Vegetable Gardening for Beginners

The Basics of Planting and Growing a Vegetable Garden

January 18, 2019
Tomatoes
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Our Vegetable Gardening Guide for beginners will help you to plan and grow your tastiest vegetables ever. Find out how much food you need to grow to feed a family, top 10 vegetables for a beginner, and more tips.

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!

In this guide, 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 sub-par location can result in sub-par 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. The more sunlight they receive, the greater the harvest, the bigger the veggies, and the better the taste.
  2. Plant in good soil. Plants’ roots penetrate soft soil more easily, so you need nice loamy soil. Enriching your soil with compost provides needed nutrients. Proper drainage will ensure that water neither collects on top nor drains away too quickly.
  3. Plant in a stable environment. You don’t want to plant in a place that’s prone to flooding during heavy rains, or in a place that tends to dry out a lot. You also don’t want to plant somewhere where strong winds could knock over your young plants or keep pollinators from doing their job. Plant in a location that would make Goldilocks proud.

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 zucchini taking up residence in your attic, plan your garden with care. Start small.

A good-size beginner vegetable garden is about 16x10 feet and features crops that are easy to grow. A plot this size, based on the vegetables suggested further down this page, can feed a family of four for one summer, with a little leftover for canning and freezing (or giving away to jealous neighbors).

Make your garden 11 rows wide, with each row 10 feet long. The rows should run north and south to take full advantage of the sun.

Vegetables that may yield more than one crop per season include beans, beets, carrots, cabbage, kohlrabi, lettuce, radishes, rutabagas, spinach, and turnips

(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

How to Grow the Best Vegetables

In addition to choosing the right location, here are a few tips that will help you grow your best veggies yet.

  1. Space your crops properly. For example, corn needs a lot of space and can overshadow shorter vegetables. Plants set too close together compete for sunlight, water, and nutrition and fail to mature. Pay attention to the spacing guidance on seed packets and plant tabs.
  2. 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. See a list of of mail-order seed catalogs here.
  3. Water properly. Watering your plants the correct amount—neither too much nor too little—will give them the best chance at producing well-formed, mature vegetables. Learn more about watering vegetables.
  4. Plant and harvest at the right time, not too early or too late. Every vegetable has its own planting dates so be sure to check the seed packet. See the Almanac’s Best Planting Dates—a gardening calendar customized to your local frost dates.

Suggested Plants for a Beginner’s Vegetable Garden

The vegetables suggested below are common, productive plants that are relatively easy to grow. It would be wise to contact your local Cooperative Extension Service to find out what plants grow best in your area, and when the best time for planting them is. Think about what you like to eat as well as what’s difficult to find in a grocery store or farmers’ market.

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

  1. Tomatoes—5 plants, staked
  2. Zucchini squash—4 plants
  3. Peppers—6 plants
  4. Cabbage
  5. Bush beans
  6. Lettuce
  7. Beets
  8. Carrots
  9. Chard
  10. Radishes
  11. (Bonus) Marigolds to discourage pests and add some color!

Radishes

Make it Easy! Use the Almanac Garden Planner!

Create a smarter, more productive garden. Use the online Almanac Garden Planner—now the #1 Garden Planner on the planet. Check it out here: http://gardenplanner.almanac.com/

In minutes, you can draw your garden plan on your computer. We’ve done all the research for you!

The Garden Planner automatically pulls in the frost dates for your location! Also, it shows you how many plants fit in your space so you don’t waste seed or crowd your plants!

gp-plan_0_full_width.png

Plus, you’ll see many free garden plans for inspiration, as well as growing guides for more than 250 vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers.

Try the Almanac Garden Planner for free here. You’ll have ample time to plan your first garden, and if you like it, you can subscribe.

Any questions? Ask us in the comments below!

2019 Garden Guide

Reader Comments

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This information has been

This information has been very helpful and your site is very simple and organised, which has really helped me to understand all your quality information. I am hoping to begin my first vegetable garden this week in my new house and your site has given me all the knowledge I feel I need to do so. However I do have a question, if I was to have a dog would I have to do anything different or should it be okay with the dog and vegetable patch?

Hi . wanting to start a

Hi . wanting to start a raised bed . I have cucumber plants (a lot! I didn't think every seed would make it but they did n I have like 25 plants ), watermelon plants ( same as cumcumbers ) , 2 big pumpkins plants , as well as green beans , yellow beans and carrots . im wanting to build raised beds . suggestions what size I should build? How I should set it up ? Should I make more then one ? Maybe a few different 4x4 beds to separate everything individually ? Ticks I thought the planning would be the easy part but it seems the growing them will be much easier then deciding where to put them :p

OK I'm going to start off by

OK I'm going to start off by saying I am BRAND NEW to this. We are a family of seven trying to eat healthy. I have RA so my husband made me a raised bed. I love it! It's 8 foot by 4 foot and about 12-14 inches deep, & about waist high off the ground. I know we need to plant very small amounts of things. Any suggestions on what to plant that won't take over the entire bed?

