How to Plant a First Time Vegetable Garden

The When, the Where, the What of Vegetable Gardening for First Timers

With the rising cost of buying fresh fruit and vegetables it only makes sense to plant your own garden. If you've never planted a garden there are a lot of things to consider before starting. The zone you live in, the type of soil, what vegetables to plant and how many plants can stop a first time gardener in his or her tracks. I've been gardening for many, many years and would like to offer first time gardeners some tips.

The first thing to consider is an area in your yard that gets full sun. Vegetables won't grow in a shady spot. Once you have an area picked out, you need to think about what you want to plant. For first time gardeners I would suggest lettuce or spinach (there are many varieties to choose from), green beans (the Blue Lake variety is hardy and easy to grow), corn (many available varieties--I prefer the bi-color) and tomatoes (also many varieties--I plant grape tomatoes, plum tomatoes and Celebrity tomatoes). A family of 4 would need to buy 2 packs of lettuce, 2 packs of green beans, 1 pack of corn and 3 or 4 tomato plants.

The area that needs to be measured off would be a 10' x 10' or 8' x 12'. The dirt needs to be dug up, turned over and chopped up--with all the grass and weeds raked up and removed. The easy way to do this is to rent or borrow a rototiller. This machine digs into the soil, turns it up and pulverizes it all in one easy step. If your soil is clay you need to purchase and add 3 to 6 bags of sand and/or peat moss as you're tilling. Sand and peat will help break clay down to a more porous type of dirt and help with drainage.

Once the area is ready, you can start planting. All seeds and ready to plant vegetables come with directions on when to plant for your zone, and how to plant including how far apart to space your plants. The lettuce, beans and corn seeds should be planted in rows. Just take your shovel and draw a line in the soil as deep as directions tell you and drop the seeds in the line. Cover gently with dirt and water generously. Tomato plants should be spaced according to directions. Dig a hole larger then the base of the plant, pour water in the hole and gently remove the tomato plant from it's pot and place in the hole. Cover with dirt and water a little more. I recommend the use of tomato cages, which can be purchased at the same time the plants are purchased. Put the cage around the plant as soon as you get it in the ground and you won't need to worry about staking it later. If it doesn't rain, make sure you water the plants and seedlings generously every day. After a few weeks you can fertilize all the plants with organic fish emulsion or any commercial vegetable fertilizer. If you have a dry climate with no rain, make sure you water the plants and continue to do so all through the growing season. Pull weeds as necessary so they don't overtake the vegetables.

Lettuce will be ready to eat in 25-30 days (and will continue to produce through most of summer as long as you just clip the leaves), green beans take around 55-60 days to harvest, corn takes 75-80 days and your first tomatoes will be ready in 80-95 days. Tomatoes will continue to produce and ripen for the next 2-3 months.

Once you have an area tilled it can serve as your garden every year. For most people the garden area gets bigger and other vegetables are added. Once you taste fresh, you'll never go back to store bought in the summer again.

Happy gardening!