A vegetable garden, whether it is big or small, has to be one of the most productive and satisfying hobbies. You spend time out in the fresh air, you get some moderate exercise, you learn things about nature--and you get fresh, healthy food that is tastier than anything you could buy in a store. Even better, it doesn't have to cost much. A packet of lettuce seed that costs $3 can produce more than $100 worth of lettuce.
Victory Gardens during World Wars I and II were small parcels of land where vegetables were grown. The idea was to achieve a certain amount of self-sufficiency, and to decrease the demand for fresh food from farms so that commercial produce could be used to feed the troops. More recently, the surge of interest in developing a fresh, local, healthy and sustainable food supply has resulted in a sharp increase in the number of home vegetable gardeners.
When beginning a vegetable garden for the first time, it is advisable to start small. Properly managed, a 20x20-foot garden can provide fresh vegetables throughout the growing season for a family of three. Consider dividing the garden into 4x4-foot beds, like mini-gardens, so that each one can be used for a different crop. This makes management and maintenance easier, because you can totally weed and care for one little garden before moving on to another. If you have one big area it can get away from you, allowing weeds to take over.
Improve the Soil
It is recommended that you get a soil test to find out whether your soil needs any amendments. Your local county cooperative extension office can help you find a soil testing lab. The results of the soil test will tell you what needs to be added to grow good vegetable crops. Vegetables need full sun at least six hours a day and rich soil. Cover the entire garden, or at least the individual beds, with 2 inches of good compost. You might have to buy this first load of compost, but if you start a compost pile of your own it will be free in future. Rake this compost lightly into the top 3 or 4 inches of topsoil.
You can start everything from seed, or you can go to a garden center and buy transplants (young plants) that will give you an almost-instant garden. You might want to do both--start some things from seed and get some transplants that will mature faster. Lettuce and radishes grow fast, so you can start them from seed. Parsley, tomatoes, cabbage, and herbs grow more slowly, so you should buy transplants for more reliable results.
Weeds must be controlled. If you let them grow, they will rob water and nutrients from your vegetables, and they will produce seeds which can remain viable for many years in the soil. Never let a weed go to seed. Use a garden hoe to destroy weeds when they are tiny so they don't get a chance to grow. If necessary, especially in areas between plants where hoeing is difficult, pull the weeds by hand. If they have not yet developed seeds, they can become the beginning of your compost pile, along with grass clippings and dead leaves.
Water deeply and thoroughly. It is not enough to just wet the surface. The water must penetrate 3 or 4 inches down, because that is where your plants' roots are. After you have watered for a while, dig a little hole and make sure the water is penetrating deeply. It is best to water in the morning, so that plant leaves can dry off during the day. Do not water in the evening, because leaves that stay wet overnight can develop diseases.