Congrats! Almost every

Congrats! Almost every vegetable can be grown in a raised bed so you just want to consider what you enjoy eating and perhaps start with some easy vegetables. See this article on which veggies are good for beginners: http://www.almanac.com/vegetab...
To plan your garden with the right spacing , try our online Garden Planner for free here: 
http://gardenplanner.almanac.com/
It will tell you the planting dates for your area, too. Good luck!

What's the difference between

What's the difference between a raised bed and an elevated bed (like a table w/ a trough) in terms of what you can grow and watering/maintenance?

A raised bed is placed

A raised bed is placed directly on the ground and holds moisture and warmth better than an elevated bed, plus it benefits from the action of worms and other soil fauna which help to keep the soil light and fertile. It can potentially also offer more root depth, depending on how high it is built and if you're growing directly onto the soil (rather than on a patio, say).
An elevated bed on stilts is great for people with limited mobility, and are often built to enable a wheelchair to get underneath for easy access. They will need more watering than a raised bed, and plants may need some protection in colder weather. Often you are limited to growing shallow-rooted crops but some raised beds are built in a V shape, so that deep-rooted vegetables such as carrots and parsnips can be grown in the centre while shallower-rooted ones can be grown round the edges. One other thing to consider is the height of the vegetables you want to grow--tall or climbing plants such as cucumbers and tomatoes may be out of reach!
 

Hi, thank you for the

Hi, thank you for the wonderful information on this site! My husband and I have been trying to start our first vegetable and herb and some Fruit garden this year. Therefore, we planted numerous seeds in small pots and kept out of the frost until after our last frost date for our area - however, it has now been approximately 1 month and we still have very few things that have started to sprout. I actually think I can count on 1 hand the number of seedlings that have sprouted from the possible 50 or more seedling pots we planted. I think we likely were not as diligent on maintaining the temperature and water for these in the earliest days - but I would like to know how much longer I should try to nurse these seeds before I decide to say its time to throw it away and start over - or with some already developed plants from a local nursery. We planted corn, tomatoes, carrots (planted some in an old spaghetti glass jar so our children could hopefully watch them grow & some in the seedling pots -- the ones in the jar are the only carrots that have sprouted), various beans and peas (have had a couple of purple hull peas and green peas sprout), cucumber, cantaloupe, watermelon, etc. and herbs such as: dill, lavender (have had a couple of these sprout), thyme (have had a couple of these sprout), oregano, rosemary, spearmint etc.
Any help/suggestions are GREATLY appreciated!!
We are not opposed to building a more formal green house inside our garage to start seeds in with grow lights - but figure that is probably something we would not need until later in the year... (??)
THANKS!!

Hi Sarah, It is sometimes

Hi Sarah,

It is sometimes tricky to start seeds indoors. You need warmth, plenty of light and the right amount of humidity. Go to our vegetable/herb pages and read about the specific veggies and herbs that you started from seed.
www.almanac.com/plants/type/ve...
www.almanac.com/plants/type/herb

A few of the vegetables that you started indoors are better seeded directly in the garden. Peas, beans and corn germinate quickly outdoors. Peas can be planted earlier than beans and corn. Carrots usually also do better if planted directly in the garden (they don't transplant very well).
Good luck!

Hello again what would be the

Hello again what would be the best soil for my garden? and is it safe for the garden to plant on early spring

For a vegetable garden, you

For a vegetable garden, you want rich, well-drained soil of loamy texture. Most soil needs the addition of some organic matter such as compost. To see if you have the right soil, you could do a soil test. Contact your local Cooperative Extension office for information on getting your soil pH tested. 

My class is building a veggie

My class is building a veggie garden, could we plant trees in a garden???

It depends on the size of

It depends on the size of your garden. Generally, you want to plant a vegetable garden away from trees and shrubs so that they get 6 to 8 hours of sun and don't compete.

I've heard of using cement

I've heard of using cement fiber siding to build raised garden beds on you-tube. A brand called Hardie plank. Is this safe?

It's made out of cement , wood fiber, and silica sand.

