Few plants are more satisfying to grow than vegetables and herbs. They're beautiful in the garden, grow quickly from seed and provide your family with nutritious produce that tastes far better than their watery grocery store counterparts. Consider your goals in planting a vegetable and herb patch. If you want produce for fresh eating only, grow a small plot with successive plantings. If you want to can or freeze produce as well, you'll need a larger garden.
Select a sunny, well-drained site for your garden. Most vegetables and herbs require at least six hours of direct sunlight per day, so choose the sunniest spot in your yard. Select a site on a slight slope rather than in a valley where frost pockets tend to gather.
Prepare your soil. Remove any weeds, rocks and debris from the garden site. Lay 1 inch of compost and 1 inch of manure over your soil. These garden amendments improve soil texture and drainage and add nutrients essential for good plant growth. Dig the soil to a depth of 6 inches with your shovel, turning and mixing the amendments into the soil as you work.
Consult your local county extension office for information on which herbs and vegetables grow well in your area. If you live in an area with a short growing season (90 days or less), choose early maturing varieties that can be harvested before frost. Choose high-altitude adapted seeds if you live in the mountains.
Plant cool season vegetables such as lettuce, beets, peas, carrots and spinach four to six weeks before the last expected frost. Plant these crops from seed. Space the seeds according to package directions; usually 1/2-to-1 inch deep and 2-to-3 inches apart. Thin the seedlings when they stand 2 inches tall as directed.
Plant warm season crops such as tomatoes and peppers by transplanting purchased plants after the last expected frost. Plant slow-growing herbs such as basil and cilantro using this method, as well. Plant beans, corn, pumpkins and cucumbers at the same time from seed. These seeds are typically bigger than cool season seeds and should be planted at a depth of 1-to-2 inches as the package indicates. Some herbs such as dill grow well from seed.
Water vegetable and herbs with a sprinkler or soaker hose two to three times per week, 30 minutes per session. Clay soils hold water and require less, while sandy soils drain quickly and need more water. Water less during rainy weather and more if the weather is hot or windy. Looking at the soil surface isn't a good way to determine watering needs. Put your finger in the soil. It should feel moist 3-to-4 inches below the surface. If not, then you need to water. Don't wait for plants to wilt before watering.
Fertilize your vegetables and herbs three weeks after planting and again mid-summer when they begin fruit production. Use a granular fertilizer according to package directions or apply diluted fish emulsion directly to the soil and plants for an organic fertilizer.