I write how to start a vegetable garden for beginners, as a beginner gardener.
I know it sounds a little counterintuitive to say so, but while I may not have years of experience, I am starting (this will be my third growing season), and since I don’t want to waste my time with a bungled veggie patch and no flowers to look at this spring, I am doing a lot of research, and am putting it all here for you
Don’t hesitate, there is always something you can start.
most vegetable plants need to be started indoors, weeks before you are ready to plant.
This means at the end of the current growing season, you can start the next season’s plants as indoor seedlings.
Or you can start making compost, easily and 100% free.
You can start herbs in pots.
You can grow lettuce, either heads or perpetual harvesting types all year round, either indoors or outside.
So, no matter when, where or what you want to start, you can DO something!
WHAT YOU CAN SOW IN EACH SEASON
If you want to start a garden and you are unsure of what to plant and when then here is a list of the top most popular plants by season. NOTE< the spring and summer list is just some of the many things you can easily grow
This chart is what you can sow in that time to harvest in the following season, it’s a guide for you to know what you can start no matter what season you are in.
SOWING IN THE SEASONS TABLE
|AUTUMN (march-May)||WINTER (June-Aug)||SPRING(Sep-Nov)||SUMMER(Dec-Feb)|
|Broccoli||celery(late winter)||eggplants||french beans|
|peas and beans||carrots (if you have mild winters)||lettuce(iceberg)||chilli|
|onions, spring onions, leeks||kale||celery||lettuce|
|garlic||mustard||herbs of all kinds||green beans|
|potatoes for a mild winter||fruit trees can be planted now||potatoes for cold winters||salad onions|
Climate zones-how they affect a garden.
Climate zones affect what you can plant if you live in an extreme climate, (high altitude or desert). But mostly they affect when you plant, how long your growing season and how long you can harvest for.
You can offset long winters, by starting your spring growing season indoors.
You can offset a scorching summer, by planning a garden that gives shade to vulnerable plants and extra watering or getting in early in the season.
Some things you just can’t grow, either it’s too hot or too cold, or your growing seasons are too short, investing in a greenhouse could be an option if your climate zone seriously holds you back.
How to determine your climate zone
USDA plant hardiness zone is what is used on the back of your seed packets to tell you what you should plant in your zone, and while it works ok, it’s only relevant to the temperature from freezing to above or below. For example, I am zone 3, so from -5 to 1-degree centigrade is my coldest winter temperature, and therefore a plant that can’t handle many frosts or cold at all is not in my zone based on hardiness.
This is silly because what’s really important to me is; how much rain I get? how hot is too hot in summer and spring during my main growing season?
Instead, I know, My climate zone is semi-arid, thanks to the Köppen climate classification (this is a Wikipedia link you can visit this site here to determine your zone ) which means I have hot summers, (scorchingly hot) and generally mild winters, with rainfall scattered throughout the year.
With a better understanding of your climate you can grow most anything, if you can start seedlings, and plan ahead.
It very much depends on your zone as to when you can plant and what will flourish and what will suffer. I can grow most things, as long as I have access to water in the summer and can start seedlings indoors over the frost months.
Don’t panic about figuring out how to work around your zone, the general rule is your spring and summer harvest crops don’t like to be planted in frost conditions, so not too early. (start indoors)
Your winter harvest crops, don’t like heat, so don’t have them in the garden when you still may get high temperatures.
Obviously, if you experience snow or alpine cold conditions then you may need a greenhouse to grow in winter or start spring seedlings, but don’t worry you can get greenhouses for as little as 49 dollars from your local hardware store or online and are great for beginner gardeners and experienced alike.
Starting seedlings indoors- which plants need indoor starting and when?
Some vegetables can be direct sown after the last frost or before it gets too cold or too hot for young seedlings.
Some winter veg, like peas and carrots, shallots and salad greens can be started in the ground in late May-early June. (Late autumn-early winter)
I like to be as lazy as possible in the garden, I tend to push the boundaries with starting seedlings and prefer to throw seeds straight into the prepared ground.
