Are you considering growing your own food in a backyard garden? Well, you’re in the right place. There are so many reasons to start your own vegetable garden and we’ll go through everything you need to know in this article. Learning how to start a vegetable garden is pretty easy and depending on your soil conditions a simple inground garden can be ready for planting in just a few hours!
How To Start A Vegetable Garden
Starting a vegetable garden from scratch is simple, but it does require some work to dig up some soil and put together a garden plan. In this article, I’m going to teach you how to start a vegetable garden using in-ground gardens. In-ground vegetable gardens are usually the quickest and cheapest way to get a garden started.
Why Choose an In-Ground Garden?
The main reason for choosing an in-ground garden is that you can have the ground quickly ready for planting. With in-ground gardens all you need to do is remove any grass, amend the soil and you are ready to start planting vegetables. You don’t have to build beds or import soil which saves you time and energy!
Choosing the right location
A successful garden is all about location. There are 3 things to consider when making a garden plan and choosing a location for your vegetable garden:
- The amount of sunlight the spot receives
- Easy access to water
- Level ground with good drainage
Any spot you are considering for a garden will need a lot of sunlight. Most experts recommend at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight each day for a good garden. But I disagree! My opinion is the more sunlight the better, many fruiting plants will struggle with only 6 hours of sun.
Instead you should focus on sites that have at least 8 to 10 hours of sunshine each day. More than 10 hours in the summer time would be ideal.
Your plants need sunshine to thrive, so you need to choose a vegetable garden layout that will give them all the sunlight you can. This means avoiding locations that have trees, buildings, or fences nearby. This is especially true of obstacles that are to the south of your garden area (North if you live in the Southern hemisphere). Obstacles to the south will cast long shadows and those shadows will be even longer in the spring and fall.
Late afternoon sun can be very intense in the summer months, so if you have to choose a spot that has some shade at all then I would choose a spot that gets shade in the late afternoon.
Easy Access to Water
Having an easy way to get water to your new vegetable garden in the next important consideration. Trust me, if it is hard to water your garden you will put it off on those days that you are tired and just want to relax. And your plants will suffer for it.
In your garden plan choose a spot that has a water faucet close by. Having to drag a hose all the way out to the back corner of your yard every time your plants need water gets old quickly. If your spot is far from water you may want to consider paying a plumber to add a waterline and hose bib to your garden spot.
You should also consider how you are going to water your garden, options include:
- Hand watering with a hose or watering can
- Overhead sprinklers
- Drip systems
- Flood Irrigation
Ultimately the best way to water a garden is using a drip irrigation system. You can learn more about the difference between sprinklers and drip irrigation and why drip is better by reading this article.
Level ground with good Drainage
When planning a vegetable garden the slope of your ground matters. Gardening with any type of slope can create some big problems. Slopes will cause water to run off quickly taking with it valuable soil and soil nutrients.
Choose a nice flat area for your vegetable garden layout or if you have to work with a hill then you will need to create terraces that give you flat areas to work with.
Be careful to avoid areas where water doesn’t drain well. You should avoid spots in your yard where water tends to accumulate and puddle. Vegetable gardens need soil that drains well and doesn’t get “boggy” when it rains.
Choosing the Right Size for Your New Garden
When deciding how to start a vegetable garden you probably have BIG plans for your new garden! I understand! Folks that are interested in growing their own food can have big aspirations when planning a vegetable garden!
So I encourage you to plan big! But I want you to start small!
There are a lot of new gardening skills you are going to be learning over the next few years as you gain experience gardening. It is best to learn those new skills in a small garden that can be expanded later.
Setting your garden plan to start with just a 10 x 10 or maybe 10 x 15 foot patch will give you plenty of space to start learning your new gardening skills. If you start too big of a garden plan you can easily become overwhelmed with all that needs to be done with a garden.
A small garden will let you learn how to grow and help you establish new habits and routines without it becoming a huge burden. You can always add more space to your garden plan as the years go on and you become more experienced.
I have a great discussion about starting small in my free New Gardeners Workshop.
Vegetable Garden Layout
When planning a garden you also need to consider your vegetable garden layout. There are a couple of things to quickly consider here:
- Beds specific for perennial plants
- Setting up annual beds for successful crop rotation
Beds for perennial plants
Many of the crops you will want to grow in your new vegetable garden layout will be perennial (this means they will come back year after year). These crops will be in the same spot for many years, perhaps for a lifetime. So consider placing these plants in their own designated areas of your vegetable garden layout. I prefer to grow these types of plants in the outside areas of my garden leaving the center available for annual plants.
Example of perennial plants include:
Quadrants for crop rotation
Crop rotation is an important part of any vegetable garden layout. By rotating where you plant the different varieties of vegetables and fruits in your garden you help prevent the buildup of diseases and pest problems. Crop rotation also helps to keep your soil from becoming depleted of certain nutrients.
