The First Steps of Vegetable Gardening

a head of broccoli

1. Select Your Produce

Think about what products you and your family enjoy eating and what you might want to use to preserve or freeze for later use. Your gardening will be the most effective and enjoyable when you love the end product. This can also help with planning what to grow and how much space you need.

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2. Site Selection

Picking the right site for the garden is key. Most fruit-producing plants, like tomatoes, peppers, and squash require full sun, which means at a minimum the site should receive 6 hours of sunshine a day. If you are growing plants like leafy greens, shadier spaces can be used. The site should also be close to a water source and easily accessible.

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a bunch of asparagus

3. Garden Size

Choosing the right size for your garden can help produce the veggies that you want at a size that you can manage. Many home gardeners use raised beds as a way to reduce the garden footprint, grow lots of veggies in a small space, and keep the work to a manageable level. Even a few container gardens with veggies can be a good place to start.

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Two purple eggplant.

4. Creating a New Garden Space

There are several options for developing a new garden space. Raised beds can be built without having to till or dig. Gardening in beds can help with the effective use of space. Layering several inches of soil and compost on top of the soil can build a bed quickly - no tilling required.

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a radish with the leaves

5. When to Plant

Knowing when to plant specific crops is important to make sure you get the most production out of your plants and reducing potential pest problems. Cool-season crops like broccoli, cabbage, and leafy greens can be planted in spring and fall but do not fare well when the temperature rises. Warm-season crops like tomatoes, peppers, corn, and squash need to wait until after frost has passed.

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a cauliflower floret.

6. Seeds or Transplants

Some plants are best started as seeds in the garden while others should be transplanted as seedlings that you have started or purchased from the garden center. Root crops like carrots, beets, and radishes should be sown as seeds as should corn and beans. Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant should be planted as transplants. Some plants like squash and cucumbers can be planted either way.

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a bunch of carrots

7. Plant Size

How big does that plant get? Understanding how big plants get can help plan out the garden space to make sure everything does not run together. Not only is a messy garden hard to maintain, but diseases spread easier when plants are too close together. Think of it as physical distancing for the garden.

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a bunch of potatoes.

8. Water & Fertilizing

Vegetable plants need about 1 inch of water per week (precipitation and irrigation combined). Water should be applied all in one application, not divided into several smaller, more frequent applications. Keep the hose end close to the ground to keep water from splashing, which spreads diseases. Too much fertilizer will discourage flower (and vegetable) production. Use a water-soluble fertilizer, diluted according to label directions, to get transplants off to a good start. Then use compost or well-aged manure as a side-dressing for ongoing fertilization.

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a bunch of radishes

9. Preventing Insects, Diseases, & Weeds

Practices like mulching, using protective netting, and selecting disease-resistant plants are called Integrative Pest Management and can help reduce the probability that your garden will suffer from diseases and insects. These problems can result in decreased yield, dead or damaged plants, and inedible fruits and veggies. Planting flowers and herbs in or around your garden can attract pollinators and beneficial bugs that eat some of the bad bugs.

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a bunch of sweet peppers.

10. Identifying & Controlling Insects, Diseases, and Weeds

If your garden does suffer from diseases or insects there are several options for managing the issues to slow down the spread or save the plant. Gardeners can use organic or conventional treatment options to deal with most issues. Knowing what to use and when to use it can help keep gardens healthy and productive throughout the season.

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vegetable harvest

11. Fresh Vegetable Harvest, Storage and Food Safety

Proper harvesting is just as important as proper growth. Knowing when produce is ready to harvest and how to store it can increase the storage life and edibility of your crops. Practicing food safety like hand washing and sanitation is also important to extend produce life and reduce potential health risks.

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