Garden and Nature in Words / Sustainable Living

Tips for Planning Your First Vegetable Garden

kid picks tomatoes

For many of us, there comes a point when we just have had enough of paying high supermarket prices for mediocre vegetables. Going to the farmers market is fun, but it isn’t always practical or cost effective. So, we decide to try our hand at planting our own gardens. It sounds easy enough at first until we are confronted with the excitement of choosing our vegetables and veggie varieties, the daunting amount of information for each seed and plant type’s care, and the process of preparing the soil and laying out the garden footprint. It can seem overwhelming at first, but with a little know-how and a solid plan of action, you will be planting like a pro in no time.

Make Your Wish List
The first step is making your wish list for the vegetables you would like to grow and for what purpose. For example, my list might start like this…

Tomatoes – fresh, salsa, juice
Artichokes – pasta, soup
Potatoes – mashed, stew, baked
Broccoli – fresh, pasta, soup

And so it goes. Once you know what you want to plant and what you want to do with your harvest you can begin to plan the quantities of each plant you will want and start laying out your garden.

So going off my list above I know that I am going to want to plant a quite a few tomatoes and I am going to want a variety. Maybe one larger slicing tomato and a grape tomato plant for eating fresh. Then several plants that are geared more towards sauce making and canning like plum tomatoes. Now I know I need a larger section of my garden for my tomato plants.

Do this process for each of the vegetables on your list. Having a clear idea of what you want to plant, how much, and what varieties is key to starting your garden plan.

Prepare Your Garden Bed
Once you know what you want to plant you can get an idea of how much space you are going to need. Dig or build your garden somewhere you are sure gets full sun.

Consider if you want to plant straight into your ground, into raised beds that you build, or into containers. If possible, I think a little of all three of these makes for an ideal garden!

If you are planting very much at all, be sure to plan walking paths to allow easy access to your harvest!

Check in with your community for places that give out free composted dirt.  Make sure it is somewhere you trust to have clean, safe dirt.  If you can’t find any locally, you can always purchase some, but it is great to make use of local gardening resources whenever possible.

If you are a coffee drinker, start saving your coffee grounds and work them into your soil before planting. These are a great natural fertilizer.

Let Your Plants Help Each Other

growing vegetables

Where you plant each variety of plant in relation to one another is just as important as what you plant. Plants that grow tall can block the sun from root vegetables or ground cover plants. Climbing plants need a good place to climb. They will climb naturally up corn stalks or you can build in your own support for these climbers.

Planting your vegetables in small sections that are all mixed together is a wonderful and natural way to keep away pests. You can also line your bed with natural pest controllers like Chrysanthemums and other bug repelling flowers.

Avoid Common Mistakes

Starting too big. It is easy to get really excited in the early stages and go all out, but be sure to understand that gardens need care all year long. Yes, even in the winter. Weeding, watering, harvesting, and preparing your bounty all takes a lot of time and effort. So, starting a little smaller than you are initially tempted to is a good idea for your first garden. After one gardening season, you will have a better idea of your gardening stamina and can adjust up or down for future gardens.

Planting too close together.  When you are just planting small plants and seeds it can seem as though you have tons of room to reach or walk between rows and care for your tender new plants. But be very aware that all of these things will grow substantially and before you know it, you may have a hard time being able to reach, weed, and harvest.

Things like cucumbers, pumpkins, and zucchini can take over an entire bed, so give them ample space and keep them away from root vegetables that their leaves might cover over and hide from the much-needed sun!

Planting everything at once. When spring is finally here and it is time to get those plants in the ground it can be tempting to try and do it all in one weekend. But soon you will find that can cause problems. For example, if all of your carrots are ready to harvest at one time you can have a sudden onslaught of carrots and not enough time to eat and enjoy them. Plan to stagger out your planting throughout the planting season, so your harvest can come in intervals and you can enjoy your fresh produce for as long as possible.

The exception to this rule is if you are planning to can or freeze your vegetables. In those cases, you might want a large harvest all at once.

Embrace the Learning Process
Gardening is a rewarding and yummy hobby. At the same time, it has a steep learning curve. Know that your first garden will teach you many lessons and don’t allow yourself to be frustrated by your mistakes. As Jeremy Dore notes in his guide to planning a garden, gardening should be approached as both an art and a science. If you embrace the learning process your gardening skills and your garden will grow fruitfully for years to come.


Author Bio:  Brett Bastello is an amateur gardener, copywriter, and a member of his local community garden.  Based out of sunny San Diego, when he’s not down on his knees with his hands in the dirt he can be found wading in the Pacific Ocean atop his favourite surf board.

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