Updated: Apr 24
If you are planning a vegetable garden but are not sure where to start, you have come to the right place. Gardening can seem daunting at first, but really it is quite simple. All you need is decent soil, sun, water and seeds! With a few tips you can begin the exciting journey of growing your own food.
In this article I will be sharing:
the best soil for vegetable gardens
the best location for a garden
the best vegetable seed varieties for beginner gardeners
when to plant vegetable seeds
when to harvest garden vegetables
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One of my favorite tips for new and old gardeners alike is "expect failures". You will likely have many gardening successes and a few failures. Maybe some years it will feel like many failures and a few successes. Know that THIS IS NORMAL... for all of us gardeners. It can be easy to forget that gardening is a very dynamic activity with many elements out of our control. Try not to let setbacks frustrate you, but take each one as a learning opportunity.
One year I thought my garden was completely wiped out by hail in late June. I gained so much respect for garden plants when I observed many of them bounce back from the thrashing. If I had thrown in the towel and pulled all the plants, I would never have gotten this opportunity.
Enjoy and be amazed at every gardening success. Count what doesn't turn out as part of the learning process that will lead to future success.
Now on to the fun part, planning our garden!
The Best Soil for Growing Vegetables
When you show up in the hardware store looking for garden soil, you will be overwhelmed if you don't know what you are looking for. The best garden soil mix can be made from:
1/3 top soil
1/3 peat moss or coconut coir
Top soil by itself can often contain too much clay, not hold moisture well, and not contain enough nutrients to support garden vegetables. For this reason a mix of compost, top soil and peat moss makes the perfect vegetable gardening mix of nutritious, loose soil that can also retain water.
This garden soil mix can be used in raised beds, large pots as well as to augement in-ground vegetable gardens. You can buy these 3 components separately, or you can read soil bags to try to find a pre-mixed vegetable garden soil mix.
This soil mix is for outdoor vegetable gardens. If you are starting seeds indoors use Sungro soil or Pro Mix BX.
There is much more to learn about testing and amending garden soil from year to year. If you plan to use existing soil, find out more about maintaining garden soil here.
If you will be filling raised beds with soil, you don't need to use this expensive garden soil mix to completely fill a deep raised bed. There are other more affordable options for what to place in the bottom of raised beds. I share details of soil for raised beds here.
The Best Location for a Vegetable Garden
It is important to take hours of sunlight into consideration when planning a vegetable garden. For most vegetables, the more sunlight the better. Nearly all vegetables need a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight each day. If your only gardening space is a location that will receive 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day or less, check out these vegetables to grow in shade.
Vegetables that do especially well in very hot locations (maybe up against a south wall) with full sun include:
These heat loving veggies love to have warm roots. For those of us growing in zone 3 or other cool growing climates it can be helpful to grow these plants in a greenhouse or in containers, as the soil in containers, especially if they are next to a south facing wall, tends to get warmer during the day than soil in the ground.
Find more detailed information on the best location for a vegetable garden here.
Easiest Vegetable Seeds to Grow
When facing a catalog of seeds or racks of seeds in the garden center, it can seem very overwhelming to select the variety you want to grow. For this reason I will try to simplify the process for you by sharing some of the best and easiest vegetables to grow. Here are some of my favourite varieties.
I will link each seed variety to a West Coast Seeds Link. I have always had great luck growing West Coast Seeds and consider them some of the easiest and most reliable seeds to grow. Click on the underlined vegetables to read more about growing each one. The links placed on the suggested varieties are West Coast Seeds affiliate links from which I may earn a small commission.
cabbage - Copenhagen
cauliflower - Snow Crown
garlic - Red Russian
kale - Blue Scotch
zucchini - Black Beauty
Selecting varieties can be one of the best parts of gardening, but if it seems overwhelming, consider going with some of the tried and true varieties listed above.
When shopping for seeds make sure you know how many frost free growing days you have and note the Days to Maturity listed on the seed package. Because I am gardening in zone 3, I often go for the variety with the fewest days to maturity I can find.
*Note - Some seed packages count days to maturity from transplant date and do not include the indoor growing days required prior to transplant.
Also note, the days to maturity listed is how many days the plant takes to mature and produce under ideal growing conditions. Most of us are working with less than ideal gardening conditions and the days to maturity will take longer than listed. Give yourself some wiggle room.
When to Plant Vegetable Seeds
Some vegetable seeds take longer to grow and should be started indoors even if they are cold tolerant. In northern garden growing conditions like zone 3, these include:
Cucumbers (can be started indoor or out)
Onions (if growing from seeds not sets)
Squash (can be started indoors or out)
You can find a free printable chart of WHEN to start these seeds (and more) indoors here.
Seeds that can be planted directly into your garden include:
Corn (can be started indoors or out)
Many of these seeds can be started before your last frost. Beets, carrots, dill, kale, lettuce, peas, potatoes, radishes, spinach and Swiss chard can all be planted directly from seed in late April to early May.
You can also transplant some of the plants you started indoors before your last frost as long as you carefully harden them off before hand. These cold hardy vegetables include cabbage, cauliflower and onions. Plant these outdoors around early to mid May.
Wait to plant beans, corn and cucumbers until well after your last expected spring frost. End of May or beginning of June if the weather gets cool. These seeds germinate best in warm soil. This is also when you would transplant your tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, corn and melons. These will also need to be hardened off carefully prior to transplanting them outdoors.
When to Harvest Garden Vegetables
Don't wait until fall to begin harvesting your garden vegetables! Many, like spinach, radishes, green onions, chives and peas can be harvested as early as May or June. With most green leafy vegetables and many herbs you can harvest up to 1/2 of each plant and more will regrow. In fact, salad bowl lettuce can be cut right down to about 2.5 inches from the ground and more will grow in its place.
I begin to harvest carrots as soon as they are large enough to make the effort worthwhile. This tends to be towards the end of July. I try to pull every second carrot, thinning as I harvest, leaving more room for the ones left to grow.
Baby potatoes can be "stolen" by gently harvesting them from around your potato plants near the end of July.
By extending your vegetable harvest as early and as late into the season as possible you can provide garden fresh veggies for you and your family for longer.
Hopefully this has provided you with a great foundation for starting out vegetable gardening and has simplified the process for you as a beginner gardener!
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