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How To Start a Vegetable Garden

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By Jessie Price, "Start a Garden,"March/April 2010

Helpful tips to get started growing your own fresh vegetables.

Have you always wanted to try growing your own food? It’s a great choice because you can grow organic produce, save money and know exactly where your food comes from. If you just have a tiny window area or a small deck, start by planting a few herbs or greens for salads in containers. If you have slightly more room, say a small urban backyard, try creating a small garden. You can start with this Vegetable Garden Plan (pdf), which is used as the master plan by Growing Gardens in Portland, Oregon, for two 8-by-4-foot beds. The diagram shows how you can pack a variety of vegetables into a small space. Each square represents 1 foot.

Before you get started, consider these four things. First, you’ll need a spot that has at least 6 hours of direct sunlight a day to sustain vegetables. Second, you’ll need good-quality soil. You may want to consider amending your soil with compost to improve it. Third, check what USDA plant hardiness zone you live in to get a good idea of what kinds of crops grow best. You can get that information in most gardening books. And fourth, consider what you and your family like to eat. Try growing things that are harder to find at your markets, such as interesting hot peppers, heirloom tomatoes and obscure herbs.

Here are a couple of great gardening resources to get you started:

The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, Edward C. Smith (Second Edition, Storey Publishing, 2009). Want to know whether it’s a good idea to rototill your soil or find out how to get your plants to yield more this year? Turn to Ed Smith’s tome for the answer. (For the record, he advocates avoiding rototilling, because it disrupts the natural structure of soil, and growing in deep raised beds to yield bountiful results.) Plus the book includes a plant directory with nutrition information (parsley has vitamins A and C), photos of each plant and growing tips (parsley likes to grow in very loose soil).

Starter Vegetable Gardens, Barbara Pleasant (Storey Publishing, 2010). This book is packed with simple step-by-step information to get novice gardeners started growing their own vegetables in small spaces. Pleasant offers a variety of garden plans, each beautifully illustrated, from a small, foolproof garden planted directly in plastic bags of soil to a full-blown “family food factory garden.” She walks readers through the process, from deciding what to grow to how to preserve herbs and how to protect plants from harmful insects.

Gardeners.com. This site is not only a great source for gardening tools and supplies, it also has tons of “how to” guides, on everything from how to grow vegetables in containers to how to start your own seeds indoors.

Download a pdf of our Vegetable Garden Plan »