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There’s no better way to ensure a constant supply of fresh ingredients than by starting a vegetable garden. Starting a new vegetable garden is not complicated and it doesn’t need to be difficult. Turn your patio or backyard into a source of your very own fresh herbs, vegetables, and fruits. Follow these simple steps on how to start a garden—and find more specific growing guides below (we’ll be adding new ones regularly).

1. Choose a Good Location

More Expert AdviceRon Finley's Gardening MasterClass Will Change Your LifeThe first step in starting a garden is to pick a sunny outdoor location. Vegetables and herbs need at least six hours of direct sunlight daily to grow well and make produce. It is extremely difficult for most of us to provide that amount of indoor artificial light.  Also, pollinators like bees and butterflies are outside—which are essential in order to produce fruit. Plus, who wants to deal with soil and water messes indoors?

Your garden location should be close to a water source for ease of watering. The location should also be easy to access, and have a place to store gardening equipment. If you don’t have a great spot at home, consider planting in a nearby community garden. In addition to offering ideal gardening locations, community gardens also give you access to a network of experienced gardeners who can help you with ideas and advice. (Obviously, COVID-19 restrictions may impact normal community gardening, so check with your local organizations.)

Related Reading: 7 Tips for Starting a Windowsill Garden

2. Start Small

You only need a few square feet for your first garden. It is best to start small so as not to become overwhelmed. There is no reason to dig up your lawn right away to create garden beds.  Many first-time gardeners begin with container gardening or raised bed gardening. Simply fill them with good soil and start gardening! 

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Related Reading: How Eggshells and Coffee Grounds Can Make Your Garden Grow

Buy starter plants from a garden center, or plant fast growing seeds. (Home Depot is offering curbside pick-up and home delivery on a lot of standard store items, including starter plants and gardening supplies, but since stock may be limited, check online with local nurseries and garden supply stores too. Or explore where to buy plants online.) Use this time to read gardening books, determine your hardiness zone, and browse websites for gardening tips. Follow social media groups about gardening. Connect with professionals and expert amateurs like Master Gardeners. The boost of confidence you will receive from early success is invaluable. You can quickly begin challenging yourself and increasing your gardening skills.

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3. Use High Quality Soil

Here’s where your choice of a container garden or raised bed garden pays off. You simply buy premixed soil from the garden center and fill them up. Good potting soil (also called potting mix or container mix) is basically a garden in a bag—just add plants or seeds. Do not be confused by products labeled “garden soil.” Garden soil is made to be mixed with natural soil in an in-ground garden.

Use potting soil in container gardens or small raised beds without mixing with natural soil, manure, compost, or any other medium. It contains all the ingredients your plants need for a great start: ingredients that allow optimal moisture retention and drainage, the correct pH, and a little bit of plant food. You will need to feed your garden periodically with fertilizer to ensure that your plants are getting the nutrition they need.

4. Grow What You Will Eat

green salad

Chowhound’s Mixed Greens Salad

Before you shop for plants or seeds, make a list of the veggies you and your family like to eat. Don’t waste your time, money, and energy on other crops. Plant small quantities that you can consume in no more than a couple of weeks—you can plant more later during the growing season. Plant them according to the directions on the back side of the seed packets or plant label.

Some easy to grow plants, like leafy greens, tomatoes, beans, and cucumbers provide repeated harvests. These are good plants for small spaces. Others like carrots, radishes, corn, and cabbage produce a single harvest per plant or seed. Be cautious with single-harvest plants. The best choices are those that take up less space and mature quickly.

Related Reading: The Best Things to Plant in Your Vegetable Garden

Don’t forget about the flowers! Flowers like marigolds deter pests and make lovely additions to your vegetable garden. You can also eat many flowers too.

5. Maintain Your Garden

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Vegetable gardens need consistent water. Use a soaker hose or a sprinkler to provide at least 1 inch of water per week. Add a 2 to 3-inch layer of mulch to the soil surface to insulate the soil against wide temperature swings, smother weeds, and reduce evaporation.

Weeds compete with crops for space, sunlight, water, and nutrients. They often grow more quickly than crop plants and quickly become problematic. Keep weeds at bay by pulling them as soon as they appear.

In most cases, simply providing good growing conditions—sunlight, water, and fertility—are enough for vegetables and herbs to thrive.

Occasionally pest problems arise, and it is best to catch and correct them early. Observe and inspect plants closely on a regular basis. Watch for signs of disease or insect infestation, such as holes or discoloration on foliage. If disease is suspected, take photos or leaf samples (sealed inside a zipper bag) to your local garden center for confirmation and recommendations for treatment or removal. Or post the photos in an online gardening forum for advice.

Remember: Not every insect in the garden is bad. In fact, many are helpful. Insects are responsible for pollination of fruiting plants like tomatoes, cucumbers, and beans. Other insects are predators that control the “bad” insect populations. Bad bugs are always present, but their numbers can explode when plants become stressed and weakened.

Protect the good bugs by avoiding the use of pesticides. Instead, remove damaging insects like aphids and Japanese beetles by hand. In the case of major infestations, it is more effective and efficient to remove poorly performing plants than to spend more time and money on chemical applications.

The Bottom Line

Learning how to start a garden isn’t super complicated. The benefits of your new vegetable garden will go far beyond fresh veggies. Time in the outdoors makes gardeners healthy and reduces stress. Planning and problem solving stimulates intellectual curiosity. But of course, filling your belly with fresh tomatoes, beans, and more is the best reason of all.

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