So you want to have a vegetable garden but you’ve never had a garden before. You could probably read a book about vegetables, but that’s so much work and commitment. I mean, all you really want is for someone to tell you how to get your vegetable garden started and what veggies to grow.
Let me preface this with an astonishing fact: I am not an expert gardener. I don’t hold a PhD in gardening or plantology (I think I just made that up…). I don’t have a TV show or YouTube channel dedicated to growing a successful vegetable garden. I’m just a girl with a backyard who’s managed to read lots of annoyingly overwhelming plant books and who’s spent way too much time scouring the local nursery for no real reason and who has bought a kajillion seeds in beautiful packaging and then failed at growing, sprouting, and harvesting probably more times than anybody has in the history of gardening. Ever. Not that I’m melodramatic about it or anything.
If you’ve been interested in starting a small vegetable garden, say in a corner of the yard or in a series of containers, that’s awesome! Gardens are fun, and frustrating, and rewarding, and delicious. They do take a bit of time and commitment, but getting to pop a fresh pea in your mouth right there in your yard, is so worth it. A vegetable garden doesn’t have to be perfect, and all-encompassing (unless you want it to, which is fine with me and I’m so coming to your place!), but they do take work. Starting a vegetable garden is signing up for a 3 month commitment (bare minimum), and dedicating yourself to the nurturing and care of tiny plants that may one day become big, beautiful, delicious vegetables. I know that words like work and commitment can feel like *sniff* gardening dreams dead, but the end results make it all worthwhile, and truly, if I can do it, anyone can!
Now, there are some great vegetable gardening books out there (not all of them are total snorefests), but if you’re just starting out and aren’t really interested in the scientific breakdown of soil and the whys and hows of compost or wind direction or compensations for sun positions, then you’ve come to the right place! What I’m about to give you is a quick and dirty (literally) starter guide to get a veg garden up and going, no matter where you are, or how much space you have! I like to dive in first and ask questions later, so if you’re with me, let’s jump!
A Vegetable Garden for Beginners and those with Teeny Tiny Spaces
Okay, so let’s say that you’ve never had a vegetable garden before. You go on Pinterest or buy a couple of gardening books and you start looking at all these beautiful photos and you’re pumped because you want to achieve this! You want to wander around after work plucking sun-ripened tomatoes off the vine and snipping some tender baby greens for dinner. I mean, who wouldn’t want that?! The thing is, it’s entirely possible to achieve it. It’s not only for Martha Stewart-types or people with idyllic properties with rolling hills and ambling sheep or whatever. Gardening is for everyone and can happen pretty much anywhere. There are a few super-basic requirements that are non-negotiable, but other than that, the sky is really the limit on what you can grow and enjoy!
First things first. Before even buying the veggie plants or seeds, you need to take a look at how much room you actually have. Do you have two or three containers you want to use on your back patio? Or do you have an entire acreage available to planting? And even if you have a ton of space, do you want to commit to a huge vegetable garden? Bigger doesn’t always mean better. I know, mind blown, right?! The size of your garden is directly related to how much time you will need to spend caring for it. I’m not kidding here. Growing vegetables takes time. As in daily care and maintenance. One herb pot takes a moment to water and maintain daily. A 16×32 foot patch of dedicated vegetable garden takes significantly more time and energy to weed, water, check for pests, etc. Be realistic about how much time you have. If you can commit to working in your vegetable garden for an hour or so every evening, then go big! But if you have barely enough time to get dinner together before passing out on the couch, then maybe a windowsill pot or two is a better option. It’s all about what works for you. Just be completely honest about how much time you are willing/able to spare. But even if you have zero time, you still can find a moment or two to water a pot because you definitely deserve to enjoy some freshly grown-by-you produce!
