How to Start a Vegetable Garden

Learn how to stat a vegetable garden. It is something that anyone can do whether you have a large plot of land, normal sized backyard or a small apartment.

That’s because you can start a vegetable garden in the soil, a raised bed or even in containers.

In this article, I’ll explain everything you need to know to start a vegetable garden at home.

 

Growing Your Vegetable Garden

In this section, you’ll be focusing on growing your vegetable garden.

 

Seeds or Transplants

Like most plants, two of the most common ways of growing vegetables are:

  • Buy seeds. Here, you purchase the seed packets from the garden center with the intention to sow the seeds yourself. As a result, you’re growing them from the very beginning. You can either start the seeds indoors and then transplant (transfer) them into your garden when they become seedling. Or, just directly plant them into your garden soil.
  • Buy seedlings. This process skips seed germination altogether. Since you’re getting the seedlings, you can directly plant them into the soil, be it in your garden or into a container.

Whichever way you decide to go, it’s important to check the dates in your area so you know when to plant as well as harvest them. Vegetables need the right conditions, including sunlight and temperature to thrive.

 

Benefits of Starting from Seed / Direct Seeding

  • More variety. You’ll find more seed options to choose from compared to seedlings. This lets you select from a wider range of crops.
  • You’re able to control the conditions. Just because the plants are grown in nurseries doesn’t guarantee that they’re healthy. Remember, these establishments are businesses. So, they grow plants in mass. As such, just like buying fruits or vegetables from the grocery, not every item you get is top quality. There are duds.
  • Cheaper. Because there’s less time and work invested in them, seeds are less expensive.
  • You get to learn and experiment. Starting from the ground up allows you to understand the ins and outs of seed germination.

 

Benefits of Transplants

  • Save time. Since germination has been done for you, you can skip that stage and go right to growing your plant.
  • More convenient. Since the work has been done for you, it’s a lot more convenient.
  • Less work and monitoring. Make no mistake, starting seeds is work, quite a bit of it, especially if you’re trying to grow a few vegetables at the same time. You need to check on them regularly. And, make sure they get all the things they need.
  • You can instantly have a garden. In addition to saving time of growing each plant, you can quickly get a garden started. Buying a bunch of seedlings and planting them allows you to almost instantly have a garden with lots of vegetables or plants. This definitely beats growing them one by one.
  • You can buy more if needed. If you need more, want a different variety or the one you bought doesn’t look right, you can buy more and start planting. That’s not something you can immediately get with seeds since you’ll need to wait for the next season to do so.

Below is a chart that shows vegetables that are easy, hard and not ideal for transplanting.

It also includes how many weeks before you move them outside.

chart on transplanting vegetables (easy and hart to transplant vegetables)
chart on transplanting vegetables (easy and hart to transplant vegetables)

 

Starting From Seeds

If you decide to start from seeds, there are a couple of choices you’ll then need to make.

Before getting started, note that vegetables seeds have a limited lifespan.

The good news is that seeds are viable for years. So, you can store them away until you’re ready to start your garden.

Here’s a chart that shows how long you can store vegetable seeds. This seed viability chart divides the veggies by years.

This way it is easy to choose based on longevity of seed viability if you wish.

seed viability chart - how long can you store vegetable seeds
seed viability chart – how long can you store vegetable seeds

 

Should You Start Seeds Indoors?

Doing this allows you to get a head start to the season. You’ll be able to start the seeds under the protection of a controlled environment inside your home. Thus, even if it’s freezing cold outside, you’ll be able to do this.

That said, you’ll need to transplant them outside later on. This is an extra step. That means extra work for you as a gardener. And, the more seeds you start, the more you need to transplant.

In addition to the work, there’s the potential of transplant shock that your veggies can experience when they’re moved. Just like you and I can experience culture shock when we get to a new country, seedlings need to get acclimated to their new environment gradually. We talk more about that in other sections of this article.

