The Basics of Vegetable Gardening for Beginners
Thinking of building a vegetable garden? Growing your own crops is not only rewarding, it’s also a great way to save money on food. Imagine enjoying fresh vegetables all season long, thanks to your hard work! Of course, successful vegetable gardening demands commitment. There is more to this activity than simply planting a few seeds into the ground and waiting for the crops to grow. In fact, planting the vegetables is just the first step to successful vegetable gardening. In today’s guide, let’s take a look at the basics of building a vegetable garden as well as all the other factors you need to know before growing your own crops:
Factors to Consider Before Building a Vegetable Garden
The first step to successful vegetable gardening is to plan your garden and plan it well. You do not need a massive yard to build a vegetable plot. A small space will do if you live in a small apartment. In fact, starting small is probably the best if you are new to vegetable gardening.
What’s important is that the space itself is suitable for growing vegetables. Exposure to light is one of the most important elements of growing most types of crops. Most vegetables need at least 6 hours of sunlight every day. However, there are crops that thrive in shady environments such as leaf and root vegetables.
Generally, south-side spaces get maximum sun exposure while north side spaces are usually shady, plan your garden setup accordingly. If the space gets a lot of sunlight, then congratulations, you have more options in terms of the kinds of crops you can grow. On the other hand, if the space is shady then do your own research, get to know what types of plants thrive in this kind of environment.
Plant According to Your Zone
After knowing more about the growing habits of certain vegetables, learning what vegetables are suitable for your garden, zone, and microclimate then it’s time to make a list of all the plants you’d like to grow in your garden. At this point, you can start planning the setup of your vegetable garden.
Choose a spot that’s nearest to a water source. This seems like a small thing but it will reduce your gardening load significantly. Easy access to water will not put too much strain on your back during periods of little rainfall! Most vegetables hate standing water so good drainage is important in a vegetable garden. The drainage will depend on your garden's soil composition and slope. Steep or sharp slopes are prone to soil erosion so you have to find ways to retain the soil moisture and nutrients.
Orientation and Garden Layout
After all these are taken care of, you can start planning the layout of the garden. You can either use raised beds to grow your vegetables, set the crops in rows or set the plants in certain parts of your outdoor space. The choice is up to you.
Planting in Rows
If say, you'd like to grow your crops in a row, make sure the vegetables are getting maximum sunlight. Tall vegetables could shade shorter plants so building trellises are your best bet. In addition, try planting the veggies in parallel lines so the crops are much easier to maintain. If say, you are planting in a sloped plot and the risk of runoff is high, plant the vegetables across the slope. This way, the runoff will flow along the length of the row rather than downhill. If the runoff is still an issue, you can also dig a swale, which is a shallow ditch with sloping sides. The swale will help soak the water in. It can be used to grow perennial plants too.
Using a Raised Bed
Raised beds are the perfect choice for growers who want to maximize their garden space. Since the plants are elevated a few inches from the ground, raised beds deter pests, particularly burrowing critters. In addition, raised beds allow you to amend the soil with less effort. Raised beds aerate the soil, prevent compaction, and improve the health of the vegetables. Weeding becomes much less of a hassle too since the vegetables are planted in a contained space. That being said, raised beds come in different dimensions so make sure your garden has room for these before getting them. Measure your garden to get the dimensions right. Raised beds are quite the investment so proper installation and setup is a must.
If you don't have much room for a garden, we highly recommend building a garden spot. Just plant the vegetables in containers and then set the crops on sunny spots. Spot gardening does not deliver an impressive yield, but it requires less planning and easier maintenance. It’s a great option for newbie gardeners who’d like to try their hand at growing vegetables for the first time.
Preparing the Soil for a Vegetable Garden
Soil prep is the foundation on which any garden is built. You cannot expect to grow a variety of crops if the soil isn't providing enough nutrients to the vegetables!
If you can, start your soil prep early in the fall season so it'll be ready just in time for spring planting. You want to make sure the soil is workable before amending it. Clear the plot of weeds and garden debris using a rake. Using a soil tester, check your soil’s pH just to see if it’s suitable for vegetables. Different vegetables thrive in different pH levels so you may have to bring the acidity level up or down, depending on the types of vegetables you’d like to grow.
If the soil is too acidic, try adding limestone or dolomitic limestone to the soil. Wood ash also works to bring the soil's acidity down. If the soil is too alkaline, add ammonium sulfate, urea, or ammonium nitrate to the soil. You can also add pine needles, shredded leaves, sawdust, and peat moss to the soil to improve its acidity level.
After adjusting the pH of the soil, gently turn the soil to a depth of 12 to 14 inches, then add 3 to 4-inch layer of organic compost. Rake the soil to loosen the clumps and allow water and oxygen to penetrate the ground. Once that’s done, you are ready to start planting your crops. If your soil quality is not the best, we recommend using a raised bed. A raised bed allows you to control the quality of the soil.
