The first task is assessing your resources:
How much space do you have?
How much of it do you want to allocate to a vegetable garden?
How much are you actually willing to tend?
The best plan is one you’ll actually follow, so this last point becomes quite important if you’re on the fence about your willingness to weed, water, trim and prune in your free time.
According to Better Homes and Gardens, beginner gardeners often go overboard on their first attempts.
Imagining a cornucopia of all their favorite species (melons, zucchini, asparagus, berries, turnips, radishes, peppers, and so on), newbies will literally dig themselves too deep, allocating a patch of land that is well beyond their ability or interest to manage.
Better Homes and Gardens recommends a first-season gardener set aside a 10-by-10-foot patch of land in their backyard for their first garden.
This will not only ensure that the time necessary to tend the plot won’t ruin the fun of the hobby, but also allow gardeners to add more space after honing their skills.
Once you’ve determined how much space to use, you’re ready for the fun part: deciding what to grow.
In a 2019 article in The Old Farmer’s Almanac, Catherine Boeckmann recommends ample research when picking plant species. From size to sunlight requirements to your soil’s acidity, it’s critical to select a species that will thrive on your land.
Boeckmann recommends the following easy-to-grow resilient starter crops to choose from: tomatoes, zucchini, squash, peppers, cabbage, bush beans, lettuce, beets, carrots, chard and radishes.
If you also plant some marigold flowers in your beds, you will gain a helpful natural pest repellant — and some beautiful flowers to intersperse with your vegetable foliage.
Pick veggies you want to eat and cook with and then use garden centers, online resources or seed catalogues to help you pick varieties that work for your space and climate.
Keeping records of what worked and what didn’t when it comes to crop choice, season and plot placement.
Next comes your soil. New plant roots prefer soft, permeable soil and will often not take root in hard soil, clay or sand.
Spending some time to till and adjust your soil to the highest quality is a long-term investment toward your harvest.
The Compost Gardener website recommends purchasing a soil pH test kit to make sure your soil isn’t too acidic or basic; this is often a hidden variable that can really affect plant growth.
Amy Andrychowicz, garden specialist for the website Get Busy Gardening, recommends thorough and frequent mulching.
Mulching using compost, grass clippings, pine needles and other yard waste is often free and helps infuse soil with extra organic compounds and nutrients that will help your new plants flourish.
Finally, Better Homes and Gardens recommends selecting vegetables that will provide both warm- and cool-weather harvests. This will not only cycle your crops, preventing soil nutrient loss, but also keep your hobby alive year-round.
This will force you to maintain your plot, build your skills and keep fresh produce in your kitchen for more months out of the year. Potatoes, cabbage and kale make good fall crops.
Use this primer to kickstart your plan to plant your vegetable garden.