Last but not least, seeds are easier to start inside. That’s because you can control everything from lighting to temperature which ensures that they get what they need. Plus, they don’t need to contend with the elements.

Some good candidates for starting indoors are peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, eggplant, cabbage and cauliflower, just to name a few.

 

Can You Plant Seeds Directly In Your Garden Outside?

Direct seeding, or the process of directly sowing the seeds into the soil in your garden, skips the extra step of transplanting the seedlings. It also allows you to skip having to harden them.

In addition to the benefit of the extra time and effort, many vegetables don’t like or don’t do well when transplanted.

Carrots, turnips, beets and other root crops as an example of this. Similarly, peas, beans and corn do better than directly grown outside.

Additionally, vegetables that are cold hardy can withstand extreme temperatures. So, it won’t be a problem directly sowing them into the ground.

Please note that neither is better than the other. Or, that one is right and the other is wrong. Instead, both are right. And, they work.

It all depends on you, your preference, the crop you’re growing and your garden.

 

Soil pH for Vegetable Garden

Soil pH is very important for any home garden, whether you plan of growing vegetables, flowers, foliage or other plants.

The right soil pH will allow your crops to absorb the nutrients efficiently from the soil.

Unfortunately, the wrong soil pH can lead to nutrient deficiencies or excesses.

Therefore, always test your garden soil pH before growing any vegetables.

While some vegetables like acidic soil and others like alkaline soil, in most cases the will do well in soil with pH between 5.5 and 7.5.

This puts a pH of 6.5 in the middle.

So, if your garden’s soil is too high or too low, you can use sulfur or limestone to decrease or increase soil pH, respectively.

These charts will help you know how much of each to use depending on the soil pH test results you get.

This chart shows how many pounds of sulfur to use to bring soil pH to 6.5 depending on the kind of soil your garden has.

chart of how much sulfur to lower soil pH
chart of how much sulfur to lower soil pH

This chart shows how many pounds of limestone to use to bring soil pH to 6.5 depending on the kind of soil your garden has.

chart on how much limestone to increase soil pH
chart on how much limestone to increase soil pH

 

Do Some Research and Make Sure to the Back of Your Seed Packet

When you’re starting out, you may choose one or the other. I’d recommend trying both out separately since it helps you understand the nuances involved in each.

But, as you get more serious about your vegetable garden, you’ll soon find yourself doing both (starting seeds indoors and directly sowing them in the garden).

In any case, it’s a good idea to do some research before getting started. Going online and reading about the process as well as getting to know the crops you plan of growing goes a long way.

But, don’t overdo it. That’s one mistake I did.

It wastes time. That’s because you’ll soon realize that there’s so much information. And, you’ll try to keep learning before jumping in.

Instead, just get some basics done. Then, dive right in.

I’ve found that you learn much faster by doing. And, your brain remembers things better that way, especially when you make mistakes.

Seed viability chart. List of vegetables and how long you can store or keep their seeds before planting them in years.

 

Reading & Understanding the Information on the Back of Seed Packets

In addition to a good gardening book or reading online, make sure to read the back of the seed packet. This side of the packaging may look boring. But, it holds a wealth of information. Some of which include:

