Did you know that there’s an easy way to save money and improve your health at the same time? While some people are intimidated at the thought of gardening, growing your own vegetables is a practical and rewarding activity. Everyone can grow their own vegetable garden, but it takes time and effort to sustain one. To ensure that you’ve got a head start, take a look at our comprehensive guide on vegetable gardening.
What is Vegetable Gardening?
As its name implies, this type of gardening focuses on growing vegetables. However, this doesn’t mean that you cannot grow other plants. There are many flowering and fruit-bearing plants and trees that grow well with vegetables. There’s nothing wrong with growing a garden just to beautify one’s home, but it’s much better if a plant serves more than an aesthetic function. Homeowners sometimes think they don’t have enough space or time, but there’s a variety of ways to vegetable gardening to suit their respective needs and limitations.
Benefits of Vegetable Gardening
Growing your own vegetables is beneficial for several reasons that include not only health but also social and economic aspects.
Households are much better off with having nutritious meals every day. Instead of having to pick a single day of the week, people have a ready supply of vegetables to improve the nutritional content of what they regularly eat.
Moreover, you get to control what vitamins and mineral you take in by picking the vegetables to plant. Vegetable gardening helps kids enjoy vegetables as well. They get to familiarize themselves with the whole process. Not only does this make them curious about eating vegetables but your children will also feel safe knowing that they’re consuming fresh produce.
Perhaps one of the most significant reasons to try vegetable gardening is its economic benefits. No longer do you have to drive to a supermarket or local grocery store to buy vegetables. You get to save gas, energy, and money.
Gardening doesn’t seem like a likely way to burn calories, but the truth is that it can be physically strenuous. Maintenance involves walking and bending your back and knees to pull out pesky weeds. Similarly, preparing the soil through aeration will help you burn up a sweat.
Just like going to the gym, you follow a routine to keep your plants healthy. Vegetable gardening is an easy way to stay active without using any exercise machines whatsoever. Plus, it’s good for your mental health since the sight of green foliage is a good and natural way to relieve stress.
Apart from making your property look good, a vegetable garden will also keep your soil healthy. Instead of being washed away by rain, the soil maintains its position thanks to the root systems. Plants also reduce the speed of water flow to allow more of the rain to seep into the ground.
Picking Which Vegetables to Grow
Now that you know the many advantages of having your own vegetable garden, it’s time to pick which plants to grow
What Are Perennial, Annual, and Biennial Vegetables?
The life cycle of vegetable plants differs from one another. As noted by the National Gardening Association, you will usually hear about perennial, biennial, and annual vegetables. Perennial vegetables can live for two years or more. With perennials such as asparagus and rhubarb, you don’t have to prepare the soil and sow new weeds every year to have a bountiful harvest — they remain alive for several growing seasons. On the other hand, annual plants finish their cycle within a year. They undergo germination, reach maturity, and die in that span of time. With biennials like carrots and cauliflower, you must wait two years before a vegetable completes its life cycle.
Easy-to-Grow Vegetables Each Season
Making your vegetable garden a success requires understanding how each season affects plant growth. Below are a few examples that are guaranteed to help grow your garden. Plus, you may view more seasonal vegetables over at Bonnie Plants.
- Lettuce — This is a cool-season plant best fit for the spring season since it can withstand a light spring frost. Lettuce grows pretty fast and you can keep planting new lettuce seeds every two weeks to ensure a continuous harvest.
- Spinach — While spinach is another cool-season vegetable, it offers better nutritional content than lettuce. It’s packed with vitamins A, B, and C, and minerals such as iron and calcium. You only have to wait about six weeks to harvest spinach.
- Radish — If you grow this in fertile soil where it receives enough sunlight, you can harvest it in as early as three weeks.
- Eggplant — This is a warm-season vegetable that you can harvest halfway through or at the end of summer. Eggplants grow well in sunny and well-draining soil rich in organic matter.
- Okra — It’s a low-calorie vegetable rich in Vitamin A. You can grow them indoors first while waiting for warm weather to stabilize.
- Sweet Potatoes — Although sweet potatoes require about four months to reach maturity, they are undeniably easy to grow. This is in part due to their tolerance to drought and heat.
- Carrot — This root vegetable grows well in loose and sandy soil. Carrots can tolerate frost and they don’t immediately succumb to pests and diseases.
- Celery — Timing is important in growing celery since it has a low tolerance toward extreme heat. But if you take care of it well, you’ll have a vegetable that will stay in good condition in the fridge for many weeks.
- Beets — While beets require up to 70 days to mature, you can harvest time earlier if you want. Plus, they can withstand frost.
- Garlic — It is usually grown in fall, but there’s no harm in planting it in the earliest stages of winter. This should give the plant enough time to develop its roots before colder temperatures arrive.
- Broad Beans — Provided that you have cloches to protect the plants from the cold, broad beans can be sown in the late winter month of February.
- Asparagus — During late winter, you can plant crowns or seeds of this frost-tolerant vegetable.
