Vegetable Gardening for Beginners

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The Basics of Planting and Growing a Vegetable Garden

March 25, 2021
Girl in Tomato Garden
Travnikov/Shutterstock

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

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If you want a permanent bed

If you want a permanent bed cinder blocks work fine and last longer than wood. Treated wood is OK for growing things you aren't going to eat.

It depends on where you live.

It depends on where you live. We got compressed wood because we get so much rain. But here is an ideas, this company offers triple raised beds, that might be easier for you.http://www.hooverfence.com/vin...

If you want a good raised bed

If you want a good raised bed on the cheap check out cedar fence boards at your local lumberyard. They are usually limited to 6in x 6ft and are dogeared on one end, but a little creative design with some cedar 2x2 stakes made from deck spindles can give you a great raised bed on a budget.

We are going to use

We are going to use galvanized stock water troughs for our raised beds. Generally 2x4x2. How to use tips are on the web.

Make it out of timber . I

Make it out of timber . I used deck boards, but make sure it is not too wide you can manage to reach across from one side to the other without excessive travel for sowing and watering.
More ideas on gardening tips

I have a problem with Morning

I have a problem with Morning Glories. They choke 60 % of my garden. I have a large Garden of about a half an acre. I am growing pretty much all the veggies that you recommend. How do I control these? Also what is a good deterrent for deer?

We have quite a few deer in

We have quite a few deer in our neck of the woods. See if your local barber will save a bag of hair clippings for you, scatter it around your garden, and you should see less deer...

Hair clippings do help. Also

Hair clippings do help. Also randomly placing old knee high stockings containing Irish Spring soap shavings helps, as does hanging pie pans around. I think the key to any of these home remedies is not to use the same method for too long at the time. Rotate the remedy when you see deer venturing back into the forbidden territory.

If the flowers are white,

If the flowers are white, then the plant here in the northwest is called choke weed. First, do NOT pull the weed up! Just little tips of root can and WILL spring forth again with a new plant. You need to use a good herbicide on the plant. When I found this out, it was springing back after my vegetables had already sprouted, so I couldn't just spray the whole plant without losing what I wanted to grow. I got an old child's paintbrush and painted all of the leaves of the new choke weed sprouts. Make sure that it has not rained or received water for a couple of days before either spraying or painting so that it will absorb the herbicide right away and completely. If the major portion of the plant is far enough away from your garden I would spray that with a heavy dose to get down to the major roots. If the plant is originating on someone else's property, you may have to install a deep enough barrier to prevent the roots from traveling onto your property, as they can travel some distance before springing up elsewhere.

Hi, I have heard that if you

Hi,
I have heard that if you put a bar of Irish Spring soap in your garden the deer will not come near it. I would assume that with 1/2 an acre you would need a few.
Good luck!

Hello My name is Jeremy

Hello My name is Jeremy Boyett i am new at planting Butter beans When is the best time to plant Butter beans?

Thanks for your question,

The Editors's picture

Thanks for your question, Jeremy.

A good rule of thumb is to wait at least two weeks after the last frost. These beans need to be planted in soil temperature of at least 65 F. This time will vary depending on your location.

Thank you for your interest in the Old Farmer's Almanac and our Web site.

I have a lot of deer, I

I have a lot of deer, I found that by planting rosemary helps but I also found rosemary oil which is fantastic for keeping the deer away from my veggies and flowers

Deer hate fishing pole

Deer hate fishing pole string. They can't see it so when they feel it scares them off. If you put up poles around the edge of your garden and string it around it should take care of the problem.

I found the best thing for

I found the best thing for deer is human hair. This is very easy to get and free. You can go to just about any salon and ask for clippings. The longer hair works best. Then you just decorate like tinsle on a tree. The hair smells like us. This helps with just about any anilmal. Slugs can't cross hair either.

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