  • The plant’s name. This includes both common and botanical names
  • Its description. The short description will give you an idea of what the plant is. But don’t get caught up in it because some of the wording is done for marketing’s sake.
  • Type of Plant. It will tell you if it’s an annual or perennial. As such, you know what to expect and how to care for it.
  • Days to Maturity. How long does the plant take before it starts producing? You’ll be surprised at how significant the difference can be between long and short-season crops. This lets you choose which vegetables you want to grow depending on how long you’re willing to wait before harvesting.
  • Days to Germination. You know how long to germinate the seeds. This takes the guess work out. And, it helps beginner gardeners by letting them know when to expect the seeds to start germinating.
  • Planting Depth. How deep into the ground do the seeds need to be placed? Planting them too deep or shallow can affect how well they grow. As such, this information simplifies things.
  • Seed Spacin How far apart should you plant them in order to give each plant enough room to grow without limiting their potential?
  • Sun or Shade. How much sun or shade the plant prefers.
  • When to Directly Sow. This tells you when you can start putting the seeds into the ground to give them the best chance of growing.
  • When to Start Indoors. It will give you a range relative to the last frost when you can start growing them indoors.
  • Times It Blooms. This tells you which seasons the plant is expected to bloom.
  • Other Notes. Since the seeds can be for different types of plants, the information can vary depending on what’s relevant to it. In addition, each manufacturer gets to decide what information they feel is most valuable for its customers. So, what they put down there can vary.

 

How to Start Seeds Indoors

Here’s a step by step process of starting seeds indoors.

Please note that this outlines the basic process. Since each vegetable is different, I’ll be creating separate articles that detail the growing instructions for each of the vegetables.

 

What You Need:
  • Seeds
  • Soil
  • Seed containers
  • Place where you can put them to get enough light
  • Water
  • Proper temperature

 

The Steps
Step 1: Prepare everything beforehand

I’ve found it much easier to work after you get all the things you need together. This eliminates the need for running back and forth for different items.

 

Step 2: Fill the containers with germinating mix then add the seeds

Germination is the first step of growth. It is when the first shoots of your plant start sprouting out from the soil.

It’s worth noting that not all your seeds will sprout. In fact, germination rates are around 70-90%. So, don’t be afraid to plant more.

Once you’ve sowed the seeds, cover them with soil and water.

You’ll want to keep the seeds in a warm spot during this step.

 

Step 3: Once the seeds germinate, they’ll need light

Move the seedlings into an area where they get good light. Also, don’t forget to keep them moist.

  • If you have a window that gets bright, direct sunlight, then that will be a good spot.
  • Otherwise, try using grow lights. Fluorescent lights work well. But, since artificial lights don’t cover the entire light spectrum as the sun does, you’ll need to run them for 15 hours a day.

Allow the seedlings to grow.

Chart with list of Vegetable seed germination temperature days to germination days to maturity. Data on when to sow your seeds based on the weather and how long you can expect before germination and also maturity.
Chart with list of Vegetable seed germination temperature days to germination days to maturity. Data on when to sow your seeds based on the weather and how long you can expect before germination and also maturity.

 

Step 4: Thin Out Extra Seedlings

Thinning is something no gardener takes joy in doing. That’s because you’re essentially getting rid of potentially healthy future plants.

But, it needs to be done.

That’s because you can’t tell how the seeds will sprout. Unfortunately, in some cases, seedlings will crowd one another.

This will prevent them from having enough space to grow properly.

As such, you need to cut off some healthy seedlings to make room for the “best” ones. Here, you’ll need to guess which will likely grow to be the best.

Sadly, the survival of the fittest applies here since there’s only space for so many. And, you need to pick out the best possible candidates.

 

Step 5: Move the Plants

When your plants get to about 3 times the width of their container, it’s time to move them to larger pots.

 

Step 6: Get Ready to Move Them Outside

Before you transplant your seedlings outdoors, make sure to gradually acclimate them to the conditions.

This takes about 1-2 weeks of gradually bringing them outside then back in to give them a “little taste at a time”.

Doing so allows them to get used to it without the sudden shock of it all.

 

Step 7: Plant Them into the Soil

Finally, after getting them acclimated to the elements, it’s time to plant them into your garden.

 

Transplanting Indoor Seedlings & Starter Plants

This section is all about transplanting seedlings outdoors (to your garden).

And while it may sound simple enough, there’s a proper way to doing it to keep your plants happy.

But, before getting into that, it’s important to understand when you’ll need to go through this process.

 

When Do You Need to Transplant Seedlings?

There are 3 scenarios where you may want to do this.