There are plants that provide mutual benefits if they are grown next to one another. In companion planting, vegetables are grown together not only to use the space efficiently but also to prevent pest infestations.
For example, alliums such as onion and garlic give off a strong scent. Carrots planted near them won’t have their smell easily detected by carrot flies. Likewise, alliums are a natural way to keep slugs away from your vegetable garden.
Companion planting is why it’s okay to plant non-vegetables as well. Flowers such as lavender and marigold help keep pests away from tomatoes. In addition, aphids will consume nasturtiums instead of beans if you plant them together.
Another concept to keep in mind as you choose the vegetables to grow is crop rotation. This is a planting system in which you don’t plant the same vegetables in the same area every year. You must group your vegetables and switch their planting areas annually.
The goal here is to improve soil fertility. Planting new vegetables with different nutritional requirements prevents soil from being depleted of its nutrients. Plus, this keeps the same diseases and insects from remaining in the same area for long.
Some vegetables like corn and tomatoes require a lot of nitrogen. Continually planting these crops will eventually deplete the soil of nitrogen. With crop rotation, you can plant peas and beans the next year since they need a lot of phosphorus instead of nitrogen.
Good Housekeeping presents more suggestions regarding crop rotation here.
Choosing the Perfect Location
Determining the Size
Beginners often make the mistake of planting more than they need. While it sounds like a good idea to grow a big garden right away, you’re going to have to exert more effort. You’ll need more fertilizer, water, and time to maintain the entire area.
Unless you intend to sell or give away the produce, you’ll be wasting the excess amount of vegetables during the harvesting period. Thus, the key here is to start small. A garden with a total area of 10 by 10 feet will do for a family of three or four without being too demanding of time and energy.
What Makes a Location Suitable for Vegetable Gardening
There are several factors that contribute to the growth of vegetables in a garden. Through proper site planning, you prevent wasting time and other resources for planting.
1) Exposure to the Sun
One misconception about vegetables is that they all require full sunlight. In truth, any area can be used for vegetable gardening no matter how much sunlight it receives. If your garden receives full sunlight ranging from six to eight hours, you should plant eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes.
Of course, some areas in your property won’t get the full eight hours. This might be due to structures such as trees and houses blocking the sun. In this case, consider growing beets, broccoli, and cabbage since they thrive in partial sunlight.
For sections that only get two to four hours of sunlight, check out vegetables that thrive in full shade. Some of these vegetables include mustard greens, spinach, kale, and arugula. Note that you can still your favorite crops in areas without the favorable amount of sunlight, but its optimal growth isn’t guaranteed.
2) Water Drainage
When you sow seeds or plant the seedlings, they must stay put in the soil. Choose an area that drains excess water well. Otherwise, young plants could get carried away before their roots are established in the soil. However, don’t pick an area that easily gets dried out as well.
3) Availability of Water
Vegetables need water to stay healthy. If your area does not get enough rainfall each year, you have to water the plants yourself. Your vegetable garden must be near a water source. Ensure that your garden hose or sprinkler system can cover the area.
4) Wind Exposure
Strong winds can be bad for your plants. Newly planted vegetables can be carried away from the soil. If not, they could dry out and eventually wither. You can set up fences to block the wind, but this can cause unwanted turbulence.
Instead, create a row of shrubs or trees to serve as windbreaks. Be mindful as well when you lay down the supporting stakes and gardening canes. These will keep your plants stable even when during windy days.
5) Type and Quality of Soil
The soil in your garden largely affects plant growth. First, you need to know the pH level of the soil. You can do this by conducting a soil test using a kit or sending a soil sample to a laboratory or cooperative extension service for testing. For vegetables, a pH level ranging between 6 and 7 is ideal.
As for soil texture, it’s important to know that soil is made up of clay, sand, and silt. What differentiates one texture from another is the dominance of one over the two. The ideal soil for vegetables is loamy soil, which is fertile and has generous proportions of all three soil components.
You can learn more about soil texture at this guide from Cornell University.
Picking the Planting Method
There is a variety of ways to plant vegetables in a garden. Each one has a distinct advantage that homeowners should look into to maximize the space they have.
This is the traditional way of gardening. Growing your vegetables in rows allows you to organize them with ease. Narrow trenches known as furrows are utilized in row gardening to let water move in with ease. No matter the size of your garden, you just have to follow the same simple yet aesthetically pleasing pattern.
Another beloved planting method is raised bed gardening. This is perfect for first-time gardeners who will only grow a small number of vegetables. Since you’re growing them in raised boxes, the weeds will have a hard time reaching them. Plus, it has excellent drainage and prevents soil compaction.
If you’re going to plant on slopes or on a hillside, your best bet is to create a garden terrace. This method uses raised garden beds as well but it requires reinforcements. A stone wall is tougher than wooden boxes and the water running downhill won’t move it easily.
A good way to maximize space is to grow vegetables in upright structures. This is perfect for people residing in apartments and other urban residences. Structures such as arbors, trellises, and fences can all be used to support vine crops while hanging baskets can house lettuce and cabbage.
