Take the mystery out of vegetable gardening and learn how to plant a garden in four easy steps – Decide, Pick, Create and Plant!
You want to know how to plant a garden. You want to grow your own vegetables and provide for your family. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone could simplify the process?
When we moved out to our cabin in the woods, I had had almost no experience with gardening. I honestly had no idea how to plant a garden, and I wasn’t even sure where to start.
Armed with piles of books, I spent hours trying to demystify the process.
And I couldn’t.
Honestly – it seemed that every book seemed to contradict the one before it, and many of them contradicted each other.
And then … I got out into the soil and started digging. I figured out how to plant a garden and I discovered that I love gardening!
In fact, on May 18 of that year, one of my sons asked “Maman, are you going to have the baby in the garden?” The next morning, the baby came – not in the garden, though.
Anyway, since that seems to be one of my super powers – simplifying the complicated – let’s see if we can take some of the mystery out of how to plant a garden. There are really just four basic steps involved.
(As I add posts in the future that expand on these four steps, I’ll add them here.)
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Table of Contents
Here’s How to Plant a Garden in 4 Easy Steps:
Decide What You Want to Plant
This is the fun part.
Start by making a list of all the recipes you frequently make.
Note which vegetables and herbs you use over and over again, because this will tell you not only what you should plant, but also a fair idea of what quantity. If you really can’t figure it out, we’ll work on that in other posts.
If you don’t ever eat radishes, for example, don’t plant them. It doesn’t matter if a hundred people tell you how quickly they grow, you don’t want to waste garden space on food you don’t eat.
Don’t forget to jot down other items your family enjoys, even if you aren’t using them in your cooking currently. Growing your own vegetable garden is a great way to expand your culinary horizons.
If you are hoping to grow all of your own vegetables, you will need about 456 pounds of vegetables per person per year. That includes potatoes, carrots, squash and other items that take up a lot of space, though. If you’re at the stage where you’re wondering how to plant a garden, you’re not ready to plant all of your vegetable needs!
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This planning phase is a great time to get your children interested in gardening, too. Ask what they might like to grow or make fun suggestions if they are too young to come up with ideas on their own.
Pumpkins, ornamental gourds and sunflowers are a lot of fun. When we were children, our father planted giant sunflowers in a square to give us a shaded play area.
Fast growing plants, such as lettuce and beans, are also great choices for children because they produce noticeable results quickly. Pole beans, especially, can be grown up poles in a teepee shape, providing another kind of shady shelter.
Once you’ve made a list of plants you want to grow, collect mail order catalogs, search online or stop by your favorite garden center to find seeds and transplants. You can learn a lot about what grows well, and how to grow a garden that thrives in your area by tapping into these resources, as well.
You can make it very simple (but not nearly as much fun) by picking up a survival seed kit. The seeds in this kit are open-pollinated, heirloom varieties, many of which I’ve grown in my Zone 5b garden. It doesn’t contain everything you’ll want, but it will get you started with good, reliable seed choices.
Pick a Location for Your Vegetable Garden
Just like in real estate, planting a successful vegetable garden is all about location, location, location. If you want your plants to thrive, there are a couple non-negotiable items you will need to provide:
Pick a sunny location with at