Are you itching to start growing your own vegetables at home? Before you start, keep these tips on vegetable gardening for beginners in mind.
I’m growing more and more vegetables each year and it’s getting to the point where for a large part of the year we buy very little produce, be it vegetables, fruit or herbs from the grocery store.
You can get to that point too! I’m always amazed at how many people have these excuses of not growing their own food.
Maybe you’re a complete beginner. That’s perfect as you are starting from scratch.
Or maybe you have been growing some vegetables, maybe in a few containers or small raised bed or simply in the ground. You’ll find at least one or two of these tips may make the difference in growing more food next year.
Let’s have a look at the 10 tips on vegetable gardening for beginners and start growing more food in more urban backyards and on balconies around the world! (Yes, I am ambitious)
Don’t aim for perfection and put up with setbacks
If you desire perfect looking produce without any blemishes such as scalded leaves, disfigured roots or holes eaten into leaves, you might as well stick with the often overpriced, store-bought, chemically-laden produce.
As a home gardener that is using organic methods, you’re going to have to let go of pristine produce. Unless you are willing to waste part of your crop.
Accept the fact that insects will come and chew on your greens, racoons, rabbits and rodents will come and decimate a crop and weeds will grow taller than your little seedlings you slaved over for weeks to grow.
And the weather is also going to have an impact. A late or early frost can kill plants overnight and too much rain is going to rot certain vegetables. You might get too much sun and have your vegetables bolt (set seed) prematurely before you have a chance to harvest them.
This all sounds dire and you may wonder: why bother? The advantages of growing your own vegetables far outweigh the setbacks mentioned. Becoming more resilient and accepting what nature offers to us is one way experienced gardeners cope.
And of course there are some things you can do to mitigate problems and that (to some extent) is the fun and challenge of gardening.
Grow what you love to eat
Hate brussel sprouts like I do? You won’t find them in my vegetable garden.
Does your whole family love carrots? Plant a decent crop of them and you’ll never want to eat store-bought again!
Do your kids like broccoli as much as my daughter does?
Growing your first vegetables is very rewarding. However with all the work involved, especially when you’re first learning, you need to have a harvest you’ll enjoy.
So spend the time to look through seed catalogues (winter is a great time to do this). Check out the different varieties and pick the ones you think you’d love.
And experiment. Maybe that crop of beans wasn’t quite what you like. Then try another kind next year. Or better yet plant a few plants of each variety and then stick with the one your family likes the best.
Grow what is expensive or hard to find locally/organically
When you can get a huge bag of locally, organically grown potatoes for a few dollars, growing your own might not make much sense.
For a beginner with limited space or if you simply want to start small and scale up next year, it’s best to pick vegetables that are expensive or harder to find. Maybe it is that special tomato that you can’t find in any grocery store or farmer’s market.
Or a salad green that is sought after as a delicacy that you can grow at home for pennies instead of the few dollars a small bag costs.
Or eliminating the frustration I have when I go grocery shopping and see only imported vegetables that I know grow well here in our climate. The difficult decision also is: do I buy organic but imported or do I buy non-organic local produce?
When you grow your own vegetables, they’re as local as you can get. And your vegetables might not be certified organic, but you can choose what fertilizers and pest and disease remedies to use.
That’s one of the main reasons I grow my own vegetables.
Plant at the right time
Every region has different planting times. Even within a certain region, your garden area might have a different micro-climate.
It’s important to know two dates: your average last frost date in spring and your average first frost date in autumn. Both of those dates act as bookends for the growing season.
These dates also are known as the plant hardiness zone your region is in. For maps for your region do a google search for “plant hardiness zones” + region. For Canada you would use “plant hardiness zones Canada”.
Growing vegetables requires you to think ahead if you’re seeding and then transplanting out into the garden, which is the process I recommend instead of buying seedlings at the nursery or garden centre.
Planting charts that you find in seed catalogues are priceless for this type of planning! Make sure to find ones that match your region. For the southwest coast of BC and northwest of the USA, West Coast Seeds has very good planting charts.
Setup automatic irrigation
Unless you live in a climate where you get at least 1 inch (2.5cm) of rain each week, you’ll need to water your vegetable plants, especially when they’re young and establishing themselves.
Also if you have containers or planters with vegetables, you’ll also need to water, likely daily!
Make the job easier and don’t spend hours each week with the hose, running around to each vegetable bed and each container. Get an irrigation system.
There are simple and inexpensive irrigation systems you can buy and install in a day or two. They usually come with a timer or you can buy one separately, so you can set them to come on at a certain time and turn off automatically.
Some systems even come with a rain sensor so that if it’s raining, they won’t turn on so that you save water.
Use containers or square foot gardening to start small
It can be overwhelming to start growing large beds of vegetables. There’s a lot to keep track of.
For beginner vegetable gardeners, I recommend starting small in containers and/or small raised beds such as the one I have instructions for in the Children’s Garden Planter Box eBook (yes, even large children like us can benefit from this small planter box).
It’s very easy to plant up a salad container garden. Add a few lettuce plants, a tomato plant, maybe a green onion or two and you have the makings of a fresh salad all in one self-contained planter.
You can also try square foot gardening. I have tried it in the past and it’s worked well. I just recently bought a Seeding Square, mainly for my daughter’s planter box. It allows you to have an intensive vegetable garden in a small space.
The benefits of mulch are manyfold.
You can buy mulch or make your own. Use it liberally on your vegetable beds to cut down on weeds, retain moisture, regulate soil temperature and provide nutrients to your soil when it breaks down.
As time goes on your soil will be built up into a rich, nutrient-rich medium that your vegetables will absolutely love!
Gardening in containers? You too can use mulch as well, usually just in a more shallow layer.
Build your soil with compost
Compost is often called black gold for a reason. It’s a great way to amend your soil and has most of the benefits of mulch as mentioned above.
It also keeps garden plant waste on your property without the need to dispose of it. When you grow your own vegetables you will have bean vines, squash leaves and other nutrient rich plant life. Don’t let it go to waste, compost it!
Composting can be as simply as piling up waste and letting it break down. Or you can build some bins like I did.
For busy gardeners who maybe can’t find the time to turn their compost, you can get compost tumblers that you simply turn when you add more materials to it. That will allow the compost to break down quicker, giving you the black gold to use sooner.
For apartment and condominium dwellers you can start a worm compost bin or two. The worm castings are great in containers and you should see larger yields.
Use row covers
I mentioned frost dates above. Gardeners though tempt fate and try to extend the growing season anyway they can!
One good way to do so if you don’t have a greenhouse or hoop house is to use row covers. Row covers help to regulate temperatures throughout the day and night.
And they also help to keep insect pests off your crops. As well as retain moisture so you don’t have to water as much.
More info in this post: How to Use Row Covers to Protect Your Crops
Enjoy your harvest
The final tip is to enjoy your harvest! I love picking fresh vegetables from the garden and then trying out new recipes.
We usually try to cook simply, so that the natural flavours of the vegetables can be enjoyed.
No more bland carrots that you need to season up to make them taste like anything.
No more dumping salad dressing on a salad to make it flavourful – light dressings are all you’ll want to use from now on!
If you’re preserving your harvest, you can then enjoy your vegetables in winter as well. Bake some zucchini bread or carrot muffins when you have a bumper crop and freeze them.
These are the tips that should give you the most success in growing your own vegetables and enjoying them. But that is not all. Use the handy search function on this site to search for other growing tips. And download the free guide (see below) to get you starting with all aspects of setting up a raised bed garden to grow vegetables in.