You’re ready to start gardening, but need some help to know how to start a vegetable garden? These 12 best gardening tips for beginners will help you be successful no matter what your gardening zone!
With the changing economic times we are in, I am asked more frequently than ever for gardening tips for beginners. I even had an elderly couple in my area ask if they could come by and look at my garden and ask me some questions.
Gardening Tips for Beginners: How to Start a Vegetable Garden
If your gardening journey is just beginning, there are some basic things you will need to consider when planning your garden. Things like site selection, plot size, which vegetables to grow, and how much to plant. Remember, “It’s better to be proud of a small garden than to be frustrated by a big one!”
There’s just something wonderful about planting a seed and watching it grow and produce fruit. With over 40 years of gardening experience, I can tell you it never gets old and there is always something new to learn. Now, on to my 12 best gardening tips for beginners.
Gardening Tip #1: Have a Go-To Person or Resource
I advise all new gardeners to seek out someone in their community to learn from. Attending your local farmer’s market, is a great place to meet farmers, form relationships with them, and learn.
I’m kind of old school and still trust my copy of Carla Emery’s The Encyclopedia of Country Living more than any other source.
The Farmer’s Lamp is here to help you as well. You’ll find our gardening posts helpful, and you can always contact us if you have questions we haven’t already answered.
Gardening Tip #2: How to Prepare Your Soil
I have never tested my soil. It’s just not something that has ever been necessary to me. If it is something you want to do, a nursery or your local cooperative extension office can help you with soil test kits.
Vegetables love good, loamy, well-drained soil. We have a lot of clay in our area, so our soil has to be amended a great deal.
We also add manure from the farm animals. Remember, fresh chicken manure and horse manure will burn your tender plants, so compost it or spread it in an area you don’t intend to plant in for a couple of months.
Cow manure can be added directly to your garden.
Gardening Tip #3: How to Lay Out a Garden
Vegetables love the sun. They need at least 6 hours of full sun every day, preferably 8 hours. Some vegetables, like lettuces and spinach, appreciate some shade so be sure to check the sun requirements of your chosen vegetables. Tender plants do well where they can be sheltered by shade in the late afternoon.
Orient your garden so the rows run North to South. This is to take advantage of as much sun as possible. Even your raised beds should be south-facing if at all possible.
Choose a relatively flat spot for your garden. This will help ensure even watering and help prevent soil runoff in heavy rains.
Don’t plant too near a tree, they will steal nutrients and shade the garden.
I know a lady who laid out her first garden by tilling around trees in her backyard. She unknowingly killed the tree by destroying its main root system and her garden did not do well. When she asked me to take a look, I knew exactly what had happened.
Choosing a garden spot close to the house will help to discourage wild animals from nibbling away your potential harvest, maybe. I have had deer come right to the back porch to eat the blooms off my roses and the squash from the vine in the raised bed.
How to Determine Your Garden Size
A 16’x10′ garden plot can feed a family of four for one season, longer if you preserve the harvest. If you want or need more, adjust the size of your garden.
If you choose a 16’ x 10’ garden size, you’ll get the best use of the space by making your garden 11 rows wide with each row 10 feet long. Again, adjust to your own needs.
Gardening Tip #4: Know What Style of Gardening You Want to do
Do you want to do traditional tilling or have a no-till garden; raised beds and containers; or deep mulch gardens?
We prefer a combination of garden styles. Some things are grown in tilled rows and then deep mulched, or cover crops are planted, once the plants are big enough.
We also have deep mulched areas and use several raised beds and containers. Raised beds are great for those who have problems stooping or kneeling on the ground.
If you have bad soil, raised beds and containers are a fast way to start gardening.
Gardening Tip #5: Garden Tools Every Gardener Needs
My grandfather taught me, “The basics are the same for everyone, but we all have our own way of gardening.” The style of gardening you choose will determine the size and kind of tools you will need.
Some basic gardening tools are a hoe, spade, a leaf rake, a garden rake, shears, string, poles for staking, a potato or hayfork, gloves, waterproof shoes, and a wheelbarrow or buckets.
Gardening Tip #6: Meet the Water Needs of Your Garden
Vegetables need a lot of water, at least 1 inch of water a week.
There are many ways for accomplishing this task. I prefer soaker hoses and catching rainwater to supplement them. We have a non-chlorinated water source for our hoses, so this works great for us.
In reality, you have to use what you have. If chlorinated water is all you have, then use it.
Water your garden early in the morning just as the sun is coming up or shortly thereafter. This gives the plants time to gradually dry and the sun kills spores of certain molds, mildews, and fungus’ which thrive in wet conditions.