That being said, I have learned that if you want a longer harvest time or if like me, you have really hot, long summers, then you may want to plant indoors a few weeks before the summer and winter growing season officially begins in your zone so that you can get your crop in the garden on time and have veggies for longer.
Choose your crop
Choosing plants to grow is easy, first things first, what do you like to eat?
Don’t plant crops that you don’t like, it doesn’t feel very rewarding to grow crops that you aren’t keen on harvesting and eating.
There are a few things you want to have ready or at least work towards if you plan to have a Veggie patch.
CHOOSING THE LOCATION OF A VEGETABLE PATCH IS CRITICAL
You want to place your veggie patch where you get as much sun as possible. Most plants need 5-7 hours of full sun a day. You want to have your veggie patch facing south.
What I do, is go outside, in the mid-morning, mid-day and mid-afternoon and see where in my yard is getting good full sun, and plant there if I can.
You want to know which way south is, so when you do plant your garden you can plan for the higher growing veg to be on the north side, so it doesn’t cast a shadow on your shorter crops.
Winter crops, grown during shorter days naturally need a little less sun, and summer fruiting vegetables need more, so really you can grow your veg in the same garden, you don’t have to move about as the days naturally change with the seasons to create less ore more sun.
If your summers are particularly brutal like mine, then a little afternoon shade can be good, even on a full sun-loving vegetable plant.
VEGETABLE TABLE FOR FULL SUN AND PARTIAL SHADE VEGGIES
|Vegetables that like full sun (5-7 hours)||Vegetables that can do with less sun (4-6 hours) |
You want to slightly raise your soil from the ground if you can, this doesn’t mean you need to have a built raised bed, but just adding some soil and compost to the patch is enough to give it a little more volume and help with water drainage.
You can garden on flat or slightly sloped ground don’t place your garden at the bottom of a hill, as it creates an air pocket and you may get more frosts in the winter.
Plan to have space to walk on, or make narrow beds you can easily reach across, you do not want to walk on the soil that you plant in.
HOW BIG A VEGETABLE GARDEN DO YOU NEED?
It depends on what you want to do with your garden, do you want to grow just a few herbs at first?
Intend to just supplement your vegetable needs?
It is estimated that you need from 100-200 square feet of garden to 100% feed one person with vegetables for the year.
So a family of four needs 400-800 square feet.
I don’t know that I believe that and it all depends if you just want to supplement or provide the entirely of your veggie needs.
There are so many options out there for small gardens, you can grow a huge variety on trellises as vertical plants and many things love to be grown in pots, and you can also grow things in bunches instead of spaced rows. ( there will be another post on this)
I say, start with a size you can handle.
If it’s too big you will be overwhelmed, and probably lose crop if you can’t care for it as it needs.
IF it’s small the first time around you can always create a second plot or increase the size.
TOOLS YOU NEED TO START A VEGETABLE GARDEN
As much as I am a simple gardener, you need basic tools, shovel(spade) a hoe and a rake are the basics for your heavy-duty digging and spreading of soil. A hand gardening set like this one is always handy, it has everything you need, but it is in no way a must-have.
This is the most important. Whether you buy in soil for garden beds, or just dig up the ground in your backyard, what you put your plants into needs to be healthy, full of life, and the right consistency for water drainage.
Soil needs to be healthy. To make your soil healthy and able to feed and grow a good crop, you need to add compost.
compost is king
To get compost you can buy it, or you can make it.
Buying it is easy, but can be expensive.
Making it is easy but requires time. At least 8 weeks to let it decompose.
I speak from experience, I had the absolute worst ground for starting a garden bed, it was rock hard clay, it would crack in the summer leaving huge gaps in the ground and water would pool on the surface for days and not soak in. I knew I could not even try planting anything in it.
I chose a plot, about four square metres, and began digging and weeding, I was on a budget, so I only bought a few bags of compost, I spread it in but my soil was still nowhere near good enough to plant in.
