So, you’ve decided to grow a vegetable garden but aren’t sure where to start? Read on to learn more about how to start a vegetable garden.
First, you must begin the planning stages. Typically, planning is done during the fall or winter months, allowing you plenty of time to figure out what you want and where you want it. You’ll need to learn more about your particular climate and soil conditions. Also, educate yourself on the different types of vegetables and their individual requirements.
Using the non-gardening season to plan will not only help you find useful information, but you can find out whether or not particular plants are worth your time, since some varieties require more maintenance than others. Vegetable guides provide information on specific plants, planting times, depths, and spacing requirements.
Choose a location in an area that will not blot the landscape after growing season has faded. Locate your garden near an ample water source and preferably close to your home. Doing so will help ensure that garden chores don’t go undone. Make sure there is adequate sunlight in an area with good drainage.
Once you have established a site for your vegetable garden, consider its layout. Do you want a small or large garden? Does your location permit room for a plot of rows, small beds, or containers? Sketch it out and begin listing the types of vegetables you want to grow.
Be sure to choose vegetable plants that will accommodate your own family needs; try to resist selecting crops you don’t really like or won’t eat. For those you do enjoy, avoid over planting, unless you plan on preserving them.
Work the soil with compost so that it is rich with organic matter. If you are starting crops from seed indoors, you need to be done well before planting time. Otherwise, sow seeds or set plants in the garden at their appropriate planting times. Your best bet is to start small until you get a feel for what you’re doing.
If you’re planting your vegetable garden in rows, keep the tallest growing plants in such a way that they won’t interfere with the smaller varieties by casting too much shade, usually on the garden’s northern side. Leafy crops and some of the root crops, however, can be planted in areas of shade if necessary.
If you have decided on implementing beds, try a strip of area about 4 feet wide by 8 feet (1-2.5 m.) long. This way you can easily maneuver around it. You could even consider placing this size garden along the side of your home, incorporating flowers and herbs into the garden for additional use and interest. Placing the garden near a fence or trellis can also offer you the opportunity for growing vine crops as well, while taking up less space. With containers, simply group them together with the largest growers in the back and bring the smaller ones to the front.
With whatever design you have chosen, try to group crops according to their rate of maturity. By using this grouping method, you can ensure that your garden will be abundant continually since there will be other crops taking the place of those which have begun to fade or have already died out. When you follow crops, choose unrelated plants to prevent occurrence of pests or diseases. For example, follow beans with beets or peppers.
You’ll want to check on your garden frequently, making sure that it has sufficient water and no weeds or other problems. To help cut down on the growth of weeds and help retain moisture, add plenty of mulch to the garden. Checking your garden often will also ensure that crops get picked once matured. Frequent picking helps increase production and extends the harvest season.
Starting a vegetable garden is not that difficult or demanding as long as the proper care and maintenance is provided. There is a great sense of pride in knowing that you have grown your own vegetables that can be shared with family and friends each year; and once they have tasted the sweet, home-grown fruits of your labor, they will be proud as well.
Figure 1. A successful garden begins with a good design.
Most fruiting vegetables, like tomatoes and peppers, need full sun, meaning at least six hours of direct sunlight each day. But some gardeners might overestimate how much sun an area really gets. For your veggies to thrive, you'll need an accurate assessment. Check the location every 30 minutes throughout the day to confirm how long the sun directly hits the spot where you want to put your vegetable container garden. You can also use a sun calculator to get an accurate assessment.
If you live in a hot climate, you might need to shade your plants during the heat of the afternoon, so they don't overheat. Also, it's best not to use metal or dark-colored containers because they can become very hot and cook your plant's roots.
On the flip side, many vegetables don’t like cold soil. So if you live in a cool climate, avoid putting your containers outside full time until you know the temperature will be reliably warm. For many plants, the soil needs to be at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit. You can use a thermometer to find out the temperature of your soil. In addition, always make sure to harden off your seedlings (gradually acclimate them to the outdoor conditions) before you put them outside permanently.
Leafy greens growing last spring at the Derwood Demo Garden (currently closed). Greens like these can be planted now.
[UPDATE: The situation with Covid-19 is changing rapidly in Maryland. Since this article was published, Maryland Governor Hogan issued a stay-at-home order for Maryland residents, effective March 30, 2020 at 8:00 p.m. This prohibits trips outside the home for non-essential items. We encourage you to follow current state guidance and use home delivery options for supplies.]
In this time of uncertainty, many of us are reaching for a trowel. But if you’re a beginning gardener, or have never grown your own food before, you probably have a lot of questions. Please make your first stop the Home and Garden Information Center – read the vegetable gardening information, and feel free to ask an expert.
You may be thinking about starting a garden because of worries that the food chain will be interrupted. Or because you have children at home, and planting seeds and watching them grow is a great lesson. Or because you need a distraction and some exercise. Whatever the reason, we encourage you to jump right in. But if you’re starting from scratch, here are a few caveats:
That said, let’s get started. First, as of the date of this blog post, garden centers, nurseries, and big box stores have been declared essential businesses and therefore can still be open in Maryland. However, a few have closed to the public and others may follow, so always call before you visit. This way you also find out about availability of items, changed hours, health protocols, and delivery options. If you live in a different state, please check current regulations.
