Vegetable growing techniques are often handed down through the generations--but how do you learn to garden if you weren't raised in a green-thumb household? Fortunately, an expanding public interest in gardening for good health, economic efficiency, and environmental awareness means that there now is a wonderful array of resources available for the neophyte gardener. You can learn to grow delicious vegetables, even if you've never grown a thing before.
Walk or drive through your community in late spring. Locate neighbors who are growing vegetable gardens. Stop in and ask if you can watch when they are out planting and take notes on what you learn in your gardening notebook.
Visit your local gardening center or farm supply store. Purchase a half-barrel-sized planter, potting soil and a trowel. Look for vegetable plants of the same varieties that the gardeners in your community were growing, or ask gardening center or farm supply store personnel what varieties would grow well locally in a container. Purchase just two or three plants (such as tomato, pepper or cabbage) as well as one or two packets of seeds for small vegetable types (such as carrot or radish).
Place your planter in a sunny location at home. Fill it with potting soil and plant the purchased vegetable plants and seeds in the soil. Water the plants well with a hose or bucket. Write down the date as well as the vegetable varieties you planted in your notebook. Water the planter every few days as necessary to prevent the soil from drying out, and track your plants' progress and any harvest you obtain in your notebook.
In early autumn, seek out gardening classes. Garden clubs, 4-H clubs and cooperative extension services often run gardening classes such as the Master Gardener course in fall and winter to help you learn to plan next year's garden. Your local cooperative extension office can provide you with contact information for gardening education programs.
In late fall, order seed catalogs from a wide variety of mail-order suppliers. Ask your gardening neighbors or cooperative extension office for recommendations, or find ordering information from advertisements at the back of gardening magazines, which you can locate in your local library. When these catalogs begin arriving in early winter, circle interesting plant varieties, tools or gardening tips in the catalogs with your pencil, and make note of any you'd like to try in your gardening notebook.
Early in the new year, peruse cooperative extension garden guides posted online, such as the Illinois Cooperative Extension Vegetable Garden Guide. Visit your local library and take out gardening books for midwinter reading. The University of North Carolina study guide, Finding Your Way Through the Weeds: A Beginner's Guide to Vegetable Gardening, includes an extensive list of recommended gardening books. As you read, make note of valuable points in your gardening notebook.
Read back through your gardening notebook in early spring and decide how to best put the gardening techniques you have learned over the year into practice in the upcoming gardening season.