Welcome to the first post in our organic vegetable gardening 101 series where you’ll learn a little about my gardening background and the 10 steps you can take to create a vegetable garden to grow your own organic food for your family! My goal with this gardening series is to arm you with:
- Inspiration– I didn’t know anything about growing food when I started and now I grow enough to eat fresh produce through the summer and preserve for the winter, and you can, too!
- Knowledge– the basic things to think about so that you’ll have success.
- Step-by-step instructions– to sow seeds indoors or out, plant, water, and harvest.
- Tips I’ve learned– through trial and error and often against ‘tradition’ but that help to make gardening easier that what you may remember your parents or grandparents doing (hours of back-breaking weeding with a hoe? no thanks!)
In all honesty, gardening does take time – to plan, plant, care, and even harvest and prep your vegetables (although you can decide how much), but it doesn’t have to cost a lot, it’s fun, provides good exercise and outdoor activity, takes you back to a simpler time, and gives a feeling of accomplishment few things can rival. You’ll know what I mean when you serve a meal that you can say, “All this produce came from my garden!”
My Gardening Background
I love growing my own vegetables now but I didn’t start out that way – when we bought our first house I was all about flowers: roses, daylilies, and peonies especially. I remembered as a kid having to weed our family’s patch of garden and I wasn’t really interested in that. I was reading Organic Gardening, though, and learned about raised beds and I thought I could handle that since they minimized weeding.
So I added a couple of raised beds to grow some lettuce, tomatoes, and beans to my garden plan surrounded by my flowers. And then something I could’ve never guessed happened: the first time I created an entire meal out of the vegetables I grew gave me such a great feeling that I began carving out more and more space for vegetables. I wanted to be able to say that all the produce in a meal came from my garden!
So we moved to a house with more space (just under an acre) and I finally met my goal to produce all the organic vegetables for our meals, which had blessed us so much. Not only that, but I’ve been able to provide all our family’s veggies during the height of the growing season with the goal each season to buy very little, if any, produce from April through November. And with preserving, I lessen the amount I need to buy through the winter, too.
My story is just to illustrate how you can catch the ‘bug’ to grow your own food, that it’s fun, and that you can provide for your family. However you don’t have to have a huge space to grow vegetables – you can garden on any amount of land (which is one of the beauties of raised beds, I think).
In fact, if you are just starting a garden, that is my biggest tip:
Add one or two raised beds to a sunny area of your yard and grow from there if you want. You can always add more beds later, but starting too big and having the garden get out of control by midsummer or drowning in heaps of produce in September is one of the things I’ve heard from people who were turned off of gardening after starting too big.
Catch that “I grew that!” bug first like I did, have fun with it, and then add more if you want. And while winter is a great time to plan and dream of your future garden, any time of year works, too – we have built raised beds in July and planted them with fall-growing varieties. So let’s get started gardening!
Here are 10 basic steps to take – before planting your first seeds and plants- to help your vegetable garden be a success (affiliate links provided for your information):
- Choose your space. It needs to get the most sun possible, so plan your garden space for an area that is sunny for most (preferably all) of the day. If that’s not possible, aim for 6 hours sun. Anything less than that and things like tomatoes, beans and cucumbers just won’t produce very well for you.
- Decide on your garden design. I’m an advocate of raised beds for their ease of watering, weeding, and growing a lot in a little space. However, some things just do better in traditional rows – like corn. So I have “modified” raised permanent beds for these vegetables. See more about my take on easy care design for gardens here.
- Buy tools and fertilizer. You’ll need some basic tools like a trowel, shovel, and metal rake plus a good all-purpose organic fertilizer. It’s nice to have clean grass clippings, hay, newspaper or purchased mulch to be able to lay down between plants to conserve moisture and suppress weeds.
- Prepare your garden space. As soon as the ground can be worked in spring, build raised beds, clear sod, add organic matter, and do any other task you need for your garden to be ready to plant.
- Before planting anything, decide what you want to grow. Choose vegetables that your family actually eats, not what you think will be fun. Later you can experiment with a plant or two of a new vegetable, but when you’re just starting out it’s most rewarding to stick with tried-and-true varieties.
- Locate your area’s first and last frost dates. Seed packets will tell you when to plant based on this date (“plant 2 weeks before your last frost date,” etc.), so you’ll need this information. For example, in Western Oregon where I live, our last frost date is May 15th and our first frost date is October 15th.
- Purchase seeds. Visit a local store or order online (here are a few of my favorite catalogs to order from). Plan to buy enough to be able to plant a few succession crops of quick growers like lettuces, or herbs like cilantro. I would suggest buying carrots, lettuce (a few different varieties), spinach, beans and squashes that your family likes.
- Start seeds indoors early or purchase seedlings later. Use our seed-starting guide to start your own seeds or purchase plants from a nursery. Wait until it’s okay to plant according to your frost date before buying tomato and pepper plants.
- Plan your watering. I strongly advocate using soaker hoses with quick connectors or some other system that waters at the root of the plants. Overhead watering often spreads diseases, encourages shallow root growth, and loses a lot of the water to evaporation before even reaching the plants.
- Plant, maintain, harvest and enjoy!
Note: Our classic vegetable gardening series was published in the first year of the blog – 2009. It’s being republished with all new photos and pinnable graphic, updated information, and clearer formatting. Look for the rest of the series to be updated and republished over the next few months as we look towards another fun gardening season!
Other Organic Vegetable Gardening 101 Series Articles:
- How to Start Seeds – A Step-by Step Tutorial
- Caring for Your Seedlings at Week 1
- Caring for Your Seedlings at Week 6
- Planting Your Seedlings
- Design Your Garden for Easy Care
- Planning for a Fall Garden
Within this series, the emphasis is on Easy Gardening. You’ll find the tricks and techniques I’ve learned to make gardening easier, from the ground up. I wouldn’t garden if it involved lots of weeding and digging, so I’ve adopted ways to garden that minimizes these tasks that I am happy to share with you!
Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links and by clicking on them you help support AOC at no extra cost to you – thanks so much! Plus you can trust I’ll only share what I love. (You can always read our entire disclosure page here.)