Your Very First Vegetable Garden: Tips for Success

Growing vegetables for the first time can be exhilarating, uplifting, and quite honestly, nerve-wracking.

Alternating feelings of excitement and anxiety are part of the experience when you’re a beginner. You know you want to grow vegetables, but you’re not sure what to plant or how to get started. You see seedlings sprouting above the ground or growing, but you worry about keeping them alive. And later, you see your plants producing vegetables — truly one of the most thrilling moments in gardening — but you aren’t quite sure when to harvest them.

While we can’t immunize you against moments of gardening angst or make up for the knowledge that experience will provide, we can provide some basic tips to guide you as you plant, care for, and harvest your first vegetables.

We also would say that the joy of successfully growing vegetables (not to mention the delicious, fresh produce you get) is worth the effort, and even a few stressful moments. 

Ask Vego Garden Horticulturist Sydney Fiene, who says she still remembers her first experience growing vegetables. 

“The first time I grew veggies was with my mom and I was 6,” Fiene said. “It was and always will be some of the best times of my life being in the garden with her.”

Ready to experience vegetable gardening for yourself? Here are our suggestions.

First steps: select your ‘where’ before your ‘what’

Your first step, even before you decide which vegetables you want to grow, should be selecting the right spot for your garden. 

Look for a spot where your veggies will get plenty of direct sunlight, at least six to eight hours a day. 

Additional considerations

Vegetable gardening in raised beds | Vego Garden
Vegetable gardening in raised beds

Level ground: If you’re planting in the ground, you want an area that’s level so water will be distributed evenly. If your yard slopes, you may need to plant in raised beds or terraces.

Soil quality: The ideal soil for vegetable gardening should be loamy—meaning it has a balance of sand, silt, and clay—along with organic matter. A loamy mix provides good drainage and will retain moisture and nutrients.

It also would be helpful to get a soil test from your local extension service to see if you need to take steps to balance your soil’s pH balance, to make sure it isn’t too acidic or alkaline.

Drainage: Good drainage will be key to preventing waterlogging, which can lead to root rot. If you’ve noticed that areas in your yard collect standing water after rain, don’t plant there. If drainage is a problem, raised beds can be an excellent solution. Wicking cells, in conjunction with raised beds, is also beneficial.

Water access: Make sure your garden location has easy access to water. Dragging hoses across a large yard can get old, and carrying water by hand will be impractical. Vego Garden recently released a watering line of products designed to assist with any watering woes.

Selecting your plants

Leafy Greens are a good choice for novice vegetable gardeners | Vego Garden
Leafy Greens are a good choice for novice vegetable gardeners

Once you’ve nailed down your garden’s location, you’ll be ready to start researching potential veggies to grow.

Fiene's top tip? "Grow what you love to eat."

You’ll also want to select plants suited for the conditions in your USDA Hardiness Zone

Don't forget, local soil types, humidity levels, and common pests can influence plant growth. Reach out to local nurseries or extension services for tailored advice, including which plants thrive in the cooler spring versus the hot summer months.

For novices, Fiene suggests starting with:

  • Tomatoes: Most varieties are easy to grow, but they do need frequent trellising and pruning.
  • Peppers: These fast-growing plants do not demand extensive attention, but the seedlings will need a stake for support.
  • Cucumbers and zucchini: Both grow quickly with very little care. They are big feeders and need a good source of water. Cucumbers can be trellised or can also crawl along the ground. Zucchini needs to crawl on the ground.
  • Leafy greens: Generally, they require very little care. Most can be cut as they grow for multiple harvests.

More on soil

High-quality soil is important for a healthy harvest | Vego Garden
High-quality soil is important for a healthy harvest

We mentioned that in some cases, planting in raised beds will be your best option. If you go that route, you’ll need to select a high-quality soil mix designed for raised beds. Look for a mix that is loose, rich in organic matter, and well-draining. 

From there, incorporate compost into your soil mix to add nutrients and improve the soil’s structure. 

A note on fertilizer: Well-composted organic matter can provide most if not all the nutrients your vegetables need. If you do want to use fertilizer, consider organic options. They release nutrients more slowly and improve the soil structure over time. Examples include fish emulsion, seaweed extract, bone meal, and well-rotted manure.

Seeds and germination

If you’re sowing seeds, remember that they will need to stay moist to germinate (sprout). Keep your soil moist, but not soaked. 

“Some plant seeds need high humidity and heat to germinate,” Fiene added. “I always suggest looking up the proper seed germination requirements for the specific seeds you have.”

Your veggies also will need plenty of space. The easiest way to figure out how much to provide is to read the instructions on your seed packets or the tag that comes with your seedlings

Watering mistakes

The most common pitfalls for new gardeners are over-watering and under-watering. Check soil moisture by feeling the soil six to eight inches deep; if it's damp, hold off on watering. If dry, water thoroughly to reach deep roots.

Harvest time!

A bountiful vegetable harvest | Vego Garden
A bountiful vegetable harvest

If you’ve been wondering how you’ll know when your veggies are ready for harvest, Fiene has a simple suggestion.

“Most people have seen the plants you have growing already at the grocery store to purchase,” she said. “Harvest when they look similar.”

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