Vegetable Gardening for Beginners

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The Basics of Planting and Growing a Vegetable Garden

February 22, 2021
Girl in Tomato Garden
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In the Vegetable Gardening for Beginners Guide, we cover how to start a vegetable garden from scratch, which vegetables to grow, and when to plant what. This year, we’ve added a “starter” garden plan consisting of easy-to-grow vegetables, companion planting techniques, and some lovely flowers!

Vegetable Gardening for Beginners

Why garden, you ask? If you’ve never tasted garden-fresh vegetables (lots of people haven’t!), you will be amazed by the sweet, juicy flavors and vibrant textures. There’s absolutely nothing quite like fresh veggies, especially if you grow them yourself—which you can!

It may seem daunting at first, but gardening is a very rewarding hobby. On this page, we’ll highlight the basics of vegetable gardening and planning: how to pick the right site for your garden, how to create the right-size garden, and how to select which vegetables to grow. 

Pick the Right Location

Picking a good location for your garden is absolutely key. A subpar location can result in subpar veggies! Here are a few tips for choosing a good site:

  1. Plant in a sunny location. Most vegetables need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. There are a few veggies (mostly the leafy ones) that will tolerate some shade.
  2. Plant in moist, well-drained soil. If you have poorly drained soil where water pools, plant veggies in a raised bed or raised row for improved drainage. Wet soil means wet roots, which can turn into rotted roots. If you have rocky soil, till and remove the rocks, as they will interfere with root growth and make for weaker plants.
  3. Plant in a stable environment. Avoid places that receive strong winds that could knock over your young plants or keep pollinators from doing their job. Nor do you want to plant in a location that receives too much foot traffic or floods easily. Plant in a location that would make Goldilocks smile—somewhere that’s “just right.”

Lettuce varieties

Choosing a Plot Size: Start Small!

Remember: It’s better to be proud of a small garden than be frustrated by a big one!

One of the most common errors that beginners make is planting too much too soon—way more than anybody could ever eat or want! Unless you want to have zucchinis taking up residence in your attic, plan your garden with care. Start small, and only grow what you know you and your family will eat. Here are tips on designing your garden:

  1. For a beginner food garden that will feed a family of four for the summer, make your garden about 10 feet long and about 11 rows across. (The rows you sow is really determined by the type of seeds that you plant; for smaller seeds like carrot and radish, a couple of rows makes more sense.)
     
  2. Make sure that you have paths that allow you to access your plants to weed and harvest. The general rule is: Don’t allow more than four feet of plants without access to them. Just make sure that you can reach the center of the row or bed easily.

(Note: If this garden is too large for your needs, you do not have to plant all 11 rows, or you can simply make the rows shorter.)

cucumbers

Choosing Vegetables

As a beginner, start by choosing easy vegetables that are also productive. We’ve listed ten easy vegetable below. However, it would also be wise to contact your state’s Cooperative Extension Service to find out what plants grow best in your area. For example, if you live in an area with extremely hot weather, vegetables that prefer cooler temps may struggle. 

Top 10 Easy Vegetables
(Tip: Click on a veggie’s name to see its detailed Growing Guide.)

  1. Lettuce
  2. Green beans
  3. Radishes
  4. Tomatoes (bush variety or cherry are easiest)
  5. Zucchini
  6. Peppers
  7. Beets
  8. Carrots
  9. Chard, Spinach, or Kale
  10. Peas

Mix in flowers such as marigolds—which discourage pests, attracts pollinators, and adds some color!

Five tips for choosing vegetables:

  1. Choose what you (and your family) like to eat. If no one likes brussels sprouts, don’t bother planting them! But if your kids love green beans, put more effort towards growing a big crop of beans.
  2. Be realistic about how many vegetables your family will eat. Be careful not to overplant, as you will only stretch yourself thin by trying to take care of tons of plants! (Of course, you could always give excess veggies away to friends, family, or the local soup kitchen.)
  3. Consider the availability of veggies at your grocery store. Maybe you want to grow tomatillos, instead of cabbage or carrots, which are readily available. Also, certain veggies are so far superior when homegrown, it’s almost a shame not to consider them (we’re thinking of garden lettuce and tomatoes). Also, homegrown herbs are far less expensive than grocery store herbs.
  4. Be prepared to take care of your plants throughout the growing season. Going on a summer vacation? Remember that tomatoes and zucchinis are growing strongest in the middle of summer. If you’re gone part of the summer, you need someone to look after the crops or they will suffer. Or, you could just grow cool-season crops such as lettuce, kale, peas, and root veggies during the cooler months of late spring and early fall.
  5. Use high-quality seeds. Seed packets are less expensive than individual plants, but if seeds don’t germinate, your money—and time—are wasted. A few extra cents spent in spring for that year’s seeds will pay off in higher yields at harvesttime.