  • The seedlings are ready to be moved outdoors. You’ve spent the last 4-8 weeks growing the seeds into seedlings indoors. And now, when the weather is right for planting outside, it’s time to transplant them outdoors.
  • The seeds you tried germinating didn’t grow into seedlings. Similarly, if the seeds you were trying to germinate didn’t grow into seedlings. So now, you’re going to the nursery to buy seedlings to grow in your garden.
  • If you didn’t start seeds and just want to buy seedlings from the nursery. Here, you just want to buy the seedlings and grow them directly into your garden without having to germinate seeds yourself.

List of vegetables transplant outside chart. shows you which crops are easy or hard for transplanting after starting the seeds indoors.

 

Buying Starter Plants

In the latter two scenarios, you’ll find yourself in the garden center looking for the seedlings to purchase.

This is a good option if you don’t want to start the seeds at home.

It’s worth noting that you’ll see many kinds of seedlings to choose from. But, they won’t be as much as the variety of seed packets available. This is one of the biggest benefits of starting your own seeds. There’s just more variety available.

That said, when it comes to starter plants, it’s important to choose the right one. After all, how it grows and how much you’re able to harvest from it will depend on its initial quality.

 

Choosing Starter Plants to Buy for Your Garden

  • Make sure the plants are healthy. Just like buying produce from the grocery store, you want to choose the best-looking plants to take home. Avoid anything that doesn’t look sturdy or strong. Or, those that have visible deficiencies.
  • Choose young plants with short stocky stems. You don’t want the tall, thin or spindly looking. These are signs of age or stress. Instead you want those that are younger and have robust-looking stems.
  • Skip the tall, bigger plants, especially those in small containers. Plants that are much bigger than their containers are a bad sign. That means they’ve outgrown their pots but haven’t been moved to bigger ones. As such, they’ve been crowded and have little room to grow.
  • Don’t be afraid to expose the root ball. Being thorough means turning the plant and taking a close look at the root ball.
  • Don’t buy plants that are already flowering or have fruits. From experience, those that are already flowering or bearing fruit have or are reaching their potential. So while they may look more promising, they’re actually less so. It’s like the big kid in grade school who entered puberty early. But, won’t grow much after. Thus, ending up shorter than everyone else when they get to college.

 

Acclimating Your Transplants

Whether you’ve germinated them yourself or bought them from the nursery, your seedlings need to get used to growing outdoors. So far, they’ve only experienced the cozy conditions of growing indoors.

But, living and growing outside poses its own challenges.

As such, they need to be “toughened up” to get used to the colder environment, winds and other elements they’ll need to deal with.

This process is what’s called hardening off.

Hardening off is the process of slowly acclimating seeds that have been growing indoors to the outdoors. It usually takes a week, sometimes two do complete the entire process. And, the best time to do this a week or so before the final frost date in your locale.

This way, you’re plant will be ready to be planted outside once the frost passes.

This is a very important step that takes quite a while simply because you can’t just rush things.

And, while it may feel a bit tedious, you shouldn’t skip it.

Not hardening off your plants increases their risk of experiencing shot from the sudden cold, winds or even intense heat.

While many plants are able to recover from this shock, it will take them weeks to do so. And, those are weeks wasted since they could have been using that time to grow instead.

 

How to Harden Off Your Seedlings

  • Time for a break. 1-2 weeks before you want to move the plants to your garden, stop fertilizing and give them just enough water so they don’t wilt.
  • Bring them outside. This is a gradual process that will happen in the next 7-10 days. Start with short outdoor exposure. 30 minutes of filtered sunlight under the shade, during a warm day. Start with an environment that’s fairly similar to that indoors before you slowly acclimate them to more. If it’s windy, place them somewhere they’re protected from the breeze
  • Slowly increase the duration they’re outside. Gradually extend the initial 30 minutes such that by the end of one week, they’re spending the entire day outdoors. In addition to longer durations, gradually increase their sun exposure as well.
  • Bring the plants in at night. Nighttime conditions are different from the day time. It’s colder and there’s no sunlight.

