How to Start a Vegetable Garden: A Beginner's Guide

Luscious vegetables bursting forth from your hand-tilled plot of love and hopefulness -- there is truly nothing better than your own hard-won, fresh vegetables, so why not learn how to start a vegetable garden? A beginner's guide, a bit of soil, and lots of optimistic anticipation are all you need to get started.

Know what you grow

The combination of pesticides, unknown fertilizers and unusual organic treatments adds up to concern and question. What is in and on that produce at the grocery store and farm stand? What am I putting in my family's belly? Growing your own food takes the question mark out of the equation. When you cultivate your own vegetables, you control everything that's harvested. Quality in equals quality out.

Pick a sunny spot

Whether you pot on a terrace or till a tract in the back yard, you need sunshine to grow vegetables. Sunlight develops the plant from seed to seedling to fruit- or vegetable-bearing workhorse. With ample sunlight, you will get the most out of your efforts.

Start simply

Your first vegetable garden can be pretty overwhelming. Pick simple, easy-to-grow crowd pleasers like lettuce and other greens. A tomato plant and a thicket of basil are always nice as well. These are family favorites that don't take up too much space but do make up a substantial part of a healthy diet.

Prepare the soil

Vegetable gardens are only as good as the quality of the soil. You will need to prepare the soil with loam and compost to boost the organic nutrients in the soil. Turn the ground with a spade or pitchfork and mix in additives such as peat moss and sand for moisture control. A good soil should have a balance of drainage and water retention. Fertilize the soil with 5-10-5 basic fertilizers for an additional boost of potential nutrition.

Timing is everything

Lettuces and greens like cool earth. These can be planted early in the growing season, or again in late summer for a second fall harvest. Tomatoes and basil prefer the warmth of the heart of summer. Research the needs of the plants that you select.

Position plants properly

Install seedlings into your rich earth with good spacing and depth. Every plant is different, so follow the guidelines for each plant's unique needs. There are many free resources on the web. The University of Connecticut College of Agriculture and Natural Resources publishes home and garden guides with tons of information on gardening. Do not be surprised if things look sparse at first. The new growth will fill in quickly and you may even need to thin out the garden in the future.

Watch, water and wait

Once you've planned and planted, you need to monitor the garden for its needs. Water the garden in the morning before the sun is at its warmest. You won't waste water with evaporation and the risk of developing fungus or disease is reduced. Be patient! Lettuce seeds sprout in a few days but take weeks or even a couple months to harvest, depending upon fickle Mother Nature.

Happy harvesting

Once your vegetables have grown to maturity you can pick, clip and rip them carefully from their footing. Head lettuce can only be cut once -- like carrots and beets. However, leaf lettuce keeps on giving -- as does basil. Don't overthink it, just start a vegetable garden and enjoy!

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