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Vegetable Gardening 101

Start A Vegetable Garden

Why grow a vegetable garden?

With the increase of food costs and the focus on local foods, many are returning to an old way of doing things- growing your own vegetables. Even folks that have never grown anything before are joining the new vegetable gardening trend. All to save money on the grocery bill!

Sure, there is a lot to know about growing food and plants. But vegetable gardening can also be very easy. You don’t need an acre of garden space. Gardening doesn’t have to be your new hobby. It just takes a few vegetable plants to save money at the grocery store.

Check out this information on starting a vegetable garden. Consider garden space and how much time you have. See what you can grow, and enjoy fresh vegetables.

The Basics

The basics of vegetable gardening:

Sunlight, Water and Healthy Soil.

That’s really it for the basics. Not hard, right?

Unfortunately, all I remember from watching my mom garden and my grandmother can garden vegetables was how to pull weeds. Go figure! My first garden was in small space behind a rented house. It was basically a kitchen garden out the backdoor with herbs and just a few vegetable plants, like peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant. We invited a friend over, and a few beers later the garden plot was turned. We didn’t even have a tiller, just a shovel. We did follow the planting directions on the started plants, but that was it. We ate so well. We had so many tomatoes and peppers we were stuffing them and eating them as a main course.

The point is- we did not know anything about a garden other than to water and use organic fertilizer. And we ate well and saved a bunch of money. There are just some basics you need to follow and determine what kind of garden will work for you.

Types of Gardens

Look at your gardening space. This will determine what kind of garden you will be able to manage. We have this garden image in our heads of white picket fences and intensive well laid out gardens. Now, that might be nice. But gardening can be as easy as you make it. Here are some great beginner gardening set-ups.

Container Gardens

Container gardening is a great way to grow vegetables if limited with space and time. It involves less planning and you can move the planters around to get the plants in the most favorable growing conditions. Other positives for container gardening:

  • Don’t have to worry about weeds
  • Less garden pest problems
  • Self-watering planters means you can water less
  • Great for porches, decks, patios, and balconies
  • Easy to control soil health

Raised Bed Gardens

Raised beds allow for a healthy garden plot anywhere. Make your own raised bed from stones or untreated lumber. You can buy an easy to assemble, sturdy raised bed garden from us.

Raised beds are great if you have unhealthy soil and limited space. They can easily replace a flowerbed at the edge of a patio. They are a good gardening choice, too, if you do not enjoy leaning over a garden or have a bad back.

But the biggest advantage, like container gardening, is being able to control more variables. You added healthy soil and there will be fewer weeds. Raised beds are popular in garden plans. You can add one raised bed or add several to a larger gardening space.

Herb Gardens

Herbs are generally pretty easy to grow and hearty. They need loose, well drained soil. But do not require a lot of attention. You can interplant with vegetables to use herbs for organic pest control. Or plant a separate herb bed. It is a good idea to plant perennial herbs (chives, lavender, mints, oregano, rosemary, thyme, tarragon…) in their own bed for the next season.

Planting herbs is a great way to supplement a small vegetable garden, too. Say you just decide on a few tomato plants. Growing herbs expands what you can cook with those tomatoes. Or just slice them fresh with a few sprigs of basil. Fresh foods are good on their own, too!

Indoor Gardens: Windowsill Gardens, Balcony Gardens, and Growing Indoors with Lights

We mention this gardening method, because it is one that is quickly overlooked. We think of gardening and immediately think of yards and water hoses. But if outdoor space is limited or nonexistent or the outdoor weather is extreme, you can actually grow more vegetables than you think indoors. And the growing season can be year round! So, basically, this is indoor container gardening.

Vegetable Plants that grow well in Windowsill Gardens: Carrots, Cress, Lettuce, Mustard, Radishes, Spinach, Tomatoes, and Zucchini.

Vegetable Plants that grow well in Balcony Gardens: Beans, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Corn, Cucumbers, Peppers, Potatoes, Squash, Tomatoes, and Turnips. Train plants to grow vertically to increase your gardening space for Balcony Gardens.

