When you start a vegetable garden, you must follow a specific calendar, choose the right site, prepare a rich foundation and plant vegetables that grow well in the region, weather and season. In areas like New York, which features U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness growing zones 3 to 7 and winter temperatures from 5 degrees to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit, gardeners must get the timing exactly right and take advantage of what summer offers. Start your prep a month before the last frost in your area to get your vegetables into the ground early.
Start working the garden in March, April or May, depending on your location. Plantings should wait until after the last frost, which may occur as early as April 13 in New York City or as late as early June in Lake Placid. Work the soil the month before your planting to give the amendments a chance to settle.
Locate a site where the vegetables will get six to eight hours of full sun every day. Make sure the site gets quick drainage after any rain and gives you at least 10 to 20 square feet of planting space.
Prepare beds that are 3- to 4-feet wide and run the length of your garden, with 2 feet of space between each bed for walking. These beds will support one row of large plants and several rows of small plants, while giving you room to tend the garden. Dig up the top 6 inches of soil and add 1 inch of quick-draining soil and 2 inches of organic compost to give the plants nutrition and drainage. Add 10-10-10, organic or starter fertilizer to the top 2 inches of soil.
Plant tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, corn, onions, squash, radishes, carrots, turnips, beets, lettuce, spinach, cauliflower, okra, cucumbers and melons in southern New York, where summers last for five to six months. These summers are long enough to support any summertime vegetable plant.
Plant shorter-season cultivars or short-season veggies like beets, radishes, squash, snap beans, lettuce, spinach, turnips, cucumbers and okra in northern New York, where summers can last only two months. Summertime veggies must grow to full fruiting maturity before winter arrives, so long-season vegetables like pumpkins and beefsteak tomatoes won't work in this area.