 

Best Vegetables for Transplanting

  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Collards
  • Eggplant
  • Herbs
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Leeks
  • Onion
  • Peppers
  • Scallions
  • Squash
  • Tomato

 

Planting Them Into the Ground

While it sounds simple enough, the actual process of transplanting your seedlings into your garden is not straightforward.

So, to help you through the process here’s a step by step guide you can follow.

 

Step 1: Plan Ahead of Time

Before doing the actual move, it’s important to get a few things sorted out ahead of time. This ensures that the move is seamless. And, that you do it right.

  • Timing. You don’t want to move your plants out into the garden when there’s frost. Similarly, you don’t want them to get shocked by the intense summer heat. Ideally, look out for the last spring frost as a good time to do this.
  • Choose a cloudy/overcast day. In addition to the overall climate, do check the weather forecast. You also want to avoid overly sunny days just as much as windy or rainy days. A cloudy, overcast day is perfect because it allows your seedlings to get acclimated to its new environment without the sudden shock of intense sunlight.
  • Do it in the morning or late afternoon. Speaking of intense heat, the time of day matters as well. On cloudy days, you can transplant in the morning. Late afternoons are likewise a good idea since the sun is cooling off the day.

It’s good to plan ahead so you know which spots you’ll be planting each of the seedlings.

Additionally, this also lets you divide your garden into sections so you can group your crops together. Doing so is helpful because different areas in your garden will get varying amounts of sunlight, wind and temperature. It also makes watering easier since similar crops require similar amounts of moisture.

Just as importantly, make sure to plant the seedlings deep enough, I.e. as deep as they were in the pot.

 

Step 2: Prepare Your Garden

While your seedlings are hardening off, you’ll also want to do some work in the garden.

  • Plan out the logistics. Make a definite plan on where each of the seedlings will be planted. This allows you to know exactly where to put them. Additionally, planning this ahead of time ensures that they’re spaced out enough to avoid overcrowding. This also lets you decide on companion planting, i.e. which plants would you like to put beside one another.
  • Remove any weeds. Getting rid of weeds is one of the most important things you’ll want to do beforehand. Since weed competes with your seedlings, they’re a nuisance to your vegetable garden.
  • Ready the soil. Loosen the soil using a tiller or a hoe. Aerating your soil allows it to accommodate water and air easily so your seedlings can access them. Since, you’re transplanting in early spring, you’ll need to “fix” all the things winter has done on the soil.
  • Keep the soil moist. Moist soil is best for transplanting. You don’t want it dry, compacted or soggy. If it’s dry, you can start watering it days before you do the actual move to make it moister.

 

Step 3: For each seedling create a hole in the soil

Now, it’s time to start digging.

Dig one hole for each of the seedlings. Make sure that you dig deep enough. As a guide, dig a hole that’s slightly deeper than the depth of the seedling when it was in the pot.

 

Step 4: Remove the plant from the pot

When the hole is ready, carefully remove the root ball from the pot. You can do this by tilting the container and slowly getting the seedling out with your hands.

In some cases, it will be stuck in there, so you need to be patient and slowly work it. Never pull the plant out via its stem.

Do be careful when doing this since you don’t want to jar or jerk the plant, which can shock it.

 

Step 5: Inspect the root ball

The roots will curl around the ball of soil since that’s where they get water and nutrients. Plus, they’re limited by the shape of the pot.

Gently loosen the roots using your fingers so they extend away from the roots. This allows them to go outward once in the soil.

 

Step 6: Add fertilizer into the hold where you’ll insert the plant

To kickstart its growth, add liquid fertilizer to the soil in the hold. Only apply half the dosage that’s suggested in the label.

 

Step 7: Insert the seedlings into their respective holes

Gently place the seedling upright into the hole. Then, add soil to keep it stabilized.

