Starting a garden for the first time may be a bit daunting. Choosing the appropriate location, preparing the soil and planting a garden takes planning and a commitment to working the soil. Starting small and working your way up to a larger area gives you a chance to decide if you have the time and energy needed to maintain a large home garden.
Select an area that receives direct sunlight for at least six to eight hours a day. Check the location at several points during the day to determine how many hours of sunlight it receives. Consider shadows cast from natural elements or manmade structures. A location near deciduous trees may be sunny in the spring, but once leaves develop the canopy of the tree may cast your garden into deep shadows.
Mark the outline of the garden by inserting stakes at the four corners and running garden twine between the stakes to create a square or rectangle. The Old Farmer's Almanac recommends a garden no bigger than 10 feet by 16 feet for the beginning gardener.
Plow or till the area with a garden tiller or garden tractor and remove all rock, roots and other debris found in the soil. Rake to remove weeds and bits of sod.
Contact your local extension office for a soil test kit. Follow the directions for gathering a soil sample and return the sample to the soil testing office. Review the written analysis of your soil when it returns and follow instructions for amending soil to balance nutrients, adjust pH and condition the soil.
Mark rows by inserting stakes at each end of the garden and running a taut twine between the two. Allow 2½ to 3 feet between rows, depending on the type of vegetables you intend to grow. Look on the back of the seed packet for information about row spacing. Use the blade of the hoe to make a 2 to 3 inch deep furrow in the soil using the twine as your guide.
Plant seeds following the recommended depth and spacing as specified on the back of the packet. Typically, seeds require a planting depth of two to three times the size of the seed. Cover seeds and firm the soil to secure the seed and remove air pockets.
Water to moisten the seeds, and keep the soil moist until seedlings emerge. Germination time varies. Look on the seed packet for days to germination.
Reduce watering to once a week when seedlings show active growth and are about 4 inches high. Water deeply to moisten the soil to the root level, and allow the soil to dry before watering again. (See Resources for watering needs and requirements for specific plants.)