I am planting a new garden in

I am planting a new garden in this location. I have a small ditch near my site. I have seen snakes in my yard in past years. I am afraid of them and don't want an encounter in my garden. Do you have any ideas so I can keep them away? I await your response, thank you.

ceder chips, are a natural

ceder chips, are a natural repellent to not only snakes, but all bugs,except pollinators.(such as bees, hornets, and such.)

I am an old at vegetables

I am an old at vegetables growing at my garden :) I even sell them, because I grow them i huge amount :) Not far away I discovered this thing- Sodo kultivatoriai :) It is amazing how it helps for me and saves my time. Try to do the same if you grow vegetables at your garden :))

ive been growing vegtables

ive been growing vegtables for quiet some time now and have been reasonably successful in what ive given a go much to that great soli we had been bleesed with. but since building a new home and no longer at the old address im now faced with what I consider my biggest challenge yet? rock hard almost cement like clay??? and lots of it ive read ways of breaking down clay with lime and other products but I would really prefer to stay away from any form of chemical to break down the clay. Now im in the mean time slowly progressing with my compost and as it is a fairly slow process in its self so my question is there any other ways you could possibly suggest to me so I can get the process started as I would really like to start my growing before the winter months start. any advice would be much appreciated. NattyB

The best amendments for clay

The Editors's picture

The best amendments for clay soil are coarse sand (builders’ sand) and coarse organic matter. There are lots of types of organic matter and it needs to be coarse. Try to find a source for aged manure (local farm) or compost (maybe your city has a compost site for leaves and garden debris).

Have you thought about raised

Have you thought about raised bed gardening, check out square foot gardening on google. I think it's a very excellent idea. But then again I'm just new to gardening myself :) hope I helped or maybe planted a seed in your mind about something new. Best of luck

I am thinking of starting a

I am thinking of starting a garden for the markets I was wondering if you have any tips or any advice for me ? Also I was wondering how would I plan on producing say 10 lbs of tomatoes each week till the seasons up is that even possible?

I'm curious about growing

I'm curious about growing enough food in your garden to last a year and to feed a couple of people.

This story outlines how much you'd have to plant per person, but woould you need a really large plot to actually pull this sort of thing off? If for example, the only fruits and veggies you ate were the ones you grew, and you were feeding two adults, would you need something like an acre of land?

How much land

We plant 3 10X10 plots and have plenty for a family of 3 (plus lots to give away to neighbors)
We also raise 7-12 chickens per year which gives us plenty of eggs to eat and sell (to cover food costs when the garden has no greens).
We have a 4 bed home on 2/3 acre. Our chicken coop is also 10X10

i have stumbled across some

i have stumbled across some issues and im not entirely sure how i want to go about gardening. my soil might be toxic because of the mill in my area, and id have to do raised beds but im not entirely sure which plants are suitable for raised beds an whats not. and i dont want to plant something thats gunna not work. beginner gardener. starting to try to do something different this year. thank you.

Hi Emily, Thanks for your

Hi Emily, Thanks for your post. First, we are concerned about the toxic soil. We suggest that you call your county extension agent. They check for pH levels to see what kind of soil you have--and perhaps they can tell if the soil is contaminated. Here is a list of cooperative extension web sites for each state: http://www.almanac.com/content...
Second, most plants do well in raised beds. As you mention that you are a beginner, we think that you would like this video on How to Use Raised Beds in Your Garden. Click here: www.almanac.com/video/how-use-...
All the best with your beginner gardener, the OFA editors

If you are worried about

If you are worried about toxic soil, you could make a tote garden. There are diretions on how to do this on utube. It is simple, recycles materials, saves water, no weeds, and even helps keep the bugs out(at least the ones you dont want). Just be sure to get the right soil for the plants you want to grow. I find that red totes are great for tomatoes and peppers.

hello , this site is

hello ,
this site is beautifull and organized
at the same time is simple
so
i hope i can make best benefit out of it

I tried to rekindle an old

I tried to rekindle an old garden area that was no longer productive. I took two years adding and tilling in compost matter. On the third year, I tilled up and planted in this area. The plants thrived for the first couple weeks with my late afternoon watering. At the first good rain, the plants were overtaken immediately by weeds. For the remainder of the year, none of my plants could be seen due to the excellent weed growth. Is there any good way to rid such a garden of weeds that grow so rapidly without harming the vegetables?

Instead of worrying about

Instead of worrying about weeds or trying pull them all so that your plants will thrive, have you tried adding 3" to 4" of mulched leaves or dried lawn clipping lawn around them to smother weeds? You may want to water earlier in the day. I never suggest sprinkler water for a vegetable garden and watering just around you veggies will keep water from the 1,000's of years of weed seed in the soil. That will allow the plants to have the water they need during the warmest part of the day.

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