Starting a vegetable garden may be one of the most rewarding endeavors you've ever taken on. It will ensure a supply of fresh, healthy vegetables for your table. As a general rule, only grow vegetables you enjoy eating. Even so, it's important to try new things and expand your experience. So grow something different, even unusual, every year. If it turns out not to be for you, someone else, whether a neighbor or coworker, will always enjoy the new vegetable.
Don't start your first vegetable garden by digging in the soil, but by making a plan. Decide where to locate your garden. It should be an area that receives a lot of sunshine. Plan small the first year, but make sure your location allows for growth, so your garden can expand as you become more confident and knowledgeable. Make a list of the vegetables you will grow. Limit yourself to 5 or 6 different vegetables. Next year you can add to this list.
Plot your first-year garden with a pencil on a piece of graph paper. Replicate the dimensions of your garden with an outer line, then draw planting rows onto the garden map. Leave yourself plenty of room in the aisles between rows to work. There's no rule about this width, but many vegetable gardeners leave aisles wide enough for a wheelbarrow to move down easily. Write down the row measurements for each type of vegetable. When you purchase seeds, the back of each package will tell you how much space that vegetable will cover. Use this information to calculate how many packages to buy.
A vegetable garden requires well-drained soil. A soil with too much clay will cause the water to sop the roots too long. Grab a handful of your soil and squeeze, then open your hand. If the soil stays clumped and doesn't fall apart easily, it has too much clay. If it doesn't clump at all and simply falls from your hand, your soil has too much sand.
Apply compost to remedy either problem. Any biodegradable substance that has been broken down into a fine humus is acceptable. Livestock manure prepared for this purpose provides one of your best choices for amending garden soil. Start by breaking up the garden soil with a shovel and rake. If your soil is hard, you may need to rent a tiller. Mix a large bag of compost into the soil. Then do another soil hand test and add more compost if needed.
Planting and Pests
You've finally gotten to the fun part of vegetable gardening: planting your seeds. Seed your garden when all danger of frost has passed. Follow the instructions on the back of the seed packet for each vegetable. Different vegetables require different spacing and depth in the soil. Some of the easiest to grow include zucchini squash, peas, onions and beets. Add tomato and bell pepper plants from a nursery. These plants need to be started early to mature before frost arrives. In future years, you may want to start tomatoes and peppers indoors or build your own greenhouse for early-growing plants.
If you run into an insect problem later, use a commercial or homemade insecticide. For an easy homemade insecticide, mince a clove of garlic and place it in a spray bottle. Add a couple drops of dishwashing liquid, then fill the bottle with water. Spraying this solution on the affected areas will deter most pests.