Easy steps for how to start gardening to grow and eat your own produce this year! Lay out (or revamp) an organic vegetable garden with these 10 basic steps for planning a low maintenance vegetable plot. (Yes, it can be done!)
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Whether you are you interested in starting a vegetable garden this year or revamping an old one, you can have your easiest garden ever with these 10 simple steps.
It takes a little planning in the beginning, but isn't that always the fun part?
This article is part of the organic vegetable gardening 101 series with the goal of providing you with:
- Inspiration- I came from knowing nothing about gardening to growing enough to eat fresh produce through the summer and preserve for the winter - and you can, too!
- Knowledge- the basic things to know so that you'll have success right from the start.
- Step-by-step instructions- sowing seeds indoors or out, planting, watering, harvesting and everything in between.
- My Best Tips- learned through trial and error - and often against 'tradition' - 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!).
(The full list of articles can be found at the link above or scroll to the bottom.)
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 take as much time as we think.
And 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!"
It's the best of a simple homemade life.
My Gardening Story
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.
Vegetables? Uh, I remembered as a kid having to weed our family's patch of veggies and I wasn't really interested in that.
It was through reading Organic Gardening magazine, though, that I first learned about raised beds and no-tilling - which meant less weeding and less work.
So I added a couple of raised beds to grow lettuce, tomatoes, and beans in my garden plan - surrounded by flowers still, of course.
And then something I never could've guessed happened:
The first time I created an entire meal for my family out of the vegetables I grew gave me such a great feeling that I began carving out more and more space for vegetables.
I needed more room to grow vegetables and fruit.
It was a dream come true to be able to move to a house with more space (just under an acre) - and to meet my goal of producing all the organic vegetables for our meals.
I'm here to say you can definitely catch the 'bug' to grow your own food!
Plus, it's a fun and grounding activity that can also 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.
So pick an area, just a few things to start growing and make a plan. This is how I started our new, smaller garden at our 1900 Farmhouse fixer upper.
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!
Want all the steps in a checklist to help you on your way? Click the image below!
How to Start Gardening in 10 Easy Steps
Here are 10 basic steps to take - most happen before planting your first seeds and plants- to help your vegetable garden be a success.
Start from number one and work your way down the list. (Want to print out a list to add to your garden journal to help you keep track? Click here!)
1. Choose your space.
Think full sun, easy to access, near water.
Your plants will need 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 a day. Anything less than that and things like tomatoes, beans and cucumbers just won't produce very well for you.
2. Decide on your garden beds and design.
Raised beds, in-ground, permanent paths, etc.
For the easiest garden starting out, choose raised beds because:
- Filled with excellent soil, there will not be as many weeds.
- Beds dry out/warm up faster for late winter/early spring planting.
- It's easy to pull the few weeds that do sprout.
- Built at four feet wide or less, there’s no need to walk on the soil, lessening compaction.
- All the nutrients and water go to the plants- none to paths (which lead to weeds).
- No need for heavy equipment like a tiller.
- You can plant closer together to increase harvest.
- Root crops like carrots have no problem growing long and straight.
- It's easy to extend the growing season with simple covers over the beds.
As you can see above, we've used concrete blocks, composite decking, broken concrete, cedar, mounded dirt and rocks to build raised beds. Use what you have or can get easily.
However, some things just do better in traditional rows - like corn. But you can still choose mounded raised beds with permanent paths even with crops like these.
And permanent paths using gravel, wood chips or other material are a key to an easy care vegetable garden:
- If layered over black plastic, a weed barrier, or layers of newspaper/cardboard, permanent or semi-permanent mulches keeps weeds to a minimum.
- The weeds that sprout (because there are always some…) will be easier to pull.
- You're not weeding these unplanted areas, saving time and energy.
- No watering = few weeds (are you seeing a pattern here?).
- Permanent paths often adds to the beauty of the garden.
3. Before planting, decide what you want to grow and can 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. Click here to find it according to your zip code.
