plants

Vegetable gardens for beginners: planting and harvesting the easy way

Magazine

You may think that a vegetable garden is too ambitious for your gardening skills, but as with many things, you can learn to grow vegetables by just starting with a few essentials and building on your knowledge gradually. Start small, take the first few steps, and you’ll be harvesting in no time.

Planning your vegetable garden

If you’re new to growing vegetables, you might prefer to start on a small scale. This allows you to concentrate on getting things right with a few plants, instead of worrying about a large area. A great option for this is using containers for your vegetable garden. You can use almost any kind of receptacle with enough room for the plants’ roots (around 6-8 inches). You just need to add a few drainage holes (for example with a drill) and raise the container an inch or two off the ground using any stones, bit of wood etc. that you find lying around. Remember to arrange containers in such a way that you will be able to reach all areas comfortably when it comes to weeding and harvesting.

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Find the right spot

When deciding on where to put your vegetable garden, bear in mind that many vegetables need sun for 5-8 hours a day. If you don’t have an area like this, consider growing vegetables that need less sunlight, like lettuce or spinach.

Take your regional climate into account when you are deciding which plants are suitable for your garden and where they are likely to do the best. For example, peas do well in cooler climates, so they are a good option if you live somewhere that’s too cold for beans or tomatoes. However, if you live in a warmer region but want to plant peas anyway, you may be able to find somewhere with partial shade to plant them.

Be picky

Read up about the available varieties of each vegetable. There are often hundreds of varieties, each with different properties in terms of their yield, flavour and preferred conditions. So if you live in a region which doesn’t generally have the right climate for your favourite vegetable, find out whether there is a variety that’s particularly resistant to the low/high temperatures in your area. You can also try out a couple of different varieties, so you have a better chance of success.

Prepare the soil

Before planting, test the soil in your vegetable garden and make improvements. If your soil is sandy (won’t stick together if you try to pat it into a ball), or clay-like (will stick together, but doesn’t crumble apart easily), mix in some compost until it has a moist, crumbly consistency. Mixing in organic matter also increases the nutrients available to your plants, so it’s a good idea with any soil type.

It is also important to make sure the soil drains well. With containers, this is easily achieved through holes. If you’re planting directly into a bed, you can test drainage by soaking the soil, then checking the next day whether a handful scooped from the top layer still feels very wet. If it does, adding compost could help it drain better.

As you add compost or other organic matter, dig the soil up thoroughly to loosen it. Once you feel you have the right mixture and consistency, rake it over, water it and then leave the soil to settle for a day or two before planting.

Give yourself a head start

To get the most out of the growing season and reduce the time you have to wait for your harvest, start your seeds indoors so that they already have a good start when you plant them out in your vegetable garden. If you’ve left it a bit late, or want to save time, you can also get started with plants from your local garden centre.

Care for your plants


While your vegetable garden is growing, there are a few things to remember:

  • Water your plants regularly, but don’t over-water. If the top inch of soil feels dry, they probably need more. Remember that soil which drains well, like that in planters, will probably need more frequent watering (every day or two).
  • Look out for harmful pests. Try to identify infestations early, so you can look into different ways of dealing with them before they get out of hand.
  • Don’t forget to weed! Weeds compete directly with your plants for nutrients and water.

Harvesting


Finally, the fun part! Harvesting is easy and exciting. You don’t have to do it all at once and there’s a lot of choice involved. There are a few vegetables which shouldn’t be eaten unripe, so it’s always best to look them up individually, but many vegetables, like leaf vegetables, cucumbers and courgettes, can either be picked very young or left to grow to full size. Some, like snow peas, are eaten together with their pods, and so can be picked before they are technically ripe. Others, like tomatoes, ripen individually on the plant, allowing you to pick a handful at a time to add to your meals.

Whichever vegetables you choose for your first vegetable garden, you won’t believe how much fun it is watching them grow… or how good they taste!