Growing your own vegetables not only provides you with fresh, healthy food, it can save quite a bit of money on the monthly produce bill. But before breaking ground in the garden take the time to research and plan the project. There are many online vegetable gardening guides published by university extension services. Your garden center can also provide plenty of basic information about what to grow and when to plant.
Choose a level, well-drained site in your yard that gets six to eight hours of sunlight a day. The plot needs to be within reach of a water supply and ideally should be close to your house for easier management. The garden should also be well away from trees, shrubs and other landscape plants that may compete with the vegetables for soil nutrients.
Outline a small plot by placing wooden stakes at the corners. Keeping the plot small makes sense if this is your first time vegetable gardening. You will be able to give better care to fewer plants and learn as you go.
Remove existing plants, grass and other debris from the plot. When removing grass and weeds, dig down deep enough to remove the roots or they will grow back quickly. Use the spade to turn the the top 4 to 6 inches of soil over the entire plot.
Cover the plot evenly with 4 to 6 inches of manure or well-aged compost. These organic materials will enrich the soil with nutrients as they break down. Dig the organics into the loosened soil and then allow the plot to sit for four to seven days. This will give the organic material time to start working into the soil.
Make a sketch of the plot to use in planning your garden layout. If starting small, rows should be planted 18 to 24 inches apart. This is enough room for many smaller varieties of vegetables including onions, carrots, beets, lettuce and radishes. Lay the rows out north to south to maximize light exposure.
Level the plot by raking it and remove the corner stakes. Using your drawing as a guide, place wooden stakes at the end of each row and tie the string between them. Pull the soil into a 6-inch-high mound along the length of each row. The raised soil will provide better drainage for the vegetables and will help to keep them above any weeds.
Read the planting instructions on the seed packages. Sow the seeds at the recommended depth and spacing along the row. Plant your cool season vegetables first. Potatoes, onions and carrots are examples of cold hardy vegetables. Peppers and other warm season varieties are usually planted six to eight weeks later. Refer to local sources for the correct planting dates for your area.
Spray the garden with a fine mist of water after planting to keep the soil and seeds moist. Until the vegetables have sprouted, misting frequently will give the seeds the best chance of germination. In addition to misting, give the plot at least an inch of water per week. This is best done early in the day and the water should be directed to the ground so that the vegetable foliage is kept dry. Wet leaves can encourage both insects and disease.
Remove weeds as soon as they appear. Weeds are tough competition for young vegetable plants. As your plants grow check them regularly for signs of insects or disease. Seek local advice if you find problems.