My Beginner's Guide to Starting Your Own Vegetable Garden

I am so excited to get my veggie plants in the ground!  Gardening is something I have grown to love throughout the years.  My parents always had a garden and my grandmother, who grew up on a farm, was an avid gardener as well.  She lived right down the street from us and when I was little, and my summers were spent in her yard picking black berries, snapping the ends of green beans, and canning tomatoes.

Now Mr. Wright and I have started our own gardening traditions.  We make salsa out of our tomatoes, onions, jalapeños, and herbs.  Our family and friends are always asking for our famous Wrighty's "What the Dillio" dill pickles too!

Last summer's "Dillios" being canned

Last summer's "Dillios" being canned


If you have been wanting to reap the benefits of having your own garden but don't know how to start, I have put together a simple step by step guide of the basics:  

1. Find a location

Before deciding what you want to grow, map out a space and consider how much time and effort you can put into your garden.  Turning a large plot of your backyard into your own farmer's market requires quite a bit of time to maintain.  If you are short on time and don't have much of a green thumb, a container garden on your porch or patio might be the best bet for you.

Not my garden, but one of my dream gardens - the garden of Chef Marcela Valladolid in Chula Vista, CA

Not my garden, but one of my dream gardens - the garden of Chef Marcela Valladolid in Chula Vista, CA

Whether its a plot of land or a pot, make sure it is in a spot that gets at least 6-8 hours of sunlight a day.  If planting in the ground, choose a well drained area.  Prior to planting, enrich your plot with an inch layer of compost (we use mushroom manure) and apply an organic fertilizer.  If you'd like, you can also purchase a soil test kit to see exactly what nutrients are in your soil.  

If you are using containers, get some organic potting soil.  We have a large garden in our back yard but I also use containers on our deck for herbs.  It allows for easy access from the kitchen when I am cooking and need a few leaves of something.  I love these City Pickers

2. Pick What and When to Plant

Talk to other gardeners in your area or visit a local nursery to see what grows well in your particular area.  Choose vegetables that you love to eat.  It may sound sound like a no-brainer, but don't plant a bunch of tomatoes if you aren't going to eat them!  Plant what you like and will use often.  Then maybe throw in a few different plants that you would like to branch out and try.  Plant veggies that require similar amounts of water and sunlight in the same bed or container.   

DO NOT plant until after the last frost of the season.  It is so tempting to get started right away on that first sunny, warm day of spring.  However there is a good chance there may still be a frosty night and all of your hard work is ruined.  Our rule of thumb here in Pennsylvania is that you should wait until after Mother's Day to plant or you can check the HERE for you area's last frost date.


3.  Seeds vs Seedlings

Seeds are inexpensive and offer a wider selection of unusual varieties, but if you are just starting out, I suggest going with seedlings.  They give you a head start and you bypass some of the tricky, delicate care that seeds require.

4.  Care and Harvest

Now that you have prepped and planted your garden, all you have to do is keep up with routine tasks.  These include:

  • Watering - the amount of watering needs depends on your location.  Ask your local nursery for suggestions.  Here in PA we water just about every day unless there is steady rain in the forecast.  When temps get really high, we may water more often.  It is best to water in the morning or evening when the sun isn't at it's strongest.
  • Weeding - do this as often as you can to prevent weeds from overtaking your garden.  You can also add some of your grass clippings around the plants to prevent weed growth.  Just make sure your lawn wasn't treated with any chemicals because you don't want those chemicals near your food-growing plants!
  • Checking for signs of disease and pests

Now it's time to reap your rewards!  You will know when to pick by looking at the vegetables' size, shape, and color.  Every veggie is different so check the tag that the seedling came with.  You want to keep up with the harvesting to encourage new growth.  The more you pick, the more the plants produce!

Chef Marcela's harvest from her garden

Chef Marcela's harvest from her garden