Similar to vertical gardening, container gardening is a good way to grow vegetables in small spaces. In fact, you can grow plants indoors as long as they receive the necessary amount of sunlight. Carrots, lettuce, and radishes are small enough to thrive in containers. Plus, there are dwarf varieties of vegetables to choose from.
How to Prepare the Area for Planting
Preparation means ensuring that the soil and the surrounding area are at their best conditions. Doing so will enable the seeds and seedlings to grow without any issues.
Cleaning and Weed Removal
This is important, especially if you’re planting in spring. By this time, you have to remove all the snow and ice in your property. Removing debris such as fallen leaves, acorns, and twigs are essential as well.
Weeds can deprive your vegetables of space and nutrients. Thus, you must remove them by cutting and pulling them up or applying herbicide.
Amending the Soil
This process is easier to conduct after tilling the soil. Not all of the soil in gardens is suitable for growing vegetables. Thus, they need amendments, which depend on the soil type. No matter the type, the goal of soil amendment is to make them healthier, fertile, have better moisture retention, and less compacted.
The Soil Science Society of America talks more about soil amendments here.
Fertilizing the Soil
Starter fertilizer is specifically made to give seeds the nutrients they need to grow. No matter how fertile the soil is, a starter fertilizer will help seeds and seedlings during late fall or at the start of spring. This makes the plants grow their roots well so that they can be established in the soil quickly.
Tilling the Soil
Another step is tilling, which has several benefits to any garden. For one, it fixes soil compaction by breaking them up. After all, seeds will grow better if the soil is both fertile and fine. Tilling is also a good way to get rid of weeds and unwanted roots. Finally, it ensures that the soil surface is evened out.
how to plant
There are at two general ways to plant the seeds: either indoors through transplanting or outdoors through direct seeding.
This is a process wherein you grow the seeds indoors. Once they’ve grown into seedlings, you transplant them outside to your garden. One advantage of sowing seeds indoors is that the conditions are easier to manage. This is also a good option if you live in regions with relatively short growing seasons.
Some vegetables that can benefit from being sown indoors include broccoli, cabbage, eggplant, onions, and parsley. They can withstand having their roots temporarily pulled up. Transplanting should be done early morning or late in the afternoon to avoid intense heat.
Here is a video about transplanting vegetable seedlings
Direct seeding refers to sowing the seeds in your garden without growing them indoors first. Vegetables such as peas and beans are better planted this way due to their rapid growth. Similarly, root crops like parsnips and carrots can be directly sown since they can tolerate cold temperatures.
How to Take Care of Your Vegetable Plants
Once you’ve planted the seeds or seedlings, the next step is to ensure that they grow well and reach maturity. In other words, you must dedicate enough time and energy to maintain your vegetable garden.
First, irrigation is important because plants need water to create food. Giving your vegetables an inch of water every week is recommended, but this can change depending on the soil type. If you’re unsure about the amount, just remember that this is simply equal to 60 gallons every 100 square feet.
Also, remember to use a rain gauge. This helps determine how much water your plants already received due to rainfall and how much left you should provide. Likewise, you can collect rainwater to save on resources.
Do not water quickly. The ideal way is to water deeply in the morning to ensure that at least the first six inches of the soil below the surface receive moisture. This enables plant root systems to grow deep in the soil.
There are several ways to water your garden. You can do it by hand using a watering can if you have a small garden. On the other hand, a soaker hose works best on leveled ground. You may also install a drip irrigation system that focuses on watering the root zone to save water.
Here is a handy video talking about drip irrigation:
Weed, Pest, and Disease Control
Weeds are a constant threat to your vegetable garden. You can remove them with your hands or by using a hoe. The use of an herbicide is also effective, but be careful not to spray it to your own plants. Mulching is a natural way to keep weeds from spreading and germinating.
As for pests, it’s a good idea to learn more about companion planting to deter pests from your valued plants. Otherwise, you can use pesticide or remove them on your own and put them in a container filled with water and soap.
To keep plant diseases at bay, you must keep the garden free of debris and weeds that harbor them. Furthermore, crop rotation is a great way to prevent disease organisms from staying for long in the same area. Bioadvanced also shares more tips on preventing plant disease here.
The use of fertilizer is important to keep your soil fertile with nutrients your vegetables need for optimal growth. There are two primary types of fertilizer: granular and liquid fertilizers. No matter the type, you must always follow the instructions so that you don’t apply too much or too little of the product.
The former can last up for several months since they don’t release nutrients quickly. In contrast, liquid fertilizers are good for vegetables that immediately need to absorb nutrients. They only last for a couple of weeks so it must be reapplied rather frequently.
Overall, having your own vegetable garden requires patience. You must have a clear vision in mind as to where and how big the garden will be. Furthermore, it’s essential to learn how to maintain a garden no matter which vegetables you grow and planting method you apply.
Still, vegetable gardening is a worthy investment. Not only will you have a relaxing space at home but you’ll also be reaping a bountiful harvest. You’ll save money and have a constant supply of fresh vegetables. Thus, vegetable gardening is truly a rewarding activity that everyone should try.