Vegetable Plants that grow well Indoors with Grow Lights: Beets, Carrots, Celery, Chinese Cabbage, Cucumbers, Spinach, Onions, Radishes, and Watercress.

Kitchen Gardens

Sometimes Kitchen Gardens are called Cottage Gardens, Victory Gardens, or Recession Gardens. But the idea is the same: a small garden plot for household food needs.

Kitchen Gardens can be simple in design. But some folks go all out on designing these, since often incorporated as part of the backyard landscaping around the patio. Kitchen Garden needs to be efficient. Some feel the closer to the house or backdoor, the more time will be spent maintaining the garden.

But go small on these to maintain them. Think about what food you eat or would like to eat: then plant those. Add herbs or perennials. Kitchen Gardens benefit from companion planting and this garden design is an easy avenue to learn how to use companion planting.

Companion planting is growing plants that benefit each other. Sometimes used for organic pest control or to promote the best growing conditions for a particular plant. It’s not overwhelming. Just check this companion planting list to see if any plants are on here that you want to grow.

Themed Gardens

Themed Gardens are fun and easy to start. The Pizza Garden or Salsa Garden are good examples. It’s not overwhelming deciding what to plant, just plant what you like on pizza or in salsa: Green Peppers, Tomatoes, Basil, Oregano, Garlic…

Kids’ Gardens

Always, set space aside in your garden for the kids. This keeps them from picking all the green tomatoes, but does not guarantee not to get soaked by the hose. Choose plants that are fun and easy to grow. Good plants for kids’ gardens are: cherry tomatoes, herbs, lambs ear, sunflowers, and edible plants. Diversify kids gardening plants to include various smells, textures, and tastes (like Mint) to keep them interested.

Container gardening is also great for kids. If worried about the kids getting messy, container gardening is great choice. If looking for a summer science gardening project, grab some gardening boots and let them in the dirt.

Square Foot Gardening

Square Foot Gardening is a great way to utilize a small gardening space. This garden design uses principles of raised bed and intensive gardening, placing plants closely together. But it’s a small garden and easy to manage. Square Foot Gardening turns out a lot of garden vegetables. But mainly it’s a great way to learn about food production without being overwhelmed with a huge garden.

Intensive Gardens

Grow as a gardener. After learning the basics, develop your gardening space into a more Intensive Garden. Intensive Gardens maximize space in the garden. It eliminates space between plantings and uses vertical growing techniques.

The hardest thing about Intensive Gardening is that is goes against typical planting rules. And it does take more knowledge, experience, and time to be successful with Intensive Gardening. But start simple and easy to maintain, and in a gardening season or two you will be thinking of how to get the most out of the garden.

Other Gardening Types

There are a lot more ways to garden: Row Gardens, Sustainable Agriculture, Edible Landscaping, and Permaculture. The list goes on. Once you rely on growing your own food, it’s always a thought to see what else you can grow the next year to save more money. And don’t forget to reduce your impact environmentally by growing your own food. Check out vegetable gardening ideas for… more ideas.

Deciding What and When to plant

Start easy! It’s not about running a full marathon. It’s about growing your own food and reducing the grocery bill.

What to plant?

Plant what you like to eat. That’s our best advice. Of course, check the plant hardiness zone map to see what vegetables grow best in your climate.

Get the most out of your garden. That’s how to save money. Reference seasonal cookbooks and get ideas on what to grow and what cooks well together for a full meal. That makes your garden harvest go further. As much as you like squash, it gets old day in and day out. See how you can add it to muffins and diversify how you prepare garden vegetables.

When to plant?

Knowing when to plant is nothing to stress about. Just check the plant hardiness zone map. Also, check with your local extension agency for more details on planting seasons for your specific location.

Getting Started and Preparing Garden Space

So, you have chosen what will work best for your gardening space. Now what?

Garden Plan

Create a garden plan. Draw out your space and document which plants will grow best where. Consult your companion planting list, consider sunlight, and soil drainage. Keep a garden record in a notebook. It’ll save you a lot of time when planning the garden next year.

