Vegetable gardening is a popular hobby that can reduce your monthly grocery bill. Preparation and planning will ensure that your garden has the best chance of success. There are plenty of resources available to first time gardeners. In the US, most states have Master Gardener programs administered through the extension service of state universities. Trained volunteers are available locally to answer questions and offer advice on vegetable gardening and other horticulture issues.
Putting a plan on paper is the first step to starting your garden. When choosing vegetables to plant, think about what your family will eat and stick with those crops at the beginning. Start small and expand your garden after you have learned the basics. Your plan should include a drawing of the plot, including the layout of each row and what will be planted. Make notes for the planting dates for each variety. Rows should be oriented north-south with taller vegetables on the north side. This will give your plants the best exposure to light.
Select a site that gets good exposure to sunlight, away from shade trees and other obstructions. Vegetables need at least six hours of direct sun daily for maximum growth. Choose a location close to your house to reduce the work of moving supplies and crops to and from the garden. You might be more diligent with weeding and other maintenance when the garden is in plain view of the house. Make sure you have access to a water supply.
Preparing the soil correctly is the most important step in having a great vegetable garden. Remove all grass, weeds and other plants from the plot, including as much of the roots as possible. Turn the top 6 inches of bare soil. Spread a generous amount of well-aged compost or rotted manure over the entire plot and dig it into the soil lightly. These organic materials provide essential nutrients to the soil and help to make it slightly acidic, which is perfect for vegetables. The plot should be prepared at least a week before planting.
Pull the soil into a mound about 6 inches high along the center of each row to keep the planting arrangement neat. The raised soil provides better drainage and makes weeding much easier. Store-bought seed packages have specific instruction as to the spacing and depth for planting each type of seed. Keep the seeds and soil moist after planting to ensure the best chance of germination.
When to Plant
The length of the growing season depends on your local climate and elevation. Cold-hardy crops such as onions, peas and cabbage are the first to be planted, followed several weeks later by potatoes and other root vegetables. Weather patterns change from year to year, so nothing is written in stone as far as planting dates go. Rely on local advice from experienced gardeners.