6 vegetable gardening tips every new food gardener needs to know

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In recent weeks, the rapidly increasing cost of vegetables, like cauliflower ($8.99 at my local grocery store!), has made headlines across North America. With food prices expected to continue to rise in the near future, more homeowners are turning to veggie gardens to offset the price of groceries. For those who are new to gardening – or at least new to food gardening – here are six vegetable gardening tips to get you started.

Niki’s 6 vegetable gardening tips:

1) Let there be light – Most veggies, especially those that bear fruit (tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and peppers, for example) need sun, and a lot of it. Ideally, you want a site with at least 8 hours of direct sun per day. In less light, you can still grow some edibles; mainly leafy crops and herbs. Check out my shady crop suggestions here.

2) Soil is everything – Healthy, rich soil is the key to a successful and productive vegetable garden, so don’t skip this step! A soil test will give you an idea of your existing soil fertility and pH, and offer suggestions of what types of fertilizers or amendments will get your plot up to par. In my own garden, I rely on homemade compost, organic well-composted animal manures, and organic fertilizers like kelp meal and alfalfa meal.

3) Keep it small – A vegetable garden can be low-maintenance, but it’s not no-maintenance. Therefore, do yourself a favor and stick to a small plot for the first year or two. A 4 by 8 foot bed is ideal for a starter veggie garden and will give you enough space to grow a handful of crops (see the next point). If you wish to start even smaller, try planting container-friendly veggies and herbs in pots or window-boxes on a sunny deck.

One of the best vegetable gardening tips is that a veggie garden doesn't have to be large to be productive.

One of my best vegetable gardening tips – a home garden doesn’t have to be large to be productive. Even small beds can shave some serious dollars off your grocery budget.

4) Pick your plants – With your first veggie garden, it’s very tempting to want to grow everything! But, for your own sake, I’d suggest you pick 4 to 5 types of vegetables and grow them well. Trying to cram too much in a compact space is asking for trouble and you’ll end up with a smaller, not larger harvest. However, you can boost yield by succession planting. When your initial crops have been harvested, follow up with a second sowing. For example, follow spring lettuce with summer beans. Succession planting allows you to stretch your harvest season for the longest possible time.

Don't be afraid to try new-to-you crops, like these quick growing Asian salad greens.

Don’t be afraid to try new-to-you crops, like these quick growing Asian salad greens.

5) Bring on the blooms – Ok, this might be hard to believe, but most bugs are your friends! Yup, it’s true. Think bees, butterflies, tachinid flies, ladybugs and more! To attract these good guys to your garden – and boost crop pollination – include clumps of insect-friendly plants like sweet alyssum, zinnias, cosmos, and sunflowers between the veggies and herbs.

Related post: 4 flowers for the veggie garden

6) Water, weed & feed – This might seem to be one of the most obvious vegetable gardening tips, but new veggie gardeners may not know when or how much to water. Newly seeded beds will need frequent watering, but most established crops can get by on one to two inches of water per week. To conserve water and reduce the need to irrigate, mulch your soil with several inches of straw or shredded leaves. Side benefit: the mulch will also suppress weeds! As for feeding, quick growing crops like radishes and lettuce won’t need supplemental fertilizers if grown in in fertile soil. Long-term veggies like tomatoes, winter squash, and eggplants, however, will appreciate a boost several times over the growing season. Give them an occasional dose of a water soluble organic food to support growth and encourage the biggest harvest.

For more advice on growing a vegetable garden, check out these related posts: 

Will you be planting your first vegetable garden this year? Tell us about your plans!

6 Things every new vegetable gardener needs to know! (Savvy Gardening)

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19 Responses to 6 vegetable gardening tips every new food gardener needs to know

  1. Margie says:

    I cannot grow radishes! Carrots dont grow very big. And even lettuce doesnt do well. I have good soil…had it tested. But green onions, beans.sometimes peas, and herbs grow well. Tomatoes do pretty good cause I use tires filled with my own compost. I am now thinking I might not get enough direct sunlight…barely 6 hrs. Everything starts out nicely but poops out. Could that be my problem?

