Are you thinking of adding a backyard vegetable garden? Great! There is no time like the present to get started. Here are 6 steps to get you started.
1. Find a water source
I put this at the top of the list because I have made the mistake of planting my garden all the way in the back of my yard and I had to drag a hose all the way to the back to water my plants. Not fun. So look at your water source options. Where is the water spigot at your house? Do you have an existing sprinkler system you can use? Find a water source first, then choose your space.
Once you have decided on your water source, decide on the size of the space you want to plant. If you are like me, I get overwhelmed with too many options. So I will only give you a few of the most important questions to ask yourself. How much is manageable for you right now? Is it a couple of raised beds or a few grow bags that can easily be moved? Don’t overwhelm yourself. If you work a full-time job, then start with a few raised beds that you can water in the afternoon when you get home. See how that goes first, then add more later. The key is to start with something you can manage easily without getting overwhelmed.
The next step is to decide what kind of beds you want. Decide between in-ground or above-ground beds. In-ground means digging a hole, adding some soil amendments, and plopping a plant in. Above ground means a raised bed or grow bags.
In-ground Advantages and Disadvantages
Saves you money to start because you only have to spend money on a few soil amendments and plants.
Each new hole will be surrounded by weeds, grass, or a combination of both. This means really spending a lot of time keeps the grass and weeds at bay. Established lawns take a lot of work to kill the grass and weeds. I also had a problem with mole and voles digging trenches in my yard and literally stealing my plants, root, and all! They would grab them and drag them down into their tunnel to eat.
Above-ground Advantages Disadvantages
Above-ground beds are easy to maintain. ‘They can also be moved if you decide you placed them in a bad location or if you move to another house.
The cost of building and filling with soil can be expensive to start. If you use grow bags, it will be a lot less expensive than building raised beds. Grow bags are also something that you won’t need help with. For instance, if you don’t have the tools to assemble the beds, grow bags are a good choice. You also have two options when it comes to raised beds. You can build them yourself or you can buy a kit. The kit is super easy to assemble and doesn’t require any tools but can cost more.
I personally started with raised beds. I used recycled lumber from an old shed to build my very first 2 beds. The next two beds were built using some leftover deck boards. The cost of lumber has gone up significantly lately ( I think the news said 600%) so using some old wood might be a good choice to get you started. You can always add more later.
In my raised beds and my grow bags, I use a mix and layer my soil. The nutrients start at the top and work their way down in the soil. So I don’t use just raised bed mixes. I start with a layer of topsoil. Topsoil has no nutritional value, it’s just a base. Then I add a mix of peat moss and raised bed mix. The peat moss helps make the soil fluffy so air can get down into the roots. If you choose to do it in the ground, you need to bed garden soil or in a ground mix. But if all you can find is a raised bed mix, just get that. It’s not going to hurt. The difference between raised bed mix and the in-ground mix is raised bed mix is designed to hold in moisture.
Note about soil: Don’t get stuck when you see the overwhelming amount of choices for soil. When I first started my garden, the choices were so overwhelming. I was scared to buy the wrong thing. You do want to buy soil with lots of nutrients for your plants but I’ve learned that over a period of a few months with rain, storms, and the sun beaming down, your soil will have to be replenished anyway. I like Kellogg's brand but any brand will be fine. Don’t overthink it.
Now comes the fun part - plants. What do you want to try? The beauty of being a new gardener is that you can experiment. I started looking at my grocery list to see what we like to eat. From that list, I did research on my hardiness zone. You can find out what zone you are here. Once you know what zone you're in, you can start looking for plants (or varieties) that grow in your zone well. This will take some trial and error. For example, I love squash and tomatoes and they grow well in Zone 8 in the Summer. So I chose to grow them. I also love onions, cabbage, and broccoli but here is Zone 8, they will only grow in the much cooler months which are late fall. So I had to wait to plant those.
Where to buy plants?
Picking up already started plants at a garden center is the best way to begin. Growing plants from seed can take a long time and they generally need more specialized conditions. I started my backyard garden with plants I bought from Home Depot and it was worth it to skip the seed stage.
When I first started my backyard vegetable garden, I did not buy any flowers to attract pollinators. This caused a major issue when my plants got ready to produce fruit. I had to hand pollinate my plants which was a pain because you have the time it right and I still worked a full-time job. Definitely buy a few pretty plants that bees and butterflies love to help with pollination.
6. Watch Your Garden Grow
The best part of gardening is tending to all these little things and watching them slowly mature each day. There is something so relaxing and enjoyable about watching your plants develop. Having the right tools will also help you. Check out my post of selecting the right garden tools for you. I hope this helps you get started. If you have any questions, just drop them below. I would be glad to answer them.