Plants need water. I know: Duh. They need water to grow and thrive. Plants need regular and consistent access to water in order to grow and produce healthy fruit. This means that your vegetable garden needs to be watered on a regular basis. If this doesn’t happen, or if you water it, then forget, then drown it a couple of days later to make up for your mistake, the plants may seem fine, but you run the risk of damaging the growing plants. You can run into problems like blights (blossom end rot, I’m talkin’ to you!) or worse, plant death (so depressing when that happens). Watering takes time and some organization. If you want to, you can invest in automatic waterers and put them on a timer. It’s a great time saver, but does cost money, which might take away from the overall value of growing your own veg. If you choose to water them by hand, be prepared to spend some real time watering. Something to consider as well: when plants are growing in the ground, they have this very large area that the roots can utilize to find water. But when you grow vegetables in a container, there is much less room for the roots to roam. In theory, you can grow a tomato plant in a one square foot container, which is great for tiny spaces but, the trade off is you have to water the plant all the time. Like All. The. Time. The smaller the container, the more often watering has to happen. In the heat of the summer sometimes that means a couple of times a day. Tomatoes don’t understand that you’ve got a hot date or are going to the cottage for the weekend. They need that water or they’ll die.
Vegetables also need sun to grow. Obvi. Now, here’s where it gets a bit tricky. Not ALL veggie plants need full sun to thrive. In fact, there are many that benefit from a bit of afternoon shade, and some that can tolerate more than that. But let’s just say for argument’s sake, that your vegetable garden will need 4-6 hours of direct sunlight to adequately thrive. (If you have an east or north facing property, all is not lost! Stay tuned for my post on growing veggies in shady places…it’ll be epic-ish!)
Soil and Compost
There are a ton of really great articles on understanding soil composition and the benefits of compost. But if all you’re looking for is a fun summer project, just keep it simple. If you’re planting in your garden directly, give the soil a good turn and throw in a couple of bags of compost (sheep or cow manure is great; chicken is amazing if you can find it). If you’re using containers, get a good container mix because it will have perlite in it, which helps with drainage (this is essential to keep out mould and rot). You can still add some compost to that for good measure. Basically, you could grow vegetables in just the container mix and give them water and sunlight, but compost is like taking vitamins: it gives your plants the best chance at optimal health and growth. A quick note on drainage: good drainage is essential for healthy plant growth. If you are planting in containers, make sure the bottom of the container has adequate drainage holes in it. If you need to (and can, of course) you can quite easily drill a few large holes yourself into the bottom of a container. Optimally, you are looking for enough holes that if you get a big rainstorm or forget to turn off the hose, the excess water has somewhere to go. You don’t want it just sitting there in a big puddle around the plants, as it can lead to mould and rot issues, and potentially death.
Super Sleuthing Skills
Bet you never saw this one coming. But it’s true. It is a gardener’s secret non-negotiable resume topper: you’ve gotta be a detective! As your vegetable garden starts to take off and grow, you will undoubtedly enouncter unwanted visitors. I’m not talking about nosy neighbours who want to know what you’re growing: I’m talking about insects. Yup, bugs. You will get bees, spiders, pillbugs, and bugs you’ve never seen before. Bugs with yellow stripes and red dots that look menacingly at you when you’re inspecting them. Bugs you’ll Google and Google about. This is where mad sleuthing skills are necessary (told you gardening was cool!). Not every insect you come across is set on hurting your plants. In fact, there are bugs that are beneficial to your veggies in terms of pollination, and eradicating other potential bug threats. It’s important to keep an eye on what’s happening in your garden and to deal with any non-beneficial insects that you find. Many of them are pretty easy to eradicate and involve hand picking them off the plants and throwing them into a bucket of soapy water. Some will require a bit more work. The important thing is to take action as soon as possible because the damage certain insects can do may not simply affect your vegetable plants, but their presence, if gone unchecked can also seek out and destroy other backyard ornamentals (#askmehowiknow).
Still hanging around? Now that we’ve got the groundwork covered, we’re ready to move on to the fun part: selecting the best veggies for your garden! Check out my next post on starting a vegetable garden!