Choosing the Vegetables to Plant
Always keep an eye on the weather, the growing conditions, as well as pest problems and amendments before planting your crops. Once the crops are planted, you need to track the watering and fertilizing schedules too.
Vegetable varieties are divided into two categories: warm and cool season vegetables. Warm season vegetables could be tender or very tender vegetables while cool season veggies can be semi-hardy or hardy.
Generally, very tender crops cannot tolerate frost so these vegetables should never be planted in cold environments with temperatures below 55˚F. Tender vegetables can survive a light frost, but they will not thrive in the bitter cold. Half-hardy vegetables will do well in cool temperatures; they can also survive light frosts. However, they cannot tolerate hard freezes and heavy frosts. Hardy crops could survive frost but never freezing winters.
10 of the Easiest Crops to Grow
If you are new to gardening, it’s best to start with crops that are easiest to grow. Crops that are easier to grow provide a better yield with minimal maintenance on your part. Here are some of the best vegetables to grow for newbie gardeners:
Tomatoes do not require much coddling and coaxing to bear fruits. Some varieties will thrive even when neglected. Tomatoes could grow virtually anywhere and the plants do not grow too big so these are ideal for a small garden, a container garden, even a vertical garden. You can hang tomato plants in baskets; plant them in-ground, or in pots. Cherry tomatoes, in particular, are so easy to grow. Since tomatoes' plant stems are quite soft, they will need a bit of support.
Cucumbers are best grown in a warm, sunny spot but generally, this vegetable spreads like weeds. Cucumber plants usually bear a lot of fruits so don't be surprised if you end up having more cucumbers than you can handle, just share some with the neighbors. Just like tomatoes, cucumbers are best suited for small gardens, container gardens, and vertical gardens. These are climbing plants so you have to provide a structure for the cucumber plants to climb on.
Carrots are the best vegetable to grow for new gardeners. Carrots thrive in both sunny and semi-shady environments, the veggies require minimal maintenance, and these plants will thrive in less than ideal soil conditions. Carrots will grow best in well-drained soil, although they’ve been known to grow in heavy soil too. What’s more, planting carrots is fun; you can round up the kids and turn gardening into a family affair. Harvesting carrots are equally fun and if you want your children to take up gardening as a hobby, this is a great vegetable to plant.
Love radish? It's a good thing this vegetable is easy to grow. Radishes add a delectable crunch to green salads or appetizers and a delicate flavor to soups and stews. Growing radishes is easy, even when the plants are grown from seed. Once the seedlings are large enough to sow, you can plant radishes in a container garden, a raised garden bed, or directly into the ground. Radishes love sunny to partially sunny environments. They don't require daily watering but the soil has to remain moist all the time.
From string beans to snap beans, all types of green beans are ridiculously easy to grow. Green beans come in different varieties to choose from so make sure to check which varieties are suitable for your zone and space (some varieties are climbing plants, others are bush types). Generally, green beans grow easily from seeds. These plants prefer the full sun and well-drained soil. Green beans are best grown in home gardens.
Zucchini and all types of summer squash grow like weeds, especially during the warm season. They can be grown in containers or in-ground. Just like beans and radishes, zucchinis are so easy to grow from seeds and the plants bear a lot of fruits + edible blossoms. Zucchinis prefer good moisture so water these veggies regularly. These vegetables also love warm soil so plant zucchini later in the warm season for a maximum yield.
Most types of herbs are easy to grow, including basil. Basil is a fast-growing plant that can be grown from seeds or from transplants. What's more, basil pairs so well with tomato plants. When planted near tomatoes, basil will keep pests away!
If you want to give your vegetable garden a look of lushness and fast, try growing lettuce and other types of loose-leaf vegetables. Lettuce matures every 3 to 4 weeks. You can plant different lettuce varieties to ensure a steady supply of yummy, crunchy greens all season long! And don't think lettuces thrive only in traditional gardens, these veggies will do well in container gardens too.
From sweet bell pepper to hot chili peppers, all pepper varieties are so easy to grow. Just like most vegetables on this list, peppers grow like weeds. Just grow peppers straight from seeds and they will grow with minimal effort. Peppers mature quickly too, particularly the miniature varieties. If you want fast-ripening hot peppers, we highly recommend planting jalapeños!
Rounding up our list of the easiest crops to grow is Swiss chard. Swiss chard is a dark, green leafy vegetable that grows easily and beautifully, it makes any garden look good. We recommend growing the bright lights and the ruby varieties due to their vividly colored stems. If you live somewhere warm, you cannot go wrong with the Lucullus variety. Swiss chard thrives in light, well-drained soil and is best planted in rows. However, this vegetable is ideal for container gardening too! This vegetable needs an even, regular watering, especially during dry spells.
Growing a vegetable garden is not only an eco-friendly hobby; it’s a terrific way of accessing fresh, delicious vegetables all season long! Of course, there are certain factors that you have to consider before building a vegetable garden so use our guide as a reference.
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