Starting Your First Vegetable Garden – Part 2

plant seedling

The miracle!

Welcome to the wonderful world of vegetable gardening! Growing your own produce can be fun and economical if you’re careful to not go overboard the first year.

In our earlier post we talked about the importance of starting small and selecting vegetables and herbs that are relatively easy to grow. This allows you to learn how much time you’re able to spend in the garden and whether or not you actually enjoy having a vegetable garden.

After getting your garden beds created – whether it’s by removing sod and working the soil under the sod, or with a raised bed – it’s now time to plan the garden.

In Part 1 we talked about the various types of seeds, and which vegetables are better to buy as small plants rather than starting from seeds.

There are various ways to lay out your garden, from French Intensive Gardening and Square Foot Gardening to simple rows with a layer mulch in between. Unless you have a lot of time to spend researching each method, the easiest way to get started is to simply plot your garden in rows, leaving enough room in between each row so that you can get in to water, weed and harvest.   Garden expert Maria Ianotti from offers a few simple garden layout styles, including the pro’s and con’s on each of them.


What goes where . . .

Most seed packets and plant labels indicate the amount of sun required and often use terms or symbols like “full sun,” “part sun,” “shade” etc. So, before deciding what to plant where, think about the direction the sun moves over your garden. This will be helpful to know as you’re plotting out the garden. For instance, cucumbers and lettuce don’t need nearly as much sun as tomatoes so those can be planted in a spots that gets shaded by the tomatoes or other taller plants during part of the day. Eggplant and peppers do best with heat and sun, so you don’t want those to be in the shadow of taller plants like pole beans or tomatoes.

Many people also use “companion planting” as a way to determine what to plant where. This age-old method of gardening works on the theory that certain plant combinations  – including herbs, vegetables and flowers – can enhance growth, repel pests, and much more. A few examples of companion planting include planting nasturium flowers around squash and cucumber plants to repel cucumber beetles.  Marigolds planted throughout the vegetable garden are thought to repel a variety of garden pests. For more information about companion gardening, read our Simple Guide to Companion Planting post.


When to plant what . . .

In Part 1 we talked about knowing your USDA Growing Zone along with your  first and last frost dates. Those pieces of information will help you to determine when it’s best to plant each of your vegetables.  Most seed packets provide information about planting time as well. For instance, a spinach seed packet may say “plant directly 2 weeks before your last frost.” Carrots and beets take a while to germinate and can be planted a few weeks before the last frost date. Beans germinate more quickly though so again, look at the seed packet to determine the “Days to Germination” and be careful to plant them late enough so that the little seedlings won’t be damaged by a late frost.

The Vegetable Garden website has a helpful list of planting schedules by USDA Zone, and an easy zip-code look up tool to determine your Zone.

Thoroughly confused?  If trying to figure out what to plant when gets to be too overwhelming, you can simply wait until 5-10 days after your “last frost date” to plant everything.  That way you can be fairly confident that none of  your plants will be destroyed by a freeze or frost.


How to Plant . . .

Planting Seeds is the easiest part!  Simply follow the directions on the packet, spacing the seeds as recommended.  Remember to mark both ends of your rows so that you know what’s planted where. There are many commercial plant markers on the market but something as simple as craft or Popsicle sticks or paint stirrers with the name written in pencil or a felt tip marker works just as well.

Row markers

Row markers can be made from a variety of inexpensive materials.

Some people even use old forks with the plant package stuck between the tines.   This can be a fun first gardening project for kids too!


Peppers, Tomatoes and Squash . . . Oh My!

Most garden centers sell vegetable garden transplants in 6-packs. However, if you’ve decided to start small, you may be overwhelmed by the variety of plants available at the garden center, tempted to buy too much or worried that you may not have room to plant an entire 6-pack of tomatoes, peppers and/or cucumbers.  So, why not do a bit of garden planning and plant-sharing with a friend or neighbor?  This way you can split 6-packs, mix and match different varieties, and save money doing so.


Clearbrook Farm

Garden centers offer an array of vegetable transplants in a range of sizes. Shown here is Clearbrook Farm in Vermont.

When selecting plants, first and foremost, buy them from a reputable garden center – one that has a staff that tends the plants on a daily basis, watering them down to their roots, removing dead leaves, etc.   Then pick plants that have a deep green color, no yellow, wilted or diseased leaves and with soil that’s not too dry or too soggy.   Gardening is hard work and you don’t want to risk wasting your energy by using bad plants.


small vegetable garden

Starting small is a risk-free way to learn about vegetable gardening!



The final part in our Starting Your First Vegetable Garden series will include:

  • Thinning practices
  • Protecting young plants
  • Nurturing your garden
  • And mulch, mulch more!

Click here to read Part 1

Click here to read Part 3

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