Growing your own vegetables is very rewarding, nothing tastes as amazing as a bowl of totally home grown vegetables. This three part free beginners series to Starting a Vegetable Garden from Scratch, will get you set up ready to follow along with our Weekly Gardening Series.
Spring or early Summer is the perfect time to start your garden, although there are some plants that you can plant in many areas almost all year, so the best time to start your new garden is now!
As always, if you have any questions along the way, please just ask, I am all too happy to help!
The First Step in Starting a Vegetable Garden From Scratch – Seeds
The first thing you need to do when starting a vegetable garden from scratch is order/buy/steal some seeds if you plan to grow from seed.
For USDA zones 8, 9 and 10 you should try carrots, kale, cabbage, lettuce, broccoli, onions, leeks, beetroot, peas and swiss chard/silverbeet to start off with. These are all fairly easy to grow.
Before you even start to dig your vegetable garden, you can get many of your seeds started inside.
Seeds take 4-8 weeks before they are ready to transplant, and most leafy plants transplant well.
Avoid trying to start carrots or other root crops in seed trays, they don’t transplant well.
If you are new to gardening, you will probably want to start with some existing plants. You can buy seedlings for your new garden at your local plant nursery and many large stores also stock vegetable plant seedlings.
Step Two in Starting a Vegetable Garden From Scratch – Find a Plot
Once your seeds are on their way to you, you can start prepping your garden.
Find a plot in your yard or existing garden that gets plenty of sun and drains well that is ideally sheltered from the prevailing wind.
Watch the sun and shadows on your yard at different times of day for a few days and find the place that gets the most sun. Well draining soil during early Spring won’t be boggy or mossy, but will probably still be damp.
If there is puddles, sloppy mud or it is covered in moss or buttercups it is probably too wet to use – but you could try a no-dig built up garden like this.
Once you have found your sunny patch, mark it out and remove any weeds growing in the area. If it is a new garden, scoop off the lawn and roots with a shovel and toss them in a pile somewhere else to rot down.
The dirt that is left in your new garden you should break it up with a garden fork so you are left with fine lumps of soil.
To this you can add any of the following: Well rotted compost, stable waste, grass-eating-animal manure (cow, sheep, horse, rabbit, goat etc), kelp or sea lettuce, bought compost or worm castings. Be generous and fork it in lightly.
Step Three in Starting a Vegetable Garden from Scratch – Plant out!
Once your garden bed is dug over and has had some compost or grass-eating-animal manure added, it is time to plant your plants.
Before you do plant your plants, plan out where they will all go.
Place plants that will grow taller at the back to provide wind shelter for the other plants and to avoid shading the other seedlings.
Some plants grow really well together, and others don’t, so check out our list of companion plants here.
Some plants, like lettuce, prefer partial shade, so they can be planted near things like peas or beans that will grow tall and shade them from the hot afternoon Summer sun.
To plant a seedling, once the soil is ready simply make a hole as deep as the seedling tray cell and one and a half times as wide.
Plant the seedling just as deep as the existing soil in the seed tray cell, if you bury the stem it can (and probably will) rot and die.
Push the soil back around the new seedling and firm the soil with your hands.
Water the seedling well for the next week every day or every other day until you see new growth. Then you just need to water the soil when it starts to get dry in the top 1/2 inch.
Step Four in Starting a Vegetable Garden from Scratch – Maintain it!
This is best done in the morning so that the water has time to soak in. Done in the heat of the day it means much of the water will evaporate before the plant or soil can absorb it.
Watering in the afternoon, on the other hand, can mean foliage will be damp at night which can encourage fungus problems.
Keep on top of those weeds! An hour weeding the tiny weeds can save you days of weeding once they are bigger!
Vegetable plants are easily overpowered by weeds while the plants are getting established, once they are bigger, they will help stop the weeds growing.
Weeds steal useful nutrients from the plants you are trying to grow, so you are best to keep the ground well covered in mulch to keep them at bay.
A Quick Lesson in Mulching a New Garden
Once I have removed all the weeds from a new garden, I like to mulch my entire vegetable garden in wood mulch (the result when you shred whole branches, bark, wood and leaves all in together).
I find it suppresses weeds very well, breaks down beautifully, doesn’t steal nitrogen from the dirt (as long as it is put on top not mixed into the soil) and it encourages worms like you wouldn’t believe.
I have tried straw in the past and it is definitely better than nothing. But next time I would throw it to the chooks first and get them to eat the remaining wheat/oat seeds as I had lots of them sprouting up in the garden.
With a good thick mulch you just part the mulch to plant your seedlings, or pull it back entirely when sowing directly, replacing it around the plants once they have grown.
I have ordered wood mulch from our local arborist, you might be lucky enough to find some for free from the city tree care people, but you will probably have to be able to take a whole truck load at once. It is worth checking with your local councils.
I am keen to suppress weeds as best I can as soon as I can seeing as we are lucky enough to be starting with weedless bare dirt, and we are competing with couch (said kooch) grass, buttercups and gorse seedlings.
Read here for Episode Two, a lesson in growing from seed.
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