EatingWell's Guide for How to Start a Kitchen Garden

By: Hilary Meyer  |  March/April 2011

5 things you need to get your garden growing, from the ground up.

Vegetable garden plan

1. A Plan

My garden plan helped me with everything from how to space my plants to when to put them in the ground and where. You could draw up a plan on graph paper or generate one using an online garden planner like I did. I used, which lets you customize a large garden space from scratch. also offers a planner that is good for smaller spaces and has preplanned gardens to keep it simple.

Here's the plan I created for the EatingWell Garden (pdf)

2. Three Vegetables to Start Early

These veggies love cool weather (you can plant them a few weeks before the last frost) and grow quickly. So plant them first and you’ll enjoy the rewards of your work in a hurry.

Lettuce: I planted different types of lettuce all over my garden, wherever I could find room. It’s forgiving and grows fast enough that you’ll be harvesting young leaves for salads within a few weeks. Plant seeds every two weeks in the spring so you have a constant supply.

Turnips: I never thought of them as a spring vegetable so I was surprised to harvest turnips before anything else. They take about a month from seed to harvest and have a peppery and sweet flavor when they’re picked fresh.

Peas: We squeezed ours in close together and they yielded pounds and pounds of sugary sweet snap peas. Pea plants produce more in cooler weather than they do once it heats up. And by the heat of the summer, they’re pretty much fizzled out so you can plant a late-season crop in their spot.

3. Helpful Reading and References

The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Edward C. Smith (Storey, 2009) features his WORD system—Wide rows, Organic methods, Raised beds & Deep soil. It’s approachable for beginners and insightful even for experienced gardeners. Detailed plant profiles are an easy reference.

If your idea of a vegetable garden is a beautiful, whimsical space that not only provides food but is an oasis in your backyard, you’ll find inspiration in gardening guru Ellen Ecker Ogden’s latest book The Complete Kitchen Garden (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, March 2011). She includes 14 themed kitchen gardens, from a salad lover’s garden to a chef’s garden, along with garden plans, plant profiles and recipes to use up the harvest.

Connect with other gardeners. In EatingWell’s Gardening Well online community you can meet and ask questions of other gardeners, share your tips, photos and videos:

4. Three Basic Tools

Trowel: Use to dig small holes for planting transplants.

Stirrup Hoe: Pull up young weeds at the root with just a gentle back-and-forth motion.

Garden rake: Level beds and filter out large stones that may interrupt seedling growth.

5. Seed Sources

One of our favorite organic seed companies, High Mowing Seeds (, now offers customized EatingWell seed collections, such as the Garden Starter Collection and the Kitchen Herbs Collection.

Specializing in Asian vegetables, Kitazawa Seed Company ( is a great place to find off-the-beaten-path items like Chinese celery and Shiso leaves. The company was started in 1917 in San Jose, California.

The best reason to start your own garden: tomatoes. I love Gary Ibsen’s Tomato Fest ( He offers over 600 organic heirloom tomato seeds suitable to grow in almost any climate or any space, including rooftops and patios.