Vegetable Gardening for Beginners

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The Basics of Planting and Growing a Vegetable Garden

March 25, 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? How about enjoying the best vegetables and fruit you’ve ever eaten? If you’ve never tasted garden-fresh food, 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. Sunny spot: Most vegetables need 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight per day. There are a few veggies (mostly the leafy ones) that will tolerate some shade.
  2. Drains well and doesn’t stay wet: 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. Stable and not windy: 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.”
  4. Nutrient-rich soil. You soil feeds your plants. If you have thin, nutrient-poor soil, you’ll have poor, unhealthy plants. Mix in plenty of organic matter to help your plants gro. See how to prepare you soil for vegetable plants.

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.

Size of Garden

  1. If planting in the ground, a 10’ x 10’ garden (100 square feet) is a managable size. Pick 3 to 5 of your favorite vegetables and buy 3 to 5 plants of each one.
  2. If planting in a raised bed, a 4’ x 4’ or 4’ x 8’ is a good beginner size. See our Raised Garden Bed Guide which covers the benefits of raised beds, how to build a raised bed, and what type of soil to fill a raised bed with.
  3. If you want to go bigger, a 12’ x 24’ garden in the ground is probably the biggest a first-timer should go. For example, a garden that feeds a family of four could include: 3 hills of yellow squash; 1 mound of zucchini; 10 assorted peppers; 6 tomato plants; 12 okra plants; a 12-foot row of bush beans; 2 cucumbers on a cage; 2 eggplant; 6 basil; 1 rosemary, and a few low-growing herbs such as oregano, thyme, and marjoram.
  4. Whatever the size of your garden: Every four feet or so, make sure that you have paths that allow you to access your plants to weed and harvest. Just make sure that you can reach the center of the row or bed easily without stepping on the soil.

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. Not all vegetables are planted at the same time.  “Cool-season” vegetables such as lettuce and brocoil and peas grow in cooler weather of early spring (and fall). “Warm-season” such as tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers aren’t planted until the soil warms up in late spring and summer.
  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

doing it right...

The Editors's picture

Hi, Susan, The first thing you have to get about gardening is that every season, every situation is different. It is a constant learning experience, so “do it right” or do it wrong, just do.

As for raised beds, you can read more here (http://www.almanac.com/content/garden-raised-beds-and-small-plots) and here (http://www.almanac.com/content/raised-garden-beds-how-build). Ultimately, it can be a personal preference as well as circumstances (space available, etc.).

The animals you mention can be a hazard almost anywhere. High fences and, when possible, underground barriers can be deterents. Here is some advice re rabbits: http://www.almanac.com/content/rabbits Search this web site using individual animal words for more.

About growing stright and high… well, that depends on more things than we can mention: it’s the whole ball of wax: soil, sun, water, fertillizer, TLC. For more information on specific plants, searth this site for specific names or go to Almanac.com/Gardening and find a lot at once.

Good luck!

vegetable gardening

send me info about small vegetable garden.

Avocados

Can I grow avocados in my area? If yes, what variety and when to plant my first dwarf tree.

Can I grow avocados?

The Editors's picture

Hi Frances, You didn’t mention where you live. However, we can tell you that avocados grow in zones 9B through 11. This is fairly limited to parts of California and the Southern regions. See our plant hardiness zone map: http://www.almanac.com/content/plant-hardiness-zones

Avocados are subtropical trees native to southern Mexico, and they grow best in semihumid climates with moderate temperatures (60° to 80°F). You can, however, grow avocados in containers and move them inside during cold weather, but there are no dwarf varieties available, so the trees tend to get too big within about three years.

Beef Steak Tomatoes

Hi,
I like beef steak tomatos on my sandwich, but can't seem to find any at the store. For the past couple of years, I've gone to five different stores to buy a "beef steak" plant (even the Amish). Alas, all I seem to get are cherry tomatoes. Although those are fine. But, 5 PLANTS of them!!!! Sheesh, I wish they wouldn't get smushed when I put them in my slingshot. The question is, is there any way to tell the difference between tomato plants?
Just for the heck of it, last year I bought two packets of "beef steak" seeds and am starting to grow them inside and then do the transplant thing.
I've been gardening on and off for the past 40 years.
thanks,
Jeff

Sometimes plants get

The Editors's picture

Sometimes plants get mislabeled in green houses but 5 times seems like a lot. Starting your tomatoes from seed is a good idea. Be aware that there are many varieties of beef steak tomatoes with different names, from Big Boy to pink Hungarian Heart. Burpee now offers mailorder plants. Here are the beef steak offerings.

www.burpee.com/vegetables/tomatoes/beefsteak-tomatoes/?cid=PPC&gclid=CNnAhunhzMoCFcEWHwodiB0AIQ

gardening

Love your site want to learn more

Vegetable garden

Small vegetables, did string beans and tomatoes last summer did very well.With your help I could try others

Plenty of space just no knowledge

I am so lucky just to find your site. Sinds we moved to Sweden and have a large garden I am trying to create a vegetable garden. But I am like a chicken without its head running from left to right. So now I can start to plan with your help. Now I can start to plant some fruit en vegetables.

Beginners

My husband and I decided to plant our own vegetables and to look after them. The problem is that we have no experience about it, but we have a very strong will and desire to do it. Your article shows us some very important steps for beginning. Greetings

Beginner vegetable gardening

The Editors's picture

Rhonda, We are so happy to hear that this advice was useful to you and your husband. Many thanks for sharing these kind words! We appreciate your interest in The Old Farmer’s Almanac and our Web site. With all good wishes, your OFA editors

Hi, We have 3 raised garden

Hi,
We have 3 raised garden beds. This spring we added some manure to the beds and now our weeds are worse than ever. They have basically taken over the entire beds. Is there a way to rid the planting beds of all these weeds over the winter so they will be ready for planting again next spring?