So every day I put my food scraps in the soil and let them sit in the sun for a few days before digging them over.
I did this for around 8 weeks, and by the end, I had rich soil!
I was still a little cloggy, but I grew cabbages, peas, shallots, leeks, radish, garlic, rocket, cauliflower, and broccoli and they thrived!
We have since moved so I only ever grew one season in that soil, but I was sad to leave it, the experience though has given me confidence that I can do it again no matter what I am starting with.
Compost pockets for time savvy gardening.
You can dig up the ground, fill it with daily scraps as you go and dig it over every few days.
OR make compost pockets
Simply dig a hole in the ground, as big as you like, and dump in scraps and paper and whatever you have on hand, cover it up with the dirt you dug out ( and mix it through) then leave it for six weeks and you will come back to compost, dig it out and use it in your garden or just leave it there and plant something in it!.
You could have several of these going all year round, and have a constant supply of compost.
How to make your own compost
You can have compost bins, big or small and layer organic matter and then just leave it, for some months. It will decay and leave you with rich dark soil.
The way I did it, was by putting certain scraps right into my plot. If you have sunshine and water and dig it over every three days or so it will decay quickly.
You can put just about anything in your compost.
Compost needs two things. Nitrogen and carbon.
Most Carbon things to compost are brown
- hay and straw
- old leaves
- saw dust-wood chips
- paper and cardboard
Most nitrogen-rich things to compost are green and will smell pretty bad as they decay.
- veggie scraps
- green grass cuttings
- coffee grounds
- tea bags
- egg shells
- nut shells
- fruit pits
Combine elements of both carbon and nitrogen and you will have yourself some compost!
You don’t need to have exclusively compost, but rather adding it to your soil, before planting seedlings, and after harvesting to give your garden soil a boost.
When compost is fermenting, it heats up, this is the fermenting process, and you want to get your compost as hot as possible, this kills the weed and grass seeds in the soil it should get to 65 degrees celsius! to make it hotter, (not higher then 71 for prolonged periods) you can dig ot over often( every 2-3 days) and add handfuls of blood and bone for every pitchfork turn you do to you compost. This can speed up the process and you will have composts quicker!
If it gets too hot and smelly and decreases in size it has too much nitrogen and you need to add more carbon, so adding a handful of sawdust per pitchfork, is a good way to slow down the process.
MEASURING pH LEVELS FOR A VEGETABLE GARDEN
This isn’t an absolute must and I have never done it, but I will be this year, after learning more about it and seeing some crops flourish and others not do so well I think for the few dollars and the little time it takes, it’s something that will pay off to reap a good harvest all year round.
A good p.H level is 5.5 – 7.5. This is a healthy range, the balance of pH comes from the balance of carbon to nitrogen.
pH levels aren’t levels of nutrients, but the acidic or alkaline state of your soil which allows your plants to absorb nutrients.
You can do a pantry test.
The Pantry pH Test for Soil Acidity or Alkalinity
- Place 2 tablespoons of soil in a bowl and add ½ cup vinegar. If the mixture fizzes, you have alkaline soil.
- Place 2 tablespoons of soil in a bowl and moisten it with distilled water. Add ½ cup baking soda. If the mixture fizzes, you have acidic soil.
Or you can buy an electric pH tester or a test strip kit. which will give you much more accurate readings, with numbers.
But either way, you can test your soil and fix it.
Fixing pH levels
If your soil is alkaline, it means it has a high pH. You can increase the acidity of your soil by adding things like compost and manures, leaf litter and mulch. Iron chelates work too. In an extreme situation, you could use powdered sulphur. You apply one handful per square metre, once a year. It works very slowly and you won’t notice a change in your pH for about 6 months.
If your soil test indicates that your soil pH is too low or too acidic (which applies to most Australian soils) the solution is to add agricultural lime or dolomite. You can also use poultry manure.
You should test your soil when preparing the soil for planting and again after each harvest and before you plant the next batch of veggies.
