5 Secrets to Success for the Beginner Vegetable Gardener
Welcome to Redeem Your Ground’s Doug Scott, an Atlanta landscape designer, blogger, husband, and father of two young daughters. This is the first in a series of posts he’ll share this month on basic gardening and how to create beautiful and meaningful outdoor spaces.
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More and more people these days are stepping into the wild world of growing food at home. There are all kinds of reasons why, from being more health-conscious to wanting to live a greener lifestyle. Personally, I want to have easier access to healthier, fresher veggies while helping our daughters gain a better understanding of where real food comes from and what real food looks like…
That way, once they start making their own food decisions they’ll be more likely to make better, healthier decisions- at least that’s our hope. Regardless of why you’re looking to have a veggie garden at home, here are a few basic tips to get you started.
Tip #1: It’s all about Location, Location, Location!
You really only need three things to have a fruitful harvest: good soil, plenty of water, and sun- and lots of it. If you have a spot that has all three, that’s where you should put your vegetable garden. Done! However, most of us aren’t fortunate enough to have all three, and if you don’t, you’ll really struggle trying to squeeze blood from the proverbial turnip- let alone grow said turnip. Believe me, I speak from experience… the bad kind!
Tip #2: Have Hope (Even Without the Perfect Spot)
The good news is this: you can very easily do some things that will get you where you need to be, even if you aren’t blessed with the idea gardening plot. You still have options.
If you don’t have good soil, use raised beds or simply till up what you have and amend it with some good organic matter and nutrients. Growing A Greener World has a great post about soil prep.
If you live in an arid part of the country or don’t have easy access to water, install irrigation, buy a longer hose, or find a watering pail. It’s really that simple.
The more sun you have, the more veggies you’ll grow. The biggest challenge is finding a spot with full sun, and essentially 6-8 hours of direct sunlight. If you don’t have that, try one of the following instead:
- Choose Shade-Friendly Vegetables: If you don’t have a spot that gets full sun, accept it and be okay with not growing cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers or squash. There are still a number of vegetables that grow well in some degree of shade (hint: think root vegetables and your leafy greens).
- Try Container Gardening: Although growing veggies in containers doesn’t paint the same bucolic picture as rows and rows of vegetables, you still get a successful and fulfilling gardening experience. Since containers are portable, you can seek out a small spot wherever the sun might be, like a patio, deck, or even driveway. Quite a few vegetables grow well in containers, such as tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, eggplant, herbs, and leafy greens. But since containers dry out more easily, make sure to keep them well-watered.
- Consider a Community Garden: A community garden isn’t as convenient as a home garden but if you don’t have much sun at home and you really want to grow your own food in the ground, consider going to a neighborhood plot instead. Not only will you be able to grow your own food, you’ll build rich community along the way. And while building community, you’ll likely learn some great gardening tips from those gardening around you. Bonus! The American Community Gardening Association has a great website on all things community gardening. It’s full of great resources and even has a community garden finder to help you locate a community garden near you.
Tip #3: Go For Easy Access
You’ll visit your veggie garden fairly often (checking on things, gathering your bountiful harvest, etc.) and you’ll want easy access to your home, tools, and supplies. Having gardening essentials at your fingertips will make your personal farm-to-table experience much more enjoyable, and therefore more sustainable. Otherwise, not only will all the back-and-forth make your efforts unnecessarily tiresome, but will make it much more likely that you won’t do what you need to do, when you need to do it.
Tip #4: Combine Form & Function
With the right design, your veggie garden can both be functional- providing you a healthy food source for your family- and add great architectural interest and beauty to your outdoor spaces. Ours is one of the most enjoyable places to hang out in our backyard, and that’s because we were very intentional about its design, flow with the rest of our backyard, and the surrounding plant material.
If you are worried that your veggie garden will look too out-of-control when in-season, or like a barren wasteland when out-of-season, resist the urge to hide it out of sight. Not only will it go against my point about easy access (Tip #3 above), but there are easy ways to make it more attractive:
- Put a small picket fence around your garden… with a flowering or edible vine cascading over it.
- Accent or line your veggie garden with evergreen shrubs, like small boxwoods.
- Plant flowers among your veggies. Not only will they provide great pops of color, they’ll attract the much-needed pollinators to your garden and provide great cut flowers to bring inside. We typically have a mix of marigolds, zinnias, sunflowers, and black-eyed Susans in our veggie garden.
- Add a rustic bench or small seating area as an interesting focal point.
- Add a fun scarecrow. It cuts down on the number of unwanted visitors, and it was fun to build with our daughters.
Tip #5: Just Do It
Whether you have a rolling estate or a balcony with room for just one pot, you likely have what you need to have a vegetable garden. So don’t get all bogged down by your desire to have the perfect veggie garden, or by fear of all that you don’t know. All you really need is a plant, some good soil, water, a fairly sunny spot… and you’ll be good to go. You’ll learn what else you need to know along the way. Just get started.
And the bonus is, if you have kids like we do, you may even find that the child who typically picks the tomatoes out of her salad at the dinner table will run to the veggie garden to grab a few cherry tomatoes, pop them in her mouth, and then run off to play some more. We did, and consider that a success for a number of life-giving reasons!
Clearly, there’s so much more to say about growing veggies at home, but I hope that this has at least helped you get started. Be sure to come back to Apartment Therapy later to see what I have to say about the advantages and disadvantages of raised beds.
If you missed the first two in my series, check out:
- Back Yard Triage: 5 Steps to Bring Any Outdoor Space Back to Life
- Flowers 101: The 4 Most Important Things Every Beginner Gardener Should Know
And if you’re itching for even more veggie gardening goodies, check out all my posts on RYGblog about how our garden got started, how much and what to plant, and many more tips on growing vegetables!
Happy Veggie Gardening!
Doug is the owner and lead designer of Redeem Your Ground. He also writes a family, home & garden blog (RYGblog) with his wife, Brittany…where they hope to help others create beautiful, meaningful outdoor spaces that bring family, friends, and neighbors together.