Thank you.

The weeds have been around

The Editors's picture

The weeds have been around for centuries, so you are never going to completely erradicate them. You can minimize them, however, by MULCHing—now and when you plant.
See this page for more details: http://www.almanac.com/content/weed-control-techniques
And this one http://www.almanac.com/content/landscaping-low-maintenance
You might find more advice in these videos:
One... http://www.almanac.com/video/weed-killer-gardening-technique 
two...
http://www.almanac.com/video/how-get-rid-weeds

Hi, I did three box gardens

Hi,

I did three box gardens this year to see if I can grow enough vegetables like I used to on my parents farm. I can only use boxes because our landlord will not allow us to plant vegetables in the soil. The box with the okra is growing tall but no produce yet, the corn is growing up to my waist but nothing budding. I planted Roma Tomatoes in a box with banana peppers and I see the peppers are growing but the tomatoes are still small about the size of a golf ball. One was ripened red but started to rot and didn't grow any bigger.

Are the banana pepper plants keeping the tomatoes from growing larger? Do I need t transfer them to a different box by themselves?

Without seeing the plants or

The Editors's picture

Without seeing the plants or knowing your location, garden conditions, or when they were planted it’s impossible to know if the plants are at the correct stage or if there’s a problem, I’m afraid. I’d recommend you make sure you planted each at the correct time and that they’re spaced correctly and have been receiving enough water. You might like to try out our Garden Planner to see correct spacings for your plants and find the ideal sowing, planting and harvesting times for your location, based on climate data from your nearest weather station. You can try it for free for 30 days which is ample time to explore this issue: gardenplanner.almanac.com

hi. I was looking that

hi. I was looking that website and I read something about new kind of stawberries which Nj farms has.I think all organic.I could not find which farms have that do u know anything about it.thanks.

i grow a lots of herbs in my

i grow a lots of herbs in my garden but my strawberries are always tiny, could it mean they need a lot of fertiliser? My homemade compost is almost ready.
I have planted some shrubs: blueberries, blackberries and raspberries (I live in the north of England) they have grow well so far, how can I help them bare good big fruits??? Thank you very much.

Is there mint near the

Is there mint near the strawberries? It is not compatible with them so it may be your problem.

I live in a tropical Island

I live in a tropical Island in indonesia called Bali. Here is very Hot and sunny, What Vegetables, fruit, or herbs should I plant? I also have a lot of animals like rats, rabbits, cats, bird running around my neighborhood. What do I do to get rid off all of them? there is also no nursery or seed plant seller here. I also can't buy internationaly because My country don't let them in and I'M 15 with no credit. Even if there is, I don't know (O already try to search) and only little type of plant they sell

Often you can save the seeds

Often you can save the seeds from the fruits and vegetables you buy. If they are locally grown even better because you know they will grow in your area. Just make sure they are not GMO genetically modified organisms You want organic or heirloom varieties of seed. Also check out to see if there are any seed trading groups around.

I was wondering about the

I was wondering about the miracle growables that have the seeds in the pods. Are they worth buying? If so, would you recommend placing them in a raised bed?

Hi Ashley, We recommend to

The Editors's picture

Hi Ashley,
We recommend to get good seed and start plants in a potting mix with added compost. If you start seeds indoors you can plant the transplants in the raised bed after your last spring frost date. Some seeds (peas, beans, radishes, squashes) you can sow directly in the raised bed.

Hi I live in calgary alberta

Hi I live in calgary alberta and have a south facing back yard. I am planning to put my vegetable garden at the back of the yard beside the shed. I noticed that it is 1100am and that area is still shaded by the fence. As we get in to summer I know this will change some. Do you think it will be a good spot that will get enough sun. I picked that spot as I thought that the area would shelter the garden from the wind.

I am going to be planting

I am going to be planting potatoes when the weather is right and I have no clue when your supposed to harvest a potato... How do you know when they are ready when they are underground? Oh and is it smart to have maragolds surrounding your garden I've heard that they keep pests away and wasn't sure if it was supposed to be all around the garden or just in random spots... I have so many questions and I have been trying to google them but there's so many different answers I don't know what to listen too! Someone help me please!!!!

Hello, new gardener! We're

The Editors's picture

Hello, new gardener! We're happy to help beginner gardeners. In terms of potatoes, you plant them just after your last spring frost. New potatoes are ready in about 10 weeks, in mid-July in many regions. Here's the direct link to our Potatoes plant page: http://www.almanac.com/plant/potatoes
We have plant guide pages for all your common vegetables here: http://www.almanac.com/plants/type/Vegetable
Yes, marigolds have been known to repel some insects and animals and most certainly parasitic worms. Just plant them on the edges of the bed. See our marigold page here: http://www.almanac.com/plant/marigolds

what is safe to use on my

what is safe to use on my vegitable/fruits to keep insects away?

is companion planting the

is companion planting the same as planting in family groups?

Not exactly. Companion

The Editors's picture

Not exactly. Companion planting is planting different families that will compliment/benefit each other. Check out this page with more information: http://www.almanac.com/content...

I planted a small vegetable

I planted a small vegetable garden next to our house. The plants closest to the house remain sickly, low bearing. I was told that cement foundations leach something harmful for some plants. Is this true?

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