Radishes

Where and When to Plant

If you are simply growing two or three tomato plants, this process is easy. But if you plan to grow a full garden, you need to consider:

  • Where will each plant go?
  • When will each vegetable need to be planted?

Here are a few guidelines for arranging your vegetables:

  1. There are “cool-season” veggies that grow in spring (e.g., lettuce, spinach, root veggies) and “warm-season” veggies that aren’t planted until the soil warms up (e.g., tomatoes, peppers). Plant cool-season crops after spring frost and then plant warm-season crops in the same area later in the season.
  2. Plant tall veggies (such as pole beans on a trellis or sweet corn) on the north side of the garden so they don’t shade shorter plants. If you do get shade in a part of your garden, save that area for small, cool-season veggies. If shade is unavoidable in parts of your garden, save those areas for cool-season vegetables which appreciate shade as the weather heats up.
  3. Most veggies are annuals (planted each year). If you’re planning on growing “perennial” crops such as asparagus, rhubarb, and some herbs, provide permanent locations or beds.
  4. Consider that some crops mature quickly and have a very short harvest period (radishes, bush beans). Other plants, such as tomatoes, take longer to produce, but also produce for longer. These “days to maturity” are typically listed on the seed packet. 
  5. Stagger plantings. You don’t want to plant all your lettuce seeds at the same time, or all that lettuce will need to be harvested at around the same time! Stagger plantings by a few weeks to keep ‘em coming!

When to Plant What

Every region has a different planting time based mainly on their weather, and every vegetable has its temperature preferences, too. See the Almanac’s Best Planting Dates—a gardening calendar customized to your local frost dates. Just enter your zip code (or postal code in Canada)! 

For specific planting information, see our individual Grow Guides for over 100 popular vegetables, herbs, and fruit. For each crop, we provide specific information about how to plant, grow, and harvest, including watering and fertilizing and pest control!

A Starter Beginner Garden Plan

To help out beginners, we thought that it may be useful to see a garden design. Here is an example of a starter family garden using mainly of the common easy-to-grow vegetables listed above. It also features companion planting (the practice of placing plants that thrive together next to each other).

You’ll see that we have given the garden decent-sized paths and mixed in a few herbs and flowers, too. Frankly, if we had grown this garden in our very first year, we would be thrilled! In planning the garden this way, we have made it so much easier for you to succeed with it.

Click here to see the full plant list, number of plants, spacing, and spacing in rows.

garden-plan-beginner_0.jpg

Garden Planning Tool

The Old Farmer’s Almanac offers an excellent online garden planning tool which makes your garden planning fun and easy. With this tool, draw your garden plan on the computer and drop in your preferred vegetables, and it automatically calculates the proper spacing for each type of crop! This way, you don’t waste seed or crowd your plants. The Garden Planner automatically pulls in the frost dates for your specific location, identifies easy vegetables, and even identifies companion plants. Then you can print out your plan and the tool reminds you of your seeding and harvesting dates for every vegetable!

Plus, you’ll see many free garden plans for inspiration! Over time, you’ll see that this tool also provides “crop rotation” so that if you plan a second season, you can properly reposition your plants to avoid pests and disease.

With new gardeners in mind, we offer a FREE week to try the Garden Planner—ample time to plan your first garden. Check it out here: http://gardenplanner.almanac.com/

gp-plan_0_full_width.png
Photo: Almanac Garden Planner. Earth’s most popular tool for planning your garden. Try it free for 7 days.

Any questions or advice about starting your garden? Check out some of the comments below. Many of your questions may have been answered already by our Almanac community or you are welcome to add your own comment. Happy gardening! 

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

recover-seeds

I was so happy as for beginner veg.planting -eggplant as it grew,and
reward of multiple harwest .I think it was dark maroon colour-variety quite big
size ..on the sad note everithing come to end - died but some dried eggplant
still remain the rest dried out..
q: how can seeds be extracted - its tiny.tiny black seeds
how to replant,germination.atc..any help appreciated

q:

saving seeds

The Editors's picture

Nice done for a beginner!  You can save the seeds of an eggplant.  Once it’s overripe and withered (sounds like now!), slice open the eggplant and then separate the flesh from the seeds. Put the seeds in a bowl of water and wash the pulp away. Strain the seeds, pat them dry,  and spread them out on a tray to dry not more than two seeds thick.  Let them dry 2 to 4 weeks. When they are completely dry, you can store in a bag in a cool place free from insects and critters.