Watering at night puts the plants at risk for these diseases. If you must water in the evenings, avoid getting the leaves wet. Water the base of the plant only.
Gardening Tip #7: Know What Planting Zone You Are In
Knowing what planting zone you are in will help you choose plants that will thrive in your area. Be sure to know when your last frost date is and when the first frost date is for your area.
The date in the almanac is approximate so keep your eye on your local weather. Plant too soon and you lose the crop, plant too late and you lose the crop, but nature is designed to give us a clear warning.
Be sure to record your weather patterns in your garden journal for future planning.
Gardening Tip #8: Purchase Quality Seeds for Your Garden
Most gardeners start looking through their seed catalogs in January because the desire to be gardening is starting to bud. I fully recommend Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Territorial Seed Company, and Wood Prairie Farms.
There are many, many seed companies. It may take some trial and error, but be patient, it is worth finding someone you feel good about doing business with. Be sure to order early.
Your local farm supply store can also help with your gardening needs. They can be a valuable asset to you.
Gardening Tip #9: Learn How to Save Garden Seeds
Some say this isn’t necessary, “We can always order seeds.” I strongly disagree with them. It is becoming harder to find seed companies who have heirloom seeds and not GMO seeds.
With the increasing number of gardeners, many seed companies are finding themselves running out of certain seeds. This means you may have to wait until some are restocked before you can order what you need.
Learning to save garden seeds saves money and time.
Gardening Tip # 10: Use a Garden Journal
A garden journal is essential to successful gardening. Accurate records put valuable gardening information at your fingertips.
It’s important to record your garden layout – what and where you plant; a sketch of your garden. This will help you with your crop rotation.
You can easily keep track of what you ordered and from whom you purchased it.
Record what your family liked best, which produced best, things like that. This will help keep you from ordering something you didn’t like, something that didn’t perform well, or from a company you didn’t like doing business with.
For me, fall is the best time to be sure my notes are in order. During my winter review, I’m able to make decisions and improvements without trying to “remember everything.” This proves more and more challenging for some of us.
Gardening Tip #11: What to Plant in Your Garden
Be sure to plant what you and your family eat. Some vegetables are easier to grow than others. Start with easy-to-grow vegetables your family likes.
Easiest Vegetables to Grow
- Tomatoes: remarkably high yielding; so many varieties to choose from
- Zucchini: super productive; planting 3 hills will produce for a family of four and you’ll probably plenty to share
- Peppers: usually very productive; we plant 6-7 varieties
- Beans: some are more productive than others; many varieties; plant more than one variety
- Yellow Squash: super productive; like zucchini, only a few plants are needed
- Lettuce: cool weather crop; productive if you harvest as it grows
- Carrots: one harvest; easy to grow IF you have loose, sandy, well-drained soil; excellent in container or raised bed gardening
- Peas: productive all season long; many varieties to choose from; most are heat tolerant except cool weather varieties like sweet peas
- Cantaloupe: productive; each vine produces several melons; grow vertically or allow space for trailing vines
- Watermelon: productive; each vine will produce several melons; allow space for trailing vines
- Marigolds, Nasturtium, Zinnias: mixed in the garden to help discourage some predators and insects and to attract beneficial insects
Gardening Tip #12: How to Protect Your Garden
When the seeds are sprouting, and your garden is starting to grow, it’s time to protect it. Squirrels, birds, deer, and other animals will eat the seeds and tear young plants down to the root in a matter of minutes.
You will want some type of fence for keeping them out. Chicken wire buried 1 inch in the ground will deter rabbits. Planting a few marigolds around your garden perimeter can ward off deer.
Cinnamon or cayenne pepper sprinkled around your seedlings can help deter squirrels.
We’ve had the most success with electric fencing. It is a cheap, easily installed fencing option for protecting your harvest.
You have to “visit” your garden every day – some days may not take more than 10 – 15 minutes. On other days, you may spend an hour or more, depending on your garden size. You should remove weeds, check for signs of bugs or worms and deal with them, check for ripe fruit, generally take care of whatever you see needs to be done.
Don’t over-fertilize. Use fertilizers only when your garden shows signs of a nutrient deficiency. Use lightly, too much will kill plants. Don’t use chemical fertilizers.
Don’t use pesticides or herbicides. These are dangerous for both humans and animals.
Don’t be afraid to try and fail, learn and implement the lessons in your next garden.
Now that you have my 12 best gardening tips for beginners, what are you waiting for? Get gardening! Be sure to involve your whole family in the process.
Happy Growing! Happy Eating! Happy Times!