Once you have the compost, made or bought or in the making, It’s time for starting seedlings.
STARTING SEEDLINGS IS EASY.
- USE COMPOST-you can buy a few bags for under 10 dollars if you don’t have any ready or don’t want to use any from you garden bed.
- USE CONTAINERS. You can buy some like these which are big, reusable and easy to store. OR you can use whatever you have in the home or collect for the purpose, such as.
- Egg cartons-cut when you are ready to plant and place the seedling right into the ground still in the carton.
- yogurt tubs, large or small.
- paper coffee cups- if biodegradable place into ground.
- Cardboard toilet rolls-can go right into the ground no need to remove.
- to go containers
- or anything biodegradable like these.
To sow seeds, I have a post here on all things seedlings.
LATE WINTER/SPRING INDOOR STARTERS FOR SUMMER HARVEST CROPS
Starting your seedlings six weeks before you are ready to plant outside, so for a winter crop, you want to start around the last week of April to the first or second week of May.
You want to start in the last two weeks of July to the second week of August for summer crops.
- Lettuce can be started indoors, in late winter (mid July-early August here in Australia) they will survive in the cool early spring mornings outside as long as there is no frost and you’ll be eating homegrown salads sooner.
- Tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, capsicums, chilli, and summer herbs can all be started in late winter or early spring(late August-early September)
- Celery-has a long growth period. round 140 days, of mostly cool weather. You can start your celery indoors, a least a month to six weeks before you last few frosts(late June-late July) and transplant them before you last frost or two. then harvest in late spring.
- ONIONS you can sow onion seed indoors, then transplant when they are 10cm high, they take up to 175 days to reach maturity and are ready to harvest in mid to late summer from an early winter sowing (late May to mid June)
SUMMER HARVEST CROPS TO NOT START INDOORS (DIRECT SOW INTO YOUR GARDEN)
- zucchini(summer squash)
AUTUMN INDOOR STARTERS FOR WINTER HARVEST CROPS
- brussel sprouts
- Chinese cabbage and broccoli
- onions(start in winter, and harvest in spring/summer.)
WINTER HARVEST CROPS TO NOT START INDOORS (DIRECT SOW INTO YOUR GARDEN)
- winter squash
HOW TO SOW SEEDS
I have another post, detailing how to sow, and care for seeds
STARTING WITH SEEDS OR TRANSPLANTS
Your local nursery will have plenty of transplants ready to go, and they are an easy way to get started gardening. I prefer seeds for the most part, but sometimes I do use transplants.
If I have not started my seeds early enough, or I did start them and they didn’t so well, so rather than miss out on a veggie garden, you can buy them, ready to go.
keep in mind that some plants don’t like to be transplanted. the list is above.
HARDENING OFF YOUR SEEDLINGS
Hardening off is to gently introduce your seedlings to the cold and windy outside world. This takes around one, week and you want to aim to start after your last frost.
You have your seedlings either indoors or somewhere very sheltered, while they germinate and grow. To help them adapt, you need to move them outside for a few hours every day then return them to shelter.
On a cloudy day if you can, or day with a steady temperature, place your seedling, away from direct light, for two hours. be sure to water them first.
each day for 5-7 days, increase the time outside by two hours.
Include direct sunshine if it’s not too hot.
If you don’t harden off, your seedlings may get shocked by the cold, the sun or the wind, and while they may recover fully, their growth is stunted while they do so, which can take several weeks.
PLANNING AHEAD- HOW LONG DO THEY TAKE TO GROW?
So, by now, you know what to start in each season, which season to harvest in, but how long exactly do the crops take to grow?
Vegetables that take 30 days.
- Spring Onions
- Turnip Greens
- bok choy- Asian greens
All these crops can be started in early spring and you will have a harvest in mid to late spring! These are fun to grow and very rewarding!
Vegetables that take 40-80 days.
- beans (bush and pole)
- Swiss chard
- Salad onions
These are all the majority of vegetables, especially in the spring and summer harvest periods.
