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Garden Topics: Starting a Vegetable Garden

Planting your first vegetable garden is an extremely satisfying experience.  From tilling, to planting, to tending, to harvest, to the moment you start eating, every step is its own reward.

So how do you get started?  The following is a guide that will help you to be successfully planting your first vegetable garden.

Select the Location

First consider the size of vegetable garden that you want to grow. It’s smart to start small then increase the size of your garden the next year if needed. It’s easy to get carried away and want to plant a huge garden to accommodate everything that you want to grow. The danger is that you will take on more than you can handle, let the garden become overgrown with weeds and give up. Sometimes it’s best to start small and as you learn you can increase your efforts. A little success can be very encouraging but a big failure may lead to gardening disaster.  Select a location in your yard where you will have some flexibility on size as your garden grows over the next few years.

The location should have plenty of sun (6 to hours minimum); have access to a good watering system, and decent soil. A level spot is also desirable.

Decide What to Grow

Although it’s tempting to grow lots of different vegetables, stick with what you actually eat and enjoy.  Make a list of your favorite vegetables and then pick from that list. Consider vegetables that will yield a healthy crop in your first year and are easier to grow.

For instance, asparagus is fussy and takes at least two years to yield a crop.  However, radishes, green onions, lettuce, snap peas, squash, green beans, carrots, and tomatoes are easier to grow and yield a healthy crop in the first year.  Keep in mind that squash is quite prolific, so one or two plants will generally do.

Row Cropping or Raised Beds

The most common type of planting is done in rows with a footpath in between for room to weed and tend to individual plants.  In this case, it’s nice to plan out your rows depending on the needs of each vegetable. Consider running your rows east to west. Plan to place the taller plants on the north side of the plot to prevent overshadowing shorter ones.

Measure and mark your rows for a tidy organized garden. Surround an edible garden with a fence or mesh high enough to keep out household pets and hungry wildlife. The fence can also act as a trellis for climbing crops such as tomatoes, beans and peas.

Many build raised beds for each vegetable type or vegetable combination.  They look nice and make better use of space. Raised beds also allow you to build the soil from scratch, only putting into the beds the soil combinations that work best for your vegetables. To obtain maximum productivity from minimum space, fill your bed with 3 parts of good topsoil with 1 part compost.  Fafard Sea & Shrimp or Gardeners Gold soil conditioner would work perfectly.   Another advantage is that raised beds generally have better internal soil drainage (no water logging) which results in better root health.  Pictured above is an example of native cedar raised bed frame available at Reilly’s.

Preparing the Soil

If you are not using raised beds, you will need to prepare the soil.  The top 24 inches of the soil will need to be tilled to loosen up the soil.  A rototiller is the best tool for doing this.  If you do not own a rototiller, most garden nurseries rent them. It’s worth the investment as it will make this chore so much easier and will till the soil much more efficiently than trying to do it by hand.

Work composted manure into the soil.  Preparing the soil is the most important step for a successful vegetable garden.  This step also requires the most work, but if you concentrate on doing it correctly, working the soil as completely as possible, you will have the foundation that you want to grow a nice healthy yield.

Seeds or Starts

Some plants can only be planted from seed; others will do better with a  start.  A start is a plant that has been “started” for you.  The tomato plant shown here is a good example.  When planting the starters, pull the plant from the pot and gently pull apart the roots at the bottom of the plant before putting it in the ground.

Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and herbs are best planted in the garden as starts. Green beans, radishes, pumpkins, and carrots are examples of vegetables that must be planted from seed. Read the directions on the seed package to find out the required seed depth and spacing, and then add a few extra seeds, as some will not germinate.  Be aware that overcrowding can result in spindly fruitless plants.

Cover the seedlings and then water. Once the seeds have germinated and reached the height of an inch, it may be necessary to remove excess plants thus insuring proper plant spacing. Vegetables will require extra watering during dry periods. Most require at least 1 inch of water per week, especially when fruiting.

Burpee seed, and naturally grown starts are available at our garden center.

Dealing with Pests

As mentioned above, it’s best to fence in your vegetable garden and include wire netting to keep rabbits, etc. out of your garden.  It’s no fun to have them eat your vegetables before you get a chance to enjoy them.

Insecticide sprays, both organic and chemical, can be purchased at Reilly’s to combat certain insects and diseases that can be destructive to your vegetable garden. Be sure to read the label and follow the directions when using any insecticides. We have found that Capt. Jacks Deadbug Brew is an effective natural insecticide, but there are many other alternatives. Come in, we are always willing to share our experiences.

Water your vegetable garden at the ground level.  It is best not to use a sprinkler, which will water the leaves and possibly promote disease. If overhead watering can’t be avoided, do it early in the day so that foliage can quickly dry.

Make your life easier and look for seeds and plants that are disease resistant.  No use asking for problems when so many vegetable seeds have been bred to resist these headaches.

Tending Your Garden

A few weeds can’t hurt right?  Wrong. Weeds pull nutrients away from your vegetables, which can affect the health of your plants and even the taste of your homegrown vegetables.  Make weeding a daily habit, and it will be so much easier.   Pick a few weeds a day or face the drudge of digging out a weed overgrown garden. 

Mulch around the plants to cut down on weeds, keep moisture in the soil and keep the roots cool even in the summer heat. An economical method would be to cover the area between plant rows with a thick layer of newspaper, then cover the newspaper with a thinner layer of mulch.

Fertilization is another consideration. If the soil contains a large percentage of quantity compost, the addition of fertilizer becomes less important. In most cases it is needed, but take care not to use one with too high a level of nitrogen. Nitrogen promotes lush vegetation at the expense of  fruit which may be good for lettuce, not so for tomatoes. .We recommend Espoma Garden Tone for most vegetables, but for tomatoes, and peppers use Espoma Tomato Tone.

Harvest Your Vegetables

Lettuce can be used as it grows.  Just cut off a few leaves and let the rest grow.  Squash is best harvested when it is just a few inches long.  Many vegetables can be harvested at different stages and will continue to produce.  If it looks like it’s ready to eat, it probably is.

If you have more than you can use during the harvest months, consider canning your own vegetables for use during the winter months. You can also freeze some vegetables, which is an easier process for preserving vegetables.

Vegetable gardening will spoil you and buying grocery store produce won’t be nearly as appealing.  Gardening will not only provide a healthy bounty of great tasting vegetables but it is also good exercise.  Enjoy the process of gardening and the bountiful harvest that rewards you for your efforts.


Vegetable Garden
Raised Garden Beds
Tomato Transplant
Burpee Seeds
Capt. Jacks Deadbug Brew
Weeding Vegetables
Harvesting Garden
Kids Garden
Raised Beds

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