Preparing the Soil/Bed Preparation

Turn the soil. Hopefully, you can buy or rent a tiller. But if a small garden plot, you can turn the earth with a shovel. Remove rocks and roots. Overall, don’t stress too much about the soil. Just make sure it is healthy. You can check the pH of the soil and make sure it is close to what your chosen vegetables like.

Overtime you can work on the health of the soil. Soil amendments, like compost, are great for soil health. Adding organic matter to the soil makes sure plants have the balance of nutrients they need for best growth. But the fall season will be the best time to revamp garden beds and address overall soil health. In the meantime, use a good organic fertilizer to add nutrients to soil, help with soil texture, and add organic matter.

Vegetable gardens love compost. If you haven’t gotten a compost pile going yet, buy a soil amendment to mix in the garden bed. If concerned that you don’t have good soil, a raised bed or container gardening would be a great way to start growing vegetables.

Plant Seeds or Seedlings

Buying started plants is definitely easier and takes less work. Follow the planting directions on the tag. They are there for a reason.

But if you want to save money, seeds are a lot cheaper! Some seeds do well just planted in the garden, like carrots. Or you can start your seeds in the home. There are a lot of seed starting kits and seed starting greenhouses that make it easier. But it can be as simple as starting seeds in toilet paper rolls with a little soil. Just remember to keep everything labeled. It’s amazing how much cucumber seedlings look like squash.

Remember, that these started seedlings cannot go straight into the garden. You need to harden them off first. Basically transition them to sunlight, temperature, and outside conditions. An easy way to do this is to build or buy a cold frame. Cold frames are like mini-greenhouses that totally rely on sunlight to warm the plants.

Here’s a vegetable planting guide for more information.

Gardening Tools

Gardening tools can be as simple as a hoe, a shovel, a garden trowel, watering can, and gardening gloves. But there are a lot of tools that make gardening easier on your body: ergonomic tools, weeding tools, seed planting tools, and gardening stools. It will depend on which garden type works best. Start simply to see which tools you will need or buy a garden tool set.

Organic Pest Control Methods

Companion planting is a great way to deter garden pests. This organic pest control method helps prevent garden pests from destroying your vegetable plants. For example, tomato hornworms prefer dill to tomatoes. Planting dill next to tomato plants, buys you time in getting rid of the hornworms.

If you are new to gardening, it will take some time to see which garden pests are attracted to your garden. Walk through the garden every few days and inspect for bugs. It’s always a good idea, though, to have a general all purpose organic insecticide ready just in case. Neem oil is great for organic pest control for vegetable plants. Just have it on hand or another organic pest control product so that you can treat quickly. Squash bugs or cucumber beetles move quickly.

Consider other garden pests, too. Do you need a fence or another pest control product for rabbits or deer? Don’t get frustrated. When you see all your tomatoes coming in and saving on the grocery bill, you will see its worth. Just a few vegetable plants can save a lot of money! Check this general guide to organic pest control for more information!

Decreasing Gardening Expenses

If you are gardening to save money on your grocery bill, consider ways to decrease your gardening expenses. For the health of your garden, yourself, and the soil, don’t skimp on organic fertilizers, organic pest control, or soil amendments. There are better ways to save that make a bigger impact:

  • Start your own compost and create your own organic fertilizer.
  • Use a Rain Barrel to reduce water bill.
  • Start vegetables from seeds.
  • Grow year round indoors or in a greenhouse.
  • Preserve the garden harvest to stretch out your dollar.

Preserving Garden Harvest

Preserving the harvest is worth a mention. If you are not succession planting (spacing plantings by a week or two to lengthen harvest time), garden harvests can be overwhelming if there is a lot of produce to eat. Wasting food is not an option. You are trying to save money, remember?

So, you can freeze, can, dry or pickle the fruits, vegetables, and herbs. See National Center for Home Food Preservation for tons of information on how to preserve the harvest. But freezing vegetables is usually the fastest and easiest way to save them for later. Even some cookbooks have detailed instructions on freezing or canning fruits and vegetables.

So, got all this? Now you're ready for Vegetable Gardening 102!

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