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.
Need some help deciding?
4. 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.
Even if you're planning on buying plant starts in your first year, you will still need seeds like carrots, lettuce (a few different varieties), spinach, beans, and squashes that can be direct seeded. It's cheaper and easier to succession plant with your own seeds.
5. Buy (or acquire) basic tools and fertilizer.
You'll need some gardening tools like:
- metal rake
- plus a good all-purpose organic fertilizer (vegetable plants need more food for their short growing season, so just adding compost won't be enough).
Here's my list of my must-have gardening tools and supplies (including the all important gloves).
6. Start seeds indoors early or purchase seedlings later.
Use this seed-starting guide to start your own seeds indoors - it's not hard and the best way to get the variety you want.
Otherwise, purchase plants from a nursery, but wait until it's okay to plant according to your frost date before buying tomato and pepper plants (not when you see them for sale - that's often too early and they will be stunted).
7. Prepare your garden space.
As soon as the ground can be worked in spring, build raised beds (no need to remove sod when layering like I show here!), add organic matter, and do any other task you need for your garden to be ready to plant.
TIP 1: Kill weeds with black plastic and solar power.
- Lay out swaths of plastic in winter or early spring over entire beds to kill weeds from the heat of the sun (it doesn't take much sun under the plastic, either).
- You can also use this technique during the season in spots where weeds have sprouted.
TIP 2: Use the no-till/layering method of gardening.
- By using a no-machine till method, most weed seeds stay buried, so they don’t sprout.
- There is less soil compaction.
- There is less disruption of the soil, leaving organisms and worms to do their work.
- Letting nature work and layering compost and natural fertilizers help build up the soil.
8. Plan your watering.
- They allow the water to be directed at the roots of the plants, where it’s needed most.
- Less water is wasted through evaporation.
- Helps avoid diseases that are spread through wet leaves.
- No water in the paths = a lot less weeds.
Overhead watering often spreads diseases, encourages shallow root growth, and loses a lot of the water to evaporation before even reaching the plants.
9. Plant your seeds and seedlings.
Use a calendar like this (adapt it for your frost times and area) to map out when to plant throughout the spring, summer and fall.
Here's a tutorial on how to plant seedlings that's also a part of the gardening 101 series.
10. Layer on mulches to lessen weeds, hold in moisture.
Use a combination of newspaper and compost (or wood chips, pine needles, etc.) on flower beds once a season to dramatically decrease the amount of time you'll spend weeding.
Use cardboard and mulch in paths and areas you won't plant.
- In the vegetable beds, straw, wood chips, grass clippings and even newspaper will help keep moisture in and weeds out.
- Plastic mulches in the vegetable garden are invaluable for both helping to keep the ground moist and weeds at bay as well as even help with growth: black and silver mulches help warm the soil for heat-loving plants like peppers and tomatoes and red plastic mulch has been shown to increase the tomato harvest.
- When combined with soaker hoses, mulches help minimize watering needs, which saves time and money.
In vegetable beds where you use these methods (especially using black plastic to kill winter weeds), the only weeds you'll have to pull during the growing season are the few perennial weeds that will grow every now and then- and those are easily pulled in minutes!
Seriously- can you imagine never having to use a hoe in the vegetable garden?
I promise it’s possible - in fact, I don't even own a hoe!
Be sure to grab your 10 Step Checklist to help you get started gardening - click below!
Vegetable Gardening 101 Series:
- 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!
MORE HELPFUL GARDENING TIPS:
- Five Ways to Save Water (and Time) in Your Garden
- 21 Organic Gardening Tips to Make Your Life Easier
- 14 Must Have Tools for Gardening
- Gardening to Save Money - 10 Plants to Grow
This article was originally published in 2009, and updated in 2016 and 2022.Disclosure: affiliate links in this article will earn commission based on sales, but it doesn't change your price. Click here to read our full disclaimer and advertising disclosure.