vegetables you’ve grown in your own garden. They’re fresher and more flavorful than anything you’ll get at the store or even at your local farmer’s market, and you know what has gone into them.
If you’re not sure where to begin, here are 10 tips to help you start your own vegetable garden so you can indulge in some homegrown produce.
1. Pick the right spot
The first step is to pick the right spot for your garden. You’re going to want an area that gets plenty of sunlight — at least six hours a day — to allow your plants to grow and thrive. The exact amount of sun you’ll need will depend on the plants you’re growing.
Keep the layout of your yard in mind — don’t put your plants in an area where they’ll flood during heavy rain or dry out too much during a drought.
2. Choose between inground or raised
Should you plant your garden in the ground or raised beds? This depends on the quality of the soil in your yard — just because you can grow grass doesn’t mean you can grow vegetables without assistance from fertilizer or compost.
You can get your soil tested at a local testing lab — a comprehensive test should cost you less than $100 and will save you a lot of time and effort. Transplanting your vegetables into soil that can’t sustain them will leave you discouraged, and with a lot of dead plants.
Raised garden beds can help make it easier to plant if your soil is in bad shape. You can fill them with topsoil or other nutrient-rich mediums to ensure the healthiest veggies.
3. Go heirloom
Now that your soil is in decent shape, it’s time to pick seeds or plants. Don’t just stop by your local garden center and buy whatever they have available — if you’re planning on replanting every season, choose heirloom varieties of your favorite vegetables.
At the end of the season, these plants will go to seed, allowing you to collect viable seeds for your next planting season. Not only will you get to hang on to your favorite varieties of vegetable, but you’ll also be able to plant again next season without spending money.
4. Plan your crops
Planning out can help you improve your harvest and prevent disappointment at the end of the season. Plan out where you’ll place each species, making sure you keep similar species apart.
Planting cucumbers and cantaloupe together, for example, will result in your melons having no flavor and your cucumbers coming out bitter. This is because these plants belong to the same genus, and cross-pollination can cause problems.
5. Pay attention to seasons
Tracking the seasons and weather becomes more critical when you’re growing your own vegetable garden. You don’t want to plant winter crops in the spring or summer crops in the fall. Keep track of the weather and only plant what is in season.
6. Encourage pollinators
This is especially important if you’re using heirloom vegetable varieties — they need something to fertilize them for them to produce. Encourage pollinators like bees to visit your garden by planting some flowers. The bright colors attract the bees, and once they’re there, they’ll happily pollinate all your vegetable plants.
7. Start small
If you’re not a farmer, beginning your veggie garden with a massive plot might be overwhelming. Starting small can give you an idea of the kind of upkeep your garden will require. Then, you can decide if you’re ready to graduate to a larger plot or more raised beds.
8. Stock up on tools
Digging around in the dirt with your hands is fun, but it’s not the most efficient way to plant a garden. For small plots, you won’t need much more than some hand tools — like a trowel, a shovel and a rake — but if you start creating larger plots, it might be worth it to invest in or rent a tiller. This tool runs on electricity or gasoline to turn up large plots of land and prepare them for planting.
9. Don’t forget to water
Depending on where you live, you might not need to water every single day. If you get a lot of rain, make sure your plants have sufficient drainage — overwatering can cause the roots to rot, killing your plants.
Keep an eye on the soil, too. If it’s wet to the touch, you probably don’t need to water. On the other hand, if your plants begin to wilt, it’s because they’re not getting enough water.
10. Start simple
Don’t try to grow the entire produce section on your first try — start with some easy-to-grow veggies like lettuce or other greens, root vegetables like onions or carrots, tomatoes and cucumbers. These are some of the easiest things to grow. If you can manage that, you’ve got an entire salad!
Starting your own vegetable garden might seem intimidating, but it’s a lot easier than you may imagine. Start small, choose good heirloom varieties and pay attention to your soil, and you’ll have a homegrown salad on your dinner table before you know it.
This is a guest post written by Megan Ray Nichols.
Megan Ray Nichols is a science writer and the editor of Schooled By Science. She enjoys discussing scientific discoveries and exploring the world around her. Follow her on twitter @nicholsrmegan.