10 easiest steps to start a vegetable garden - a beginner's guide

Home grown veggies outperform store bought in both flavor and nutrition. So, it's well worth trying to grow your own!
If you love the idea of picking fresh veggies from your own backyard, but have no clue where to start, we're here to help. Keep reading to learn more about how to start a vegetable garden.
1. Baby Steps
Having a goal to grow all of your own produce is great! But, if you think you'll do it all in your first year you will likely find end up disappointed. So, if you've never grown a vegetable garden before, start small. Consider a bed that's 4 feet wide by 6 feet long. Each year you can expand on what you learn.
2. Choose Plants Wisely
Since it's best to start small, choose to grow plants that you know you and your family will use. Also, know what hardiness zone you're in so you can pick plants that do well in your area. Reading reviews of different varieties will help to guide you. Choose varieties other gardeners in your area have had consistent success growing.
3. Create a Layout
Decide how big you are going to make your garden bed. Then, take a look back at the plants you want to grow. How much space do they need? Are they cool season or warm season plants? How tall do they get? Once you know more about the plants you want to grow, you can start thinking through a layout. Just some friendly advice: Keep tall plants on the north side of the garden so they won't shade out other plants. And, don't feel limited to rows. Intercropping and companion planting are well suited to small gardens.
4. Starting Seeds
Give yourself some grace here. While it's great to try to grow your own plants from seed, don't be too discouraged if you end up buying starter plants as well. Starting seeds is something you need to practice. One of the most challenging parts is timing. Often times you need to start seeds up to two months before you intend to plant them outside. A warm, sunny location and a quality seed starting mix will get you going. It helps to dampen soil before filling pots and cover them with plastic to speed up germination. And don't forget to label your plants!
5. Prep the Soil
Before you sow a single seed, check the soil. It should be loamy, dark, and well draining. When you squeeze the soil in your hand it should hold its shape, but then easily crumble again. Soil is where it all begins, and your garden will only be as healthy as your soil. Consider sending out a sample for a fertility and pH test. Many local extension offices offer this service, and it's much more accurate than relying on store bought test kits.
6. Pick the Right Location
You'll want to keep a few things in mind when choosing a site for your garden. First, try to pick a spot in full sun, which typically means more than 6 hours of light each day. Also, don't pick a site too far away from the house. The more frequently you pass your garden, the more likely you are to tend to it. Not to mention you'll want a water source nearby in the event there's a drought.
7. Transplanting Plants
If transplanting seeds you grew yourself, you will need to harden them off first. This simply refers to the process of getting seedlings used to being outdoors and exposed to the elements. Set seedlings outside for a couple of hours during the day. Over the course of four to five days, increase the amount of time the seedlings are left outside. Once acclimated, plant them in your garden. Planting in the morning or evening, when plants won't immediately be stressed by the heat, is helpful. If you didn't amend your soil, consider digging a larger hole and adding compost directly around the base of the plant.
8. Direct Sowing Seeds
Some plants, like green beans, peas, and carrots, do best when sown directly in the garden. Once seeds are planted, water the soil. Keep moist, but not wet as seeds may rot. Most seeds germinate in response to soil temperature and moisture.
9. Mulch
Once your plants are a few inches tall, mulch around them with wood chips, pine straw, grass clippings, or another type of organic matter. This will help to retain soil moisture, maintain soil temperature, and keep weeds at bay. Not to mention, as the mulch breaks down it will improve soil fertility and structure.
10. Water
Water thoroughly immediately after planting to encourage good root to soil contact. Generally speaking, it's best to water in the morning before the heat of the day. Watering in the evening could create conditions that favor the growth of some plant diseases. It's a good idea to water when the top couple of inches of soil are dry, and water thoroughly to encourage deeper root growth.
Are you feeling confident? Tell us about your new gardening adventure!
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