  2. My problem is getting the timing down for all of the planting. I have had the dream of having my own garden. I loved your tips about putting sunflowers in your garden to attract better bugs, that’ll look beautiful.

    • Mike says:

      I do not have a garden yet. Though once I have a house.

      I have a background is Astronomy, will start laying down newspaper/cardboard. I plan on raised beds.

      way out, plant asparagus with maybe only one or two plants of block 4 comfrey (to spread manually later). Then legumes in beds. Followed with ‘Sunspot’ (~3 ft high, ~10 inch sunflowers. Then awaiting comfrey and asparagus development and starting some sort of supply garden and compost center. 🙂

  3. Azri says:

    I have a very small garden and I’m growing a few type of vegetables there. All my vegetables are grown organically.

    My main problems that I’m facing is my vegetable plants do not seem to respond equally with the type of fertilizer that I’m using. Some plants seem to be responded greatly but some plants do not.

    Do you have any suggestion of the type of fertilizer that could at least give the good result for any type of vegetable plants as I’m not planning to buy a few type of fertilizer since my garden is not that big?

    • Hi Azri,

      I think i would start with a soil test so you can see what the pH and nutrient levels are like in your soil. You may need to adjust the pH which greatly impacts nutrient absorption. Once you know if your soil is deficient in any of the major nutrients, you can figure out which fertilizer to use. But it all comes back to your soil and it’s basic profile. Hope that helps!!

  4. These tips are all very helpful. I’d like to also say you should make sure your plants attract beneficial insects. Insects such as ladybirds, ground beetles, and green lacewings will hunt and eat harmful insects. Ladybugs also pollinate your flowers. A lot of gardeners use pesticides to get rid of pests, but those chemicals kill the good insects too. In my opinion using beneficial insects is the best and safest way to have a pest free garden.

    • Great tip, thanks! I included it as number 5 above as it is just so important! I couldn’t agree more with boosting good bug populations in a food garden. 🙂 – Niki

  5. Glad I could be of help, Niki. And sorry for the huge picture of a tree. I though that was supposed to be my avatar 😀

  6. mariana says:

    Hello,

    This year I had a vegetable garden for the first time. I used galvanized water tanks for beds. Most things are growing well. The biggest challenge I have is to time the growth in a way that not every single tomato plant is giving tomatoes at the same time. I have the same issue with peppers. So, I have too many tomatoes at once but then I will have none in a couple of weeks. Ideas?

    • Great question Mariana! Typically, that would be because of variety selection. If you’re a canner and want your harvest at the same time, you’d pick varieties that are determinate in growth and ripen around the same time – like Celebrity, Amish Paste or San Marzano. Most heirlooms ripen over a period of a few months, producing new flowers and growing very tall. Hope that helps! Niki

  7. Jason says:

    We planted our first garden last year and it was a real learning experience for us. We would like to know what vegetables to plant together for watering purposes. We were told that some vegetables require more water and others less, so we wanted to plant those that used more water together to make it easier when watering. Our garden includes tomato, potato, squash, zucchini, okra, radish, onion, jalepeno, cucumber, corn, bell peppers and green beans. We appreciate any help you can give us.

    • Hi Jason, Thanks for this – great question! Fruiting crops need even, steady moisture from the time they begin to flower until the fruits have formed. This is especially true for crops like beans, cucumbers, squash, peppers and tomatoes. Fast growing crops like radishes appreciate steady moisture as they grow from seed to root formation. I like to mulch my crops with straw or shredded leaves to reduce the need to water. The really big water pigs are crops like celery, corn, and members of the cabbage family (broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) hope that helps! Niki

  8. Richard says:

    Hello Niki, great advice about starting off small. Many people dont realise how fast things can grow – including weeds! and everything needs to be tended to..
    Thanks,
    Richard.

  9. Juliana says:

    Thanks a lot for the tips. Where can you get the orange arch thing you had over your raised bed? thanks.

    • Hi.. it’s called concrete reinforcing mesh, metal mesh, or cattle panels and it’s 4 by 8 feet. Most building supply stores offer it. 🙂

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