If you’ve been thinking about starting your own vegetable garden, I have good news for you: It’s probably easier than you thought. The basic necessities are: a spot that gets some sunshine, a little water, a bit of dirt and a handful of seeds. (Oh, and patience doesn’t hurt, either.)
Easy enough so far, yes?
In fact, the first steps to growing a garden don’t even require you to get your hands dirty. Just grab a piece of paper and a pencil and do a bit of planning (and a little homework–but don’t worry, it’s easy).
Step One: What Do You Have?
Figure out what resources you have at your disposal. Do you have a yard you can claim for a garden? A balcony? A porch where you can place pots? A window where you can hang a window box outside or a pot of herbs on a window sill inside?
Step Two: Here Comes the Sun…or Not?
Pay attention to how much time the sun spends in those locations you’ve just identified that might work for gardening. Does it get good morning or afternoon sun? Does the apartment next door or the trees in your yard block the sun during the day? How much sun do you think that area gets in the course of a typical day?
Step Three: Does Your Space + Sun + Good Conditions?
Given your space and sun resources, decide what kinds of vegetables would best grow in your space. Although you can plant a wide variety of vegetables in unconventional ways (you don’t need a big old fashioned garden to be successful), there are still some considerations you need to think about. For instance, you’re not going to be able to grow a successful crop of corn in a small balcony pot. However, you could grow potatoes in a garbage can (or even a laundry basket). You won’t be able to grow sun-loving vegetables in the shade, but you can grow them in dappled sunlight–they just might not get as big and produce as much as they would in optimal conditions.
Step Four: Make a Plan
Sketch out your proposed garden area(s) and decide how many plants will fit in each space. Keep these plans, even after you’ve planted your crops. It’s best if you rotate crops each year, so you’ll want to keep track of what you’re doing now to help you in years to come. The layout for a small vegetable garden can be as simple or as complex as you’d like to make it. The important thing is spending some time planning at the beginning and then keeping track of what you decide.
Step Five: What is Your Zone?
Before you start planting your garden, it’s helpful to figure out what climate zone you live in. Each zone comes with it’s own timeline as to when it’s safe to plant your garden to be (relatively) free from harmful frost and low temperatures.
Step Six: Firm Up Your Vegetable Selections
If you still haven’t decided on the vegetables you’d like to grow, now’s the time to do it. What you decide to grow will affect your seed and plant purchasing as well as where you plant what and if you need to start early with indoor planting.
Step Seven: To Plant Indoors or Not?
Some plants require a longer growing season than others. Maybe some of the plants you’re thinking about planting require a longer growing season than your zone says you have. This is when you decide to either starting vegetable seeds indoors, or buy plants (instead of seeds) to help jumpstart the process and lengthen your growing season.
Step Eight: Consider Your Dirt
Depending on where you live, you may or may not have great dirt. You might not even have any dirt at all. But don’t panic. A truly successful garden imports many organic additives into the soil (or starts from scratch and doesn’t bother with the dirt already present). Whether you’re starting with an existing garden space or not, there is information you need to know about preparing your soil for planting.