Many online retailers are doing a booming business in gardening supplies right now. As long as stock doesn’t run out, most of what you need for gardening can be ordered online and delivered to your door, but prices may be higher, particularly for bulky items like soil and compost. Local is better for those materials.
Where to put your garden
Your garden should be sited in the sunniest space available (at least 6 hours a day of full sun) and close to a water source. Container gardens can be grown on a deck, balcony, patio, or any other space. Raised beds can be tucked in close to your house in-ground gardens can be of any size. (More on garden planning here.)
In this region we have lots of animal friends who like to munch on your garden plants. If you don’t have a fence around your property already, you will likely need to fence your garden area. There are lots of fencing options, but if you’re in a hurry a quick fix of stakes and plastic or wire fencing is better than nothing.
Types of gardens
Some things you will need to get a garden started besides the above:
We’ll have more posts in coming weeks to help you on your gardening journey! Stay well and safe, friends.
By Erica Smith, Montgomery County Master Gardener
The veteran gardener's new show premieres this summer on Chip and Joanna Gaines's forthcoming Magnolia Network
Edible backyard gardens started sprouting across the country in 2020 as COVID-19 kept people at home and on the hunt for new (and healthy) hobbies. Jamila Norman, the founder of Patchwork City Farms in Atlanta saw it first hand.
"Interest has gone through the roof. People who were like, 'I've always wanted to have a garden, but I just never had time,' well, now they're home with nothing but time," she says. "The local food movement and growing your own food, it's been building, but the pandemic really put a big spotlight on it."
Of course, not every aspiring grower has a green thumb, and that's where Norman steps in. On her Magnolia Network show Homegrown (stream the premiere on Discovery+ now and watch the full series this summer), the veteran farmer helps families create thriving vegetable gardens in their suburban backyards.
"People try and they're like, 'Oh, it's not really growing that well.' I'm like, 'Well, first, you probably should have put it in the sun,'" she says with a laugh. "The enthusiasm is always there, they've got some skin in the game, you've just got to make a few tweaks."
Here are four of Norman's best tips for first-time growers:
Florida's summer temperatures can be too hot even for many warm season veggies, like eggplant, peppers, and cucumbers. Check your region's gardening calendar for optimal planting dates! UF/IFAS
Starting a vegetable garden is exciting! It is also a significant investment of time, energy, and resources. The intent of this guide is to guide you all the way from planning to harvest. Your garden should reflect your goals, resources, and values. Because these are different for each person, each home garden will be different.
Whatever your goals are, this quick-start guide can help you achieve them. You can follow the steps below to reason through the choices you'll need to make before you start. By walking through the process in advance you can avoid some gardening problems altogether.
Ask yourself the questions at each step to help you plan. Follow the links for more information. (Links that take you to websites besides Gardening Solutions will open in a new window.)
Step 1: Determine your goals for your garden
Starting with a clear goal in mind. This will keep your gardening a labor of love rather than a burden. What are you hoping your garden will provide? Is it fresh produce and food security? Savings on your grocery bill? A learning experience, or maybe entertainment? Consider your reasons and then move on to the questions below.
Step 2: Consider your resources and limiting factors
There is a way to garden in every space, but not all methods are appropriate for all spaces. A successful garden is one that takes your resources and limitations into account.
Small container gardens can be productive and beautiful for growing some of your own food. UF/IFAS
Step 3: Choose the type of garden best fits those resources and limitations
Passive hydroponic systems can be easy, affordable, and productive for growing greens in containers ranging from buckets to baby pools.
Begin by looking over the different types of gardens. Embrace your limitations! You can be successful with what you have to offer your garden.
Step 4: Make a list of what you would like to grow
Get started with this list of vegetables for Florida gardens. Then narrow down your list by asking yourself the following questions.
Step 5: Research the crops left on your list
Most information should be available on the vegetables for Florida list. If you still have questions, you can go into detail by searching your crops on the UF/IFAS Electronic Data Information Source (EDIS).
Step 6: Choose crops that fit your goals, resources, and type of garden
Consult with your county Extension Agent if you need help choosing your final crops and cultivars. They, and the Master Gardener Volunteers, are experts in gardening in your area.
Step 7: Design, plant, and maintain your garden
Here are some tips for laying out your vegetable garden, even in a small space.
Beneficial insects may help you control pests. Identification is key for knowing good bugs from bad bugs.
Step 8: Enjoy your harvest!
After all that hard work, the harvest is a welcome finish line. It's time to prepare delicious meals, and preserve your crops to enjoy throughout the year. But what will you do post-harvest to ensure food safety?
Growing your own food is empowering and exciting. It may even provide a sense of security. Of course, gardening is challenging at times, and a harvest is never guaranteed. The best gardeners are probably those that have killed the most plants, but learned from it. Those gardeners embrace the lessons their gardens teach them season after season. Green thumbs are earned.
And remember, if vegetable gardening is just not your thing, that's okay. You can still support Florida agriculture by purchasing and requesting Florida-grown produce. Florida's farmers are working hard to feed your family. Check produce labels at the grocery store, go to the farmers market, venture out to local farms, and buy "Fresh From Florida!"
With renewed interest in growing produce at home, we've developed a series of articles, "Sustainable Home Food Production," to get you started.