Gardening has been a huge part of our lives ever since humanity began using tools. Many Egyptians had advanced irrigation systems to help them in their gardens 4,000+ years ago, the Academy of Athens wrote of the gardens they inherited from Aristotle, and the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas have been gardening since they had stories to tell. It continues today, not just as a way to become self-sustainable, but also as a favored past time of cultures all over the world. The nutrient-packed, garden-fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs you can grow is just a huge bonus!
If we haven’t sold you on the idea already, here’s a few reasons why you should ditch the idea of relying on grocery stores for all of your produce:
- It’s fun and empowering! To be able to say that you grew everything that went into your salad for lunch is an empowering feeling unlike any other. Plus, you get to channel your inner little kid and play around in the dirt.
- It’s more nutritious than store bought produce. The majority of the produce you buy in the store are packed and coated with all kinds of preservatives to help them keep on the shelves longer. Because you don’t pump your own garden fully of chemicals, your harvests will be packed with more nutrients than otherwise.
- It’s tastier than store bought, as well. There will never be anything as crisp as picking your own ripe tomato and eating it later that day. Once you have tasted just-picked-off-the-vine fresh, you won’t want to go back to anything else.
While there are dozens of other reasons we could list out for you, sometimes the biggest drive behind starting your own vegetable garden regardless if it’s at home or in a community space, is the reason you choose for yourself. It doesn’t matter if it’s to relieve stress and help your mental health, become independent and self-sustainable, or whatever you decide; the most important thing is your garden is yours and yours alone and you can do whatever you want with it!Without further ado, here is Vegetable Gardens for Beginners: How to Get Started!
Figure out your USDA Hardiness Zone.
Before you do anything else, we always recommend you check the USDA Hardiness Zone Map. Most recently updated back in 2012 by the United States Department of Agriculture, this map was created using the average annual minimum Winter temperatures (in Fahrenheit) from 1976 to 2005 to help gardeners and farmers alike figure out which plants are most likely to thrive in any given area of the U.S.
These zones have been so widely used in the agriculture community that many, if not most, seed packets sold by boutique and big box stores alike reference which seeds will do well in which zones. Unless you are living along the northern most parts of the northern states (yes, we’re including you, Alaska!) you should be able to grow the majority of what you love and find it your local stores. Once you know which zone you live in, you will know what you can grow!
How much space do you have and where is it?
This may seem like a no-brainer, but we so often see people overlook just how much room certain plants require to grow and produce fruits and vegetables, that we felt it necessary to say here. Are you lucky enough to have a yard in which you can garden, or will you need to find a community garden with plots available to rent nearby? Tip: If you are a beginner, it’s always best to start small; it’s much easier to manage water, fertilizing, and keeping away pests from a smaller plot than a massive one when you first start.
Once you have a spot in mind, think about the natural resources it already receives. You are going to want at least six hours of full-on direct sunlight each day in the growing season – Summer. So, if you are unsure if the plot you have picked out is bright enough, remember to consider that the level of sun will increase from the Spring to the Summer.
Also, take some time to check out the existing soil in the space you have your eye on. Do you often see water pooling up in this spot when it rains, or does it look like the soil is most pebbles and rocks? If so, that’s completely okay because you can always purchase gardening-specific soil to mix into what you already have.
If you want, you can also build a raised garden bed in the space you’ve chosen! You can always purchase an easy-to-assemble premade kit, you can always make it yourself, too. While this is more labor intensive, the frame of this type of garden can be constructed with nothing more than some good quality wood and some heavy-duty nails. Raised garden beds are wonderful for smaller spaces, spaces that don’t currently have much drainage available, or areas that are prone to pests like slugs and snails that like to crawl through the soil.
Come up with a timeline.
Each vegetable or herb seed takes a different amount of time to germinate and reach full maturity. Germination is the process a plant goes through from seed to the sprouting of a seedling above the surface of the soil; depending on your plant, this can be a few days or a few weeks. Maturation, on the other hand, is the amount of time it takes for a plant to grow from a baby seedling to a crop ready to flower and be pollinated.
At the same time, each plant can also prefer to grow at different times of the year - i.e., “cool-season” or “warm-season.” These seasons are based on your USDA Hardiness Zone and the average times of year you see your first and last frost. As a beginner, ask your local garden shops about the average date these occur to use as a reference point.
After you have picked out your vegetables, see when they prefer to be sown into the soil and what time of year they grow the best; from here, you can create a timeline of which seeds to sow and when. Though it is always easiest to sow all of your seeds all at once, especially when you’re first starting out, taking a few days or weeks in between each row or section of vegetables can help you build the habit of tending to your garden on a regular basis sooner.
Don’t be afraid of fertilizer.
We know that the enormous number of fertilizers on the market can be overwhelming, but you’ve already put in the effort to pick out your space, choose your seeds, and make a game plan, so you got this! Though any plant can survive on just water and sunshine, they can thrive when fed nutrients – and we all know that surviving and thriving are two wildly different states.
Many organic gardeners swear by the simple process of adding high-quality compost or manure when they first tend to their soil or build their garden bed. You can do this by creating your own compost bin that breaks down many of your existing household scraps, or you can buy it at your local stores, in-person or online. There are dozens of different methods for gardening and fertilizing however, so do a little bit of research and find what resonates with you. Some of our favorite practices include worm castings, season-specific slow-release fertilizers, and other natural amendments like eggshells and banana peels in the middle of the season.
Now that you have the know-how, you are ready to start moving toward a healthier, more self-sufficient lifestyle! Go check out our other blog on gardening tools; we recommend only the bare necessities you need to get started – but a few extras like some cute sunglasses or a gardening hat never hurt anyone!
Is there any gardening subject you have questions about or would like us to cover? Let us know in the comments or message us on our Contact Page. We post more articles every other week, so check back for more tips and tricks every month!