Vegetables that take 80-120 days to grow
- Beans (dry)
- Brussel sprouts
- Sweet potatoes
PLANTING, PLAN FOR SUCCESS.
so you have the soil, a raised bed or a plot or a pot, you have seeds, planted them, raised seedlings, and now its time to transplant.
You need to consider 3 things when planting into a garden.
Companion planting is smart, and it’s easy, and if you don’t want some crops to fail or not yield as well as they could if planted with plants that encourage growth and yield rather than stunt it.
Some plants just don’t like each other, and if you throw them in the same plot they can spread disease, and suck the life from each other’s roots, leaving you with little to no crop.
Here is an Ebook, I have the list of plants to avoid and herbs and flowers to plant to deter pests, encourage a higher yield, and improve the flavour of your Veggies.
WATERING YOUR VEGGIES
You need to consider the water needs of your crops as you plant.
Deep-rooted crops will need more of a soaking, slightly less often, whereas your shallow-rooted crops will need less water, more frequently.
If you plant these two together, it’s not terrible, but it’s not smart either, and you risk having your deep roots suffer from too little water, or your shallow roots becoming diseased with too much water.
When to water
You should always aim to water in the morning when the dew is still on the leaves, this ensures that the water doesn’t evaporate in the sun, and the water is fully absorbed by the soil and roots and the plants can dry out through the day. You should aim for an inch of water per week, a little every day. (In hot weather, vegetables need even more water, up to about ½ inch per week extra for every 10 degrees that the average temperature is above 15 degrees.)
If you don’t water well enough and give the ground a decent soaking you will have shallow root systems which will need water more often and won’t yield a good crop.
It is well known that too little water can cause plants to wilt and even die, but over-watering can produce similar problems such as root rot.
A problem to which young plants in pots are very prone. In addition, stress caused by irregular watering can cause some plants to bolt (run to seed), yielding a very poor crop.
Supplying the right amount of water is quite an art and is essential to ensuring that you produce a decent harvest of fruit and vegetables.
Just be sure that during hot weather, you water in the morning, and maintain damp soil during the day.
TYPE OF SOIL
The type of soil you have will affect the way you water, if you have sandy soil, you will need to water more often, as sandy soil does not retain water, you can mix in compost to help counteract this.
Clay, the soil is the opposite and will retain water for longer, watch for overwatering, again either compost, lime, or sand mixed into the soil can help with water drainage and proper retention.
GROUP THIRSTY CROPS TOGETHER FOR EASE OF WATERING
- beans and peas (don’t water too much before they flower, you will have fewer flowers and smaller pods.)
- sweet corn
The best mulch for veggies is straw.
You want to mulch, especially during the hot months, to increase water retention.
It’s a simple process, cover around your veg, as a seedling and as mature plants, an amount of straw or a mulch of your choice.
spread it lightly around seedlings, and a little more heavily around mature plants.
Watch for pests! slugs and snails love to take shelter in your mulch during the day, and will eat away at your crop in a night!
Harvesting is the truly fun part, but still, if you have a little more than you bargained for then it’s good to have a plan, so if you are noticing you have a lot of something a few weeks before you are due to harvest, look at recipes, pickling and canning isn’t as hard as you think, or just dice and freeze.
Air dry or oven dry herbs and chillies
preserve capsicum and tomatoes in olive oil
pickle cucumber and zucchini.
store your root veg in a box or basket filled with dry dirt, in a cool dry place to store for months!
braid garlic and onions, hang around your kitchen (out of direct sunlight)
freeze handfuls of berries for winter coulis and toppings
If you like me, and the first time you really didn’t get much at all, don’t worry, we have all been there.
As frustrating as it is, you have the next season, as your harvesting the last of your summer crop, you can be starting your winter seedlings.
Make more compost
try again, learning is succeeding!
If you are a beginner gardener, like me, then join me!
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Thanks for reading!
The simple mamma.