How to Start a Vegetable Garden for Beginners

Thinking about growing your own vegetables at home? It’s a rewarding experience, watching your plants grow all the way to harvest and the dinner table. Putting time and effort into any project or hobby is an achievement by itself. Just my opinion, but anything that gets us out of the house and mixing with nature is what life is all about, but I’m a bit biased!

Let’s get muddy…

Getting back on track… this article, how to start a vegetable garden for beginners will cover some quick tips, planning the space, seeding, soil types and starting the grow.

Tip #1: Start small.

You may be doing this as an alternative source of food but this is also a fun, enjoyable experience. Don’t overdo it at the beginning planting a huge plot with every possible vegetable you think of! Things may not go as planned on your first go, don’t be disheartened by failures, it only makes the reward that much sweeter!

Tip #2: Plant things you like to eat.

Sounds obvious but when we like to eat what we grow then we tend to look after them more.

What to grow first?

I recommend starting with vegetables that require little maintenance and reach harvest relatively quickly. Any of these are ideal for your first crop: Beetroot, Rocket, Potatoes, Courgettes, Chilli. Choose a couple you like, and don’t worry we will soon be on the second crop and start expanding our range.

Tip #3: Use a growing container.

For fruit and vegetables, it is preferred to use a container so we can control the growing environment. We can maintain the soil, watering and light conditions a lot easier.

Types of Containers for Growing Vegetables

You can grow vegetables in any container, the main thing to be aware of is making sure there is enough space and soil for roots. However, we will stick to the traditional rectangular-shaped wood or plastic containers and concentrate on the space.

Firstly, how much space do you have to play with? We can grow vegetables in window boxes or larger containers that live in the garden. If you have a local garden centre then I suggest popping down and having a look at the options they have. Otherwise, you can check Wickes for Planters or Amazon. Word of caution from personal experience… double-check the size if you buy online! Also, shop around and get a good deal.

If you have the space, then these raised planters look very impressive. We have been using these Raised Beds from Harrod Horticultural a lot recently, but you may want to wait until you have settled into this venture first.

raised beds for growing vegtables

Aside from looking very smart there are some additional benefits to using Raised Beds…

Easy Access with set heights so they can be at the height most comfortable for you and freely walk around them. Flexibility with the different sizes and heights can be used for different crops, with deeper beds ideal for root crops and shallower beds more suited to herbs and salads.

Pest Control – as the beds are ‘raised’ this makes them less prone to pest attack. Not fool proof, but it does help

Easy to WaterGood Drainage – raised beds drain more easily than vegetable plots, grow bags and pots. Overwatering is less of an issue and you’ll get a better amount of moisture throughout the bed to encourage perfect growth.

The spacing table below should let you roughly work out how much you will be able plant in your planters.

Spacing Guide

plant spacing table

How to grow vegetables

Sheltered, sunny spot is best for veg.

Beetroot

Seeds can be directly sown into shallow drills in the soil and can be harvested within a few weeks. They do not bolt (a term applied to vegetable crops when they prematurely run to seed, usually making them unusable), so they are an ideal choice for beginner growers.

Rocket 

Can be sown in pots and harvested on a cut-and-come-again basis, so you don’t need to tend the plants for long. 

Potatoes

Plant them in the ground or an old compost bag, cover the leaves with soil when they first appear (known as ‘earthing up’), and harvest a few weeks later. 

Courgettes

Renowned for producing a heavy crop from a number of plants. For best results, grow them in soil that is fertile and easily watered, harvesting courgettes when they are no more than 10cm wide.

Cayenne Chillie

Grows well in containers outside in a warm, sunny position. It works just like bush tomatoes, providing them with the heat they need. They will continue producing well until the first frosts occur in autumn.

Provide Plenty of Water

The key to garden success is watering, especially in warm, dry regions. In the first week after sowing seeds or transplanting seedlings, watering is crucial to keep plants strong.

After your plants are established, watering them regularly can be more beneficial than a little sprinkle every day. Then the water will seep deeper into the soil, which encourages the roots to grow deeper, where they’ll be better protected and more able to access nutrients they need under normal conditions.

Consider the weather conditions and the composition of your soil when deciding when to water. Generally, clay soil dries out slower than sand soil does. The sun and the wind tend to dry the soil more rapidly than cool and cloudy weather. Feel the soil 3 to 4 inches down from the surface if you are not sure.

If it feels dry, it’s time to water. 

It’s important to do this even on rainy days, because sometimes rain water will run off rather than soak in to the soil, which does nothing for your garden.

Tip #5: Start composting

Composting is a great way to reuse your organic waste and turn it into something useful. This article will explain the benefits of composting, how to start a compost pile, and what kind of materials you should include in your compost pile.

Benefits of Composting:

  1. Protects the environment by using up organic waste and turning it into something useful.
  2. Produces nutrient-rich soil for vegetables, flowers, fruits and other plants.

How to start a compost pile:

Find a location for the compost heap as close as possible to where you grow your plants. The compost heap should be at least three feet high and have a hole in the centre big enough for an adult to crawl inside (about four by six feet). It’s important that it has good air circulation, so don’t put too many large logs on top of

Make sure it’s not near any plants or trees that you want to keep them as the compost heap will start to degrade any plant in its path.

Turn the pile every few weeks to prevent it from compacting and start a new one if it feels too wet or smells bad

Add green garden waste that is free of chemicals, such as lawn clippings and banana peels. Don’t add things like meat, dairy products or anything that has been cooked.

Cover the top of the heap with a thick layer of straw to prevent it from smelling bad and make sure there is not too much heat coming out

It’s important for compost piles to have enough water so they don’t dry out but remember worms need air as well.

Choose an appropriate container and fill it with layers of green material (grass clippings, vegetable scraps, leaves) and brown material (dry leaves, straw). For more information on compost heaps see this article on composting which goes into more detail.

Start Plants in Rich Soil

For the best harvest, your vegetable garden needs rich, healthy soil. You know it when you feel it: It drains well and doesn’t take long to dig.

How gritty or powdery do you see your garden soil? Too much sand or too much clay. The combination of these types, and in which specific proportions, determines the texture of your garden soil. That texture affects drainage and nutrient availability.

Organic materials can transform ordinary soil into one that is dark, crumbly, and literally full of life. Soil of all textures can be improved, no matter how rough it is, through the incorporation of organic matter. 

Sandy soil, for instance, is made up of large soil particles and water and nutrients run through the open spaces rather rapidly. Adding organic matter (typically compost) helps fill the cracks between the sand grains, and helps retain moisture and nutrients for plants to use.

In contrast, clay soils contain tiny, densely packed particles that hold moisture, but are extremely difficult for plant roots to access oxygen. Compost helps separate those tiny clay particles so water can drain more freely and plant roots can get the oxygen they need.

Add any needed amendments such as compost to the soil before planting and work them in with a tiller or spade. Don’t step on freshly tilled soil or you might compact it, undoing all your hard work. Keep it loose by raking and watering thoroughly. It is recommended to let the bed rest for several days before planting to let the soil amendments do their thing.

About NormaNorma left her city job in 2003 and moved to the country where she now spends most of her time in the garden. Norma is involved with many local gardening clubs and sits on multiple committees advocating the hobby to as many people as possible.
Everything in life starts by planting a seed“.