First Vegetable Garden? How to Get Started

First Vegetable Garden? How to Get Started
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First Vegetable Garden? How to Get Started

Grow Your Own Food, Plant the Best Seeds, Use the Garden app, harvest fresh food, repeat.

Featuring expert advice from Dale and Carrie at From Seed to Spoon, Shelby DeVore founder of Framinence, and the team of horticultural experts at Park Seed. From Seed to Spoon is a gardening planning app that lets you manage your garden on your phone.

Are you planting your first vegetable garden? If so, congratulations! You’re well on your way to tasting some of the most flavorful produce you’ve ever had. There’s a reason gardening is addictive! So, take this advice and use these four steps to get started. Then download the app, bundle select seed starting tools, superior seeds, and high-quality growing supplies from Park Seed and, voila!, you're ready to garden.

Getting Started

The most important part of planting your first vegetable garden is also the most overlooked: planning. It doesn’t sound as appealing as getting your hands into the dirt, but it will make a big difference in how successful your garden is. There are a few things that you need to think about before you start planting.

Get Familiar with Your Zone

What is a Zone? The USDA Plant Hardiness Zones can tell you a lot about your growing season. A gardening zone is typically represented by a number between 3-11. The USDA created gardening zones to help gardeners to time their gardens correctly. The lower the zone, the longer the winter. The larger the zone, the longer the growing season. For example, USDA Zone 3 has a short growing season and a long winter. Zone 3 covers upper Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, part of Montana and some higher elevation areas. This is a stark contrast to gardening Zone 11, which can be found in the Florida Keys and Hawaii. This gardening zone doesn’t see any frost and has a year-round gardening season.

Knowing your Zone will help you plant the right crops at the right time. You will also notice as you’re picking out seeds and plants that many of them tell you the zones they are suited for. Use this as a guide when picking out seeds and plants.

Learn how to grow your garden and perfect your gardening skills however you learn best: Watch, read, listen. Your choice!

Space Planning and Where to Plant

It’s easy to get excited to get your garden into the ground and just plant anywhere. However, not all spaces are created equally and your yard probably has a few places that are less than ideal for a garden. When you’re deciding where to plant, you’ll want to consider a few things.

Look for a space that is well-drained. Avoid planting a garden in an area that is known for holding water. If you see standing water, don’t plant your garden there. Vegetable plants are easily killed by excessive water. Instead, look for an area that is well-drained. It’s much easier to plant in a well-drained space than it is to try to build up a low-lying area that holds water.

Choose a place with at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight each day. This means that you’ll want to plant your garden in an open space, avoiding fences, trees or other plants that will block the sunlight. Most summer vegetable plants need at least 6-8 hours of sunlight each day to thrive. Make a point to walk your garden in the morning, evening and in the middle of the day to get an idea of the sunniest places.

If you have a space that has rich soil, that would be a good place to plant your garden as long as it meets the other requirements. If not, don’t worry. You can amend any existing soil to make it suitable for growing.

The closer that you can get your garden to your home, the better it will be. If you have to walk far to get to your garden, you might find that it’s easier to skip a watering or trip out there. Planting your garden closer to the house will make it easier to go out there and take care of it.

Preparing Your Garden, Decision Time: Raised Bed or Garden Plot?

Once you have your garden space picked out and the plants chosen, you’ll need to do some prepwork for your garden. If you’re planting directly into the ground, you will want to break up the soil with a tiller. This makes pulling up and grass or weeds easy and loosens the soil. Once your garden is tilled, use a rake to rake up any clumps of grass and remove them from your garden. Once the soil is cleaned up, you can work in compost, manure or any amendments to make the soil rich.

Choosing Your Plants ... what to grow? We'll show you.

Have you looked through the Park Seed catalog? There are hundreds of plants that you can put into your garden. If this is your first vegetable garden, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with all of the choices that you have. For your first vegetable garden, choose a few plants to plant. You’ll want to master a few plants at a time. Planting too many different crops can cause you to get burned out the first season.

Instead of looking at the seed catalog to decide what you need to plant, turn to your kitchen. Take a few mintues to go through your fridge and pantry to see what your family eats the most of. Does your family go through a lot of tomato sauce, diced tomatoes or tomato paste? If so, make sure that you plant tomatoes in your garden. Do you constantly have to buy bagged salads? If that sounds like you, then you’ll want to plant lettuce and leafy greens. Focus on growing what your family eats. As you become more experienced in the garden, you can plant more crops.

Maintaining Your Garden

Now that your garden is in the ground, you can turn your focus on keeping your plants healthy. Keep the soil moist at all times. Plants will droop when they’re overly dehydrated, so you want to avoid drooping plants. Your soil should feel like a wrung out kitchen sponge. Depending on your climate, you may need to water your garden daily. Always water your garden at the ground level. Don’t be tempted to spray them with a waterhose or sprinkler overhead. Instead, invest in an irrigation system or a soaker hose.

Your garden will produce a large crop as long as your plants are well fed. Just like people and animals, plants need proper nutrition to stay healthy. Use a vegetable fertilizer to feed your plants in a pinch. You can add compost and manure to your garden soil to improve the soil and release nutrients.

Harvesting your crop is the best part of having a vegetable garden. Once your plants start putting on fruit and you start harvesting, be sure to keep up with your plants. This may mean harvesting once or twice a day. Harvesting frequently will encourage your plants to keep producing.

Insider Tip: You have a local gardening trouble-shooter

Your County's Cooperative Extension Office has local experise. Learn more about them here.