Don’t worry if you bury a part of the stem since doing so will allow it to grow new roots over time

But, make sure you don’t bury the leaves which don’t like being soaked in water.

 

Step 8: Tamp the soil

Tamp down the soil around the seedling with your hands. Bud, don’t overdo this.

For some reason, it’s human nature to press down on things we’re trying to pack down to compress everything together.

Overdoing this will pack the soil together and eliminate the air pockets that allow water and oxygen to get to the roots.

You can likewise create a shallow moat/basin around the base of the seedling. This allows rainwater as well as any excess moisture to funnel down into it, allowing the roots to get to the water.

 

Step 9: Water Thoroughly

Water the plant. Ideally, you want to water the soil not the seedling. Since it’s the roots that will absorb the water you want to put moisture there and not give your plant a shower.

 

Sowing Seeds Directly in Your Garden

Besides starting seeds indoors or buying starter plants then transplanting them outside to your garden, you can likewise directly sow them into the soil.

This saves time. And, it eliminates the need to harden off then transplant the seedlings.

But, it also means you have to wait for the frost to pass, at least if you want to grow tender vegetables.

 

Best Vegetables to Direct Seed

  • Beans
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Chard
  • Collards
  • Corn
  • Cucumbers
  • Kale
  • Melons
  • Lettuce
  • Okra
  • Peas
  • Radishes
  • Spinach
  • Squash
  • Zucchini

 

How to Direct Seed

Here’s how to directly sow the seeds into your garden.

 

Step 1: Ready Your Seedbed

Loosen the soil where you plan on planting. You can use a tiller if you have one. It will make the work a lot less physical. Alternatively, you can likewise use a shovel or trowel.

Ideally, you want to get to around 8-12 inches. The looser and fluffier the soil is, the easier it is to sow the seeds to their proper depths.

Additionally, this also makes it easy for the roots to start growing as well as air and water to get through.

If you’ve been taking care of your soil for years, you’ll only need a rake to get this done since the soil is in good condition.

 

Step 2: Choose Which Crops You’ll Grow and Where

If you’ll be growing a variety of vegetables, it’s time to decide which ones go where. This means two things:

  • What crops will you be growing
  • Dividing your garden into sections and deciding which vegetables go to each section
Step 3: Decide on How You’re Going to Plant Them

There are tons of seed planting methods around. Some of the more popular ones include single rows, raised beds and hills.

Since each of these methods use different patterns, you’ll need to decide which one you’d like to use.

As usual, each of them has their own pros and cons.

 

Step 4: Plant the Seeds into the Soil

Before you start planting, always read the back of the seed packet. A couple of useful information it will tell you is seed spacing and planting depth.

The former will tell you how far apart they need to be grown. The latter, how deep you should sow them.

Once you’re done, cover the seeds with soil. Then, tamp it down to pack in the seeds with the soil. You can use your hands or a hoe to do this.

 

Step 5: Water the Seeds

After sowing the seeds, water them. Also, make sure they’re kept moist until they start germinating.

 

Step 6: Thin

When they start germinating, start thinning. You’ll likely find some of them cramped up in some areas. When this happens you’ll need to remove others to allow the better ones to grow.

Since you’re at it, keep an eye out for weeds as well. When you see them, pull weed them. This way, you stop them right in their tracks and prevent them from competing with your crops.

 

How Much Vegetables Do You Need to Plant?

Another thing to consider when planning your vegetable garden is how much you need to plant.

This is partially influenced by how much space you have in your garden.

But another factor is how much each vegetable you want to grow will yield. This will tell you how much to plant to get the amount you want come harvest time.

Here’s a chart that will show you how much each vegetable will yield come harvest time per 10 foot row you plant them.

chart showing how much vegetables to plant (vegetable yield per crop)
chart showing how much vegetables to plant (vegetable yield per crop)