Looking for a person to plant a vegetable garden at my house

Time poor, us there anyone available to start grow a vegy garden for me. Thanks

Hi..This is a very

Hi..This is a very informative, it really helps me as a beginner on how to grow veggies on my garden. Thank you so much for this article.

Planting vegetables

Interested in planting

Vegetables die suddenly

I am growing zucchini and pole beans for the first time. It is a new bed (formally grass). I added organic soil, organic vegetable food and compost, the site gets about 6 hours of sun a day.
Zucchini -had 2 plants. First one died in mid-July - looked healthy at 1PM sagging at 4PM and dead the next day. Same pattern for the second plant but 2 weeks later.
Pole beans - same pattern as above but happened in August. Prior to that I had beans.

Thanks for any insight!

plant troubles

The Editors's picture

Hmm. How was the watering – not over or under? Any signs of insects, diseases, or animals? Mottled or yellowing leaves? Any whitish areas? For such a rapid decline on the zucchini, it sounds like perhaps something was attacking the roots - such as a virus, fungal, or bacterial disease, or an insect or animal. For zucchini, check for squash vine borer (holes at the base of the plant, and sawdust-like material beside it). Check for tunnels around the root area, and look at the roots of your gone-by plants for clues. Beans and zucchini don’t commonly share diseases, being in different families, but they do share some wilts and viruses. Sclerotinia (white mold) can be a problem, as can Fusarium.

vegetable gardening

i am looking for some input with my vegetable garden. my garden is very healthy and growing but don't seem to produce many vegetables. is there a reason why this is happening. i planted eggplant, butternut, zucinni and red peppers but after all he hard work and a luscious garden there is hardly any vegetables. please help!

Vegetables Not Producing

The Editors's picture

Hi Kay, It’s hard to determine exactly what’s happening in your garden without more information. I would recommend looking at our growing guides for each of your vegetables (you can find them here), and seeing if the tips on those pages can help. Good luck!

which vegatable marry well with others

hello
I seem to have problem placing my veggies and wondering if you can help me/

I planted celery and next to them I planted Italian roma tomatoes - those barely grew then I planted my cherry tomato they went crazy high next to them peppers and eggplant(those did not do so good) then cucumber with cauliflower and broccoli and then finally zucchini. I guess I was wondering if there is place I can find what veggies should be planted with what
thanks

what to plant where

The Editors's picture

Hi, Johanne, We can hear your disappointment. But there is hope—in fact, there is a solution——no, several!
There are probably more reasons than locale in the garden for why some plants thrived and some did not. One of the main reasons in any garden has to do with soil, esp pH—the acidity or alkalinity of it. See here for some guidance on particular plant needs and how to amend your soil to satisfy them: http://www.almanac.com/content/ph-preferences

Apart for needs, some plants just do not get along; they are not companions in the garden. Here is some guidance on that: http://www.almanac.com/content/companion-planting-chart-vegetables

Slightly different but similar is plant rotation (something to consider as you plan next year’s garden). See how to rotate vegetables here: http://www.almanac.com/video/how-rotate-your-vegetable-crops

Finally, for a better chance of success, with lots of reliable tips and guidance through the season, you should take a look at our Garden Planner program/app: http://www.almanac.com/content/online-garden-planner-old-farmers-almanac

You can preview if for 7 days. Read some of the reviews. People use it around the world—but it’s designed to be local to your zip code, so it’s quite effective. Give it a look and maybe a try.

Thanks for writing. Let us know how this goes moving forward.

Growing in the house

Could you give tips in growing veggies in the house or apartment. I bought small apartment size green house . It has 4 shelves and cover in plastic . I picked it up at Ocean State Job Lot store in my area. I live in the North East in the South side of Massachusetts 23 miles from Boston and 20 miles from Plymouth The start of Cape Cod. I miss not being able to grow veggies out side so I am trying to figure out how to do it in my house saw this mini green house for apartment . Please I need tips so I don't mess this up. Like to be able to grow all winter to would be nice.

indoor greenhouse

The Editors's picture

Hi, Deborah, We are not familiar with the particular product, but if you are experienced in growing vegetables outdoors, you know that they need sunlight. A lot of it. Unless this greenhouse comes with a suitable lamp (you would need to research the proper type), it is not clear or known to us how you would be able to grow veggies indoors. Perhaps the packaging provides instructions? If you have a south-facing porch that gets full sunlight for 6 to 8 hours per day, you might have some success with this (and without it). Window light is probably not adequate. Love the idea, but don’t completely get the concept as described. Sorry we can not be of more help.