Planting in the same spot every 4 years seems to be the “magic number” so I find it very helpful for gardens to be laid out using a quadrant system. 4 beds, or 4 groups of beds allows you to easily rotate crops to keep your garden healthy.
To learn more about crop rotation and how to do it you can read this series I wrote on the topic.
Starting a Vegetable Garden From Scratch
How to prepare the ground for a vegetable garden
If the location you chose for your new garden plan currently has some type of grass then you are going to need to dig up that sod.
Leaving the sod in place is possible, but doing that creates a much more complicated and longer term project. So to get started right away I suggest you simply remove the grass.
Start by marking out the spot for your garden and then watering the grass. Then give it a couple of days for the grass to dry a bit. You want the grass and the soil under it to be soft and easy to work with, but you don’t want it to be so wet that the soil underneath is muddy.
You can then simply cut the grass into long strips that are about 24 inches wide and 10 feet long. Cut the grass using a straight edged garden spade. (include affiliate link) Cut down about 4 to 6 inches with the spade. Then if your grass is soft you should be able to simply roll up the sod like you would a rug and move it out of the garden.
This sod can be reused somewhere else in your yard, given to neighbors, composted or just thrown out.
If your chosen site for your garden plan doesn’t have grass, simply clear off any weeds and debris.
Amend the Soil
The next step in how to start a vegetable garden is amending the soil. Amending the soil means adding organic matter and any missing nutrients to your soil. The best way to do this is by adding several inches of quality organic compost.
Depending on the size of your new garden you could just buy compost in bags, or if you have a larger garden planned many nurseries and garden centers offer compost in bulk, and many will even deliver it to your home.
Add a layer of 2 to 4 inches of compost to your garden and then work it into the top 4 inches of soil. You work the compost into the soil by mixing it into that top layer by turning the soil with either a shovel or digging fork.
To Till or Not to Till??
Tilling has become a controversial topic in the gardening world. For generations tilling was just the thing to do if you had a garden. Many folks would till in both the spring and fall to work the soil.
But as our understanding of soil science has grown we are now starting to understand that tilling is very disruptive to your soils “ecosystem”. Many gardeners have quit tilling and even turning the soil completely to help keep the fragile web of soil microbes, fungi, and creatures safe.
I have moved away from tilling in my own garden. However, if you are starting a new garden, especially if your garden space has been buried under grass for many years, then I still recommend tilling. You can till the soil with a garden tiller or turn it by hand with a shovel or digging fork.
You need to get that soil broken up so that it is plantable and you also need to get that compost worked into the soil. After the first or possibly second year you shouldn’t need to do any tilling.
Get a Soil Test
Another great suggestion when planning a vegetable garden is to get a soil test! A basic soil test will tell you the composition of your garden soil and will also help you to know if your soil is missing any of the key soil nutrients. This helps you to know what amendments to add to your garden beds to help your plant health.
Most county extension agencies should be able to help you with a soil test so give them a call. The USDA has a directory website that can help you find your local extension agency, click here to find your local extension agency office.
What to Plant in your New Garden
My first bit of advice to any new gardener is to plant what you like! In your first few years of gardening, you want to be planting crops that you and your family will be eating. If you don’t like zucchini very much then for heaven’s sake please don’t waste the space in your garden.
New gardeners need to be successful with the crops they grow and they also need to enjoy eating those crops! So set up your vegetable garden layout and garden plan to include your family’s favorites!
16 Easy Plants for New Gardeners
Not all garden plants are created equally, there are some garden fruits or veggies that can be quite difficult to grow and shouldn’t be tackled until you have a few year’s experience under your belt. There are some crops that I recommend new gardeners include in their garden plan because they are easy to grow and are very productive.
Some of the easiest plants to grow in your new garden include:
- Peas (Snow or Sugar Snap)
- Bunching Onions
- Swiss Chard
- Leaf Lettuce
- Determinate Tomatoes
- Bush Beans
If you would like to learn more about these 16 easy plants to grow I would suggest joining our FREE New Gardeners Workshop. This 90 minute course includes a lot of great information for new gardeners including a lecture on these 16 easy to grow plants.
Cool Season vs Warm Season Crops
One important concept that many new gardeners don’t get is the difference between cool season and warm season crops.
A short explanation of this is that many vegetables like to grow in the cooler times of the year (Spring and Fall). These plants do best with temperatures under 80 degrees fahrenheit. And most just don’t do well at all once the temperatures rise above 85.
Examples of cool season crops are lettuce, spinach, radishes, carrots, and cabbage family crops.
Other plants that we call warm-season crops cannot survive the colder times of the year and must be planted when all chances of frost and freezing are gone.
Examples of warm season crops are tomatoes, all squashes, melons, peppers, corn and eggplant.
You are the most important part of your new garden!
I once heard a saying that a gardener’s shadow is the most important feature of any garden!
