Top 10 Tips for New Vegetable Gardeners

There is a growing movement in the United States - and a good one, too. More and more people are interested in growing their own food. But if you've never gardened before, growing food can seem like a HUGE undertaking. It's really tough to know where to start. If that's you, here are my top 10 best tips for starting your first garden:

1. Start small. I know you're excited and dreaming of an enormous garden, but if you're new to gardening, a small garden allows you to experiment - and fail - without big losses. Plus, a huge garden can be completely overwhelming to take care of if you're a newbie. Keep it small and sweet and you'll enjoy learning to garden far more.

2. Consider using containers. Container gardens require more water (because the soil dries out much more quickly), and can be costly once you buy proper potting soil and planters. To trim costs, you can use recycled containers. Just make sure they are actually big enough for whatever you are growing. Always err on the side of a pot that's too big, or you run the risk of a plant that is sickly or dies. The tricky thing here is that different plants require more or less "leg" room. Tomatoes, for example, have roots that reach way, way down - as much as 24 inches or more. Give them at least a 24 inch pot or 5 gallon bucket. Lettuce, on the other hand, doesn't send it's roots very far at all, so a 14 inch pot or Tupperware container only 4 inches deep will work fine. For more specific advice on what sized container to use for special plants, Google "what size pot for [plant name here]." For more valuable tips on growing food in containers, click here.

3. Test it. If you'll be planting directly into your yard's soil, it's very important to test your garden soil. Buy an inexpensive soil testing kit and follow the instructions that come with it. Read more about soil types here.

4. If your soil isn't good, you can buy garden soil and have it delivered to your house. For a very small garden, you might be able to buy soil in bags and bring it home yourself. Be aware, though, that quality varies a lot. Since soil is the most important element in gardening, research your soil options well.

Berms in my garden.
5. If you want to plant directly in the ground, I recommend using a raised bed or berm for your first, small garden. You don't have to spend a lot of money on this. Berms are by far the cheapest - they are really just raised beds without sides. (I know; you'd think the soil would erode terribly...but it doesn't.) If you want sides on your raised bed, choose an inexpensive material - hopefully one you already have laying around or can buy cheap on Craigslist, such as used wood planks or bricks.

6. Know your hardiness zone. This is absolutely must know information because it will tell you what plants you can grow (all seeds and seedlings are marked with information about what zones the plant grows in) and when you should plant it. To find your zone, click over to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.

7. I'll give you a pass on starting things from seed for your first garden. If you want to go buy read here about choosing seeds here. Download my free ebook on how to start seeds, too. It includes lots of ideas for starting seeds on the cheap, without special equipment.
seedlings, do so. Ideally, buy them from a source that actually starts and grows them in your area - otherwise you may end up with a plant that doesn't grow well where you live. Be sure to read up on the seedlings you buy, though. Google the specific variety and learn when it should be planted and how it should be cared for. (Next year, plan on starting your own seeds. You can

8. Learn how to water plants. Hand watering is okay if your garden is really small, but you still have to know how long to water. Generally, plants with deep roots (like tomatoes) like deep, infrequent watering. In fact, a lot of gardeners give their tomatoes a good water when initially planted, then don't water them again until the tomato leaves start drooping. Lettuce, on the other hand, with it's shallow roots, needs much more frequent watering. A good general rule of thiumb is this: If you can stick your finger in the soil and it's dry 1 - 2 inches down, it's time to water. Also remember: Raised beds and containers will require more watering than most in-the-ground gardens.

9. Don't be afraid to start harvesting. Plants shut down and stop producing food if you put off harvesting, so frequent picking is a must!

10. Plant some flowers, too. Not only will they make your garden prettier, but they will help attract bees that will pollinate your plants and make your garden more abundant! Some easy to grow, bee-attracting choices include borage, goldenrod, lemon balm, tansy, butterfly weed and bush, lantana, and sweet alyssum)

Bonus Tip: Know that gardening is something that's learned through years or reading and experience. Truly, people who've been gardening all their lives are still learning in the garden. So don't expect that after one season of growing, you'll know exactly what you're doing. You'll have learned a lot, no doubt, but expect to learn more each year.

Got a gardening question - or two or three? Send them my way, and I'll help!


  1. In the spring of 2012, my DH built me 3 4'x8' raised beds. We planted greens, eggplants, green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, sunflowers, herbs. Most everything was bought as small plants, with the exception of the sunflowers, green beans and squash. WE did well and I just couldn't stop. At the end of summer, I began planning for fall and winter planting. WE planted greens, beets, carrots, herbs and more. It was so much fun. We began a compost pile. we used our leaves to mulch our beds. I got free plants and began a strawberry bed. The neighbor was getting rid of some cement bricks and I build myself 3 more beds. My DH added 3 more the following year and we planted lots more. I lost a lot of squash plants to this worm that burrows into the stem of the plant. I got fungus on my tomatoes. My green peas got rotten before I got any flowers. The frost killed a few plants. But I learned how to grow spinach, sweet potatoes, jalapenos, tomatoes, collards, kale, leeks, celery. I just can't stop. Last winter, my DH built me a green house so I could preserve some of our hot peppers and hibiscus plants. Unfortunately we traveled and they died because we had a really harsh winter. :( This spring I sowed all my tomato plants myself. NO more buying small seedlings. I am so happy I began gardening. This is so much fun and so rewarding. It's the only thing that gets me out of bed EARLY in a GOOD mood. I know I get to water my plants and see how much they grew overnight. :) I think everyone should try growing something sometime in their life. It's a wonderful learning experience. Oh, now I am planting fruit trees and bushes. :) Thank you, Kristina, for getting me started. :)