Could you please advise me of

Could you please advise me of the minimum depth a container should be in order to give tomatoes plenty of root room? Thank you so much...

container depth for tomatoes

The Editors's picture

The recommended depth or volume of a container will depend on the variety of tomato–dwarf types would not require as much room as, say, a beefsteak indeterminate variety. But in general, allow for about 18 to 24 inches deep. I’ve grown tomatoes in a self-watering planter that was about 12” deep and 3 feet wide. Although it was a bit shallow, the plant appeared to do fine. A 5-gallon container is usually good. For container gardening, it is best to choose a determinate type of tomato, so that it doesn’t get too huge and sprawling. Dwarf/patio types are also good choices.

squash

why does my squash bloom and not make squash.

squash blossoms but no fruit

The Editors's picture

It’s probably a pollination issue. For fruit to set, pollen must be transferred from the male to the female bloom. If you don’t have enough bees or it’s been rainy weather and difficult conditions for the bees to pollinate, you won’t have squash.

Hi.....wondering about the

Hi.....wondering about the use of antibiotics in horses do these degrade or remain in well rotted horse manure? Thanks

The antiobiotics should break

The Editors's picture

The antibiotics should break down during the composting process. You can use the well rotted horse manure.

Thanks.

Wonderful information! I'm a first-year gardener and starting very small. Enjoying all the tips and simplified processes you have here :) Thanks so much for sharing your experiences!

One question I have is about my soil...... I am planting lettuce, tomatoes, and basil in the same beds and am wondering what I need to do to my dirt besides till it really well? I have some basic manure, but no compost...... Is this adequate?

If you have some aged manure

The Editors's picture

If you have some aged manure mix it into the soil. After planting your seeds and seedlings you can sidedress with compost as the plants start to grow to add more nutrients to the soil. See our growing guides for different vegetables at www.almanac.com/plants.

First time gardner

Thanks for all the helpful tips! This will be my first year to have a garden, and I am trying to teach my young children as well! We need all the help we can get!

Grow your on vegetables

I need help by giving my garden a beautiful name

How about "Sally"?

How about "Sally"?

Appreciated the guodelines

It is very interesting to read from your guidelines. I am planning to make a bigger garden for business, Please send me more information for surface gardening in the tropics.

I used your gardening software and planned everything. Video

Hello,

As a first time gardener, your software helped a lot, thank you very much for your help. Here is a video with our gardening story, how we started gardening knowing absolutely nothing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0Bc8QHT-PA

Garden Planning Video

The Editors's picture

Sol, This is a wonderful video showcasing your good work and the Garden Planner! Many thanks. Very impressive We’d love to share with the entire Almanac community! Best wishes for a bountiful harvest this year, your Old Farmer’s Almanac editors

Rows

Beginner here looking to help a community program. How far apart should I make my rows from one another? Will my tiller make the row or should I do that with a hoe? Thank for the help. Great page!

tilling

The Editors's picture

Hi, Jon, Tilling is usually done before planting and after harvesting. See here for some specific plants/situations: http://www.almanac.com/search/site/tilling

You don’t want to till when plants are growing as you might tear up the roots. Use a hoe to make rows and, depending on the plant, to gently cultivate the soil around them (loosen the soil) to discourage weeds. Or you can mulch around the plants to discourage weeds and never hoe, thereby not risk tearing a root.

As for distance between plants, note the guidance on your seed packet/s or plant sticks. In general, you want to be able to walk—but not stride—between the rows to maintain the plants and eventually harvest. Also, if you crowd plants, you risk reducing your harvest. Plants need to have space to grow. For more in space, search for/click on specific plants here or, again, check the instructions that come with the seeds or seedlings.

Hope you have a great year!

Hi! I am very new to

Hi! I am very new to vegetable gardening, and want to do it right.
Here are a few questions I have, if you don't mind taking the time to answer.
What is the benefit of raised gardening? Is it something I should do?
What do I do so that my plants don't get eaten by the wildlife in our area? (Deer, raccoon, skunks, groundhogs...)
How do I keep my plants to grow straight and high?
Thank you!

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