You need to understand that the most important thing you can do for your new garden is to be out in it often!
I make it a habit to walk in my garden for at least 15 minutes every day. Not only is it relaxing, but it also gets your eyes on the garden. If you are not in your garden EVERY DAY you will miss important clues that you plants are giving you. You will miss the early signs of stress, pest problems, watering issues, and disease.
You being out in your garden every day allows you to see what is happening and to correct problems. It also allows you to see the good things that are happening in your garden and to take steps to encourage them.
Caring for your New Garden
Weeds are competition for your vegetable plants. Keeping weeds down will help your garden to thrive. The best time to pull weeds is when they are small! That is why I encourage you to be out in your garden daily.
Keeping weeds down in your garden by doing a quick daily walk through will make the job quick and more enjoyable. And getting those weeds pulled while they are small will keep them from setting seeds. As you do this you will find your weeding tasks will become smaller.
Mulches are organic materials that you use to cover the surface of the soil in your garden.
There are many benefits to mulch in your vegetable garden layout.
First, muches help keep weeds down! Covering the soil keeps the weed seeds from being exposed to the sunlight and will go a long way to keeping many annual weeds out of your garden beds.
Second, mulches keep your soil cool in the heat of summer. When temperatures rise, a layer of mulch will keep your plants roots cool and happy.
Third, mulches retain water and reduce the need for irrigation. By keeping the soil covered you help prevent evaporation of the water from rain or irrigation.
Fourth, mulches help improve your soil by keeping wind and water from eroding it away and as your mulch breaks down it will add organic matter to the soil.
My favorite mulch is a good thick layer of compost! Compost just does so much for your soil that I love adding it however I can.
Other ideas for mulches include grass clippings, shredded leaves, and straw.
Watering your New Garden
Unless you are blessed to live in an area that has abundant rain, when you are planning a vegetable garden you will need to consider how you are going to water the plants. There are several options:
- Hand watering with buckets or watering cans
- Traditional Drip tubing systems
- PVC Drip Irrigation systems
- Soaker hoses
- Flood Irrigation
The best way to water your garden is with some type of drip system. I prefer simple and inexpensive PVC Drip Systems. But there are many other drip options available.
Here at Our Stoney Acres we are all about organic gardening! So my feeling is that the best fertilizer for your garden is simply well cared for soil. If you are constantly amending your garden soil with compost and other organic materials you shouldn’t need fertilizers very often.
However, if you do find that your plants are in need of a little boost then there are several great organic options available for you.
One of my favorite organic fertilizers is Fish Emulsion. You can read more about how I use it in my garden here.
There are also several great organic granular fertilizers that you can buy to mix into your soil.
Harvesting is the fun part of gardening! There is nothing better than a fresh homegrown tomato or a juicy strawberry eaten straight from the garden!
Harvesting often helps keep your plants producing more. Many plants respond very well to harvesting every day and that will cause them to produce more and more yummy fruits!
Another idea to keep a good continual harvest coming from your garden is to use a technique called succession planting (you can read more here). When planning a vegetable garden it’s also possible to extend your growing season to earlier in the spring and later in the fall and even winter using these Year-Round Gardening ideas.
Other Methods for Growing a Garden
Of course when deciding how to start a vegetable garden an in-ground garden isn’t the only option.
Many people don’t have the space or soil conditions for growing in-ground. So they need to turn to other methods.
Raised Bed Gardens
Often, if your soil is too sandy, or has too much clay, or even too rocky you might be better off using raised bed gardens.
Raised beds are gardens that are made from wood, metal, or stone. The beds are then filled with imported soil. Raised beds are a great way to garden and you can learn more about how we built our raised beds here.
Sometimes you might not have any space at all for in-ground or raised bed gardens. In those cases, there are plenty of veggies and fruits that you can include in your garden plan that are grown in containers.
Get your Garden Started this year
Starting a vegetable garden from scratch in your backyard can be a very rewarding hobby that will provide health food for you and your family.
As you are planning a vegetable garden this year I encourage you to come back to Our Stoney Acres often. We love to help new gardeners and want you to be successful with your new garden!
Resources for New Gardeners
Here at Our Stoney Acres, we are all about helping gardeners grow more of their own healthy, organic produce in a backyard garden. And we have a ton of both free and paid resources to learn how to start a vegetable garden!
The Gardening Academy
The Gardening Academy is our subscription service that gives you weekly content to help learn how to start a vegetable garden. This is our FAVORITE place to teach new gardeners and we think you will love being a part of the group.
Online Gardening Courses
We have several great gardening courses that you can also take:
Free Gardening Resources
One great way to learn how to start a vegetable garden is to join our free New Gardeners Workshop.
This 90-minute course goes into great detail on how to start a vegetable garden.
Subscribe to our YouTube Channel!
We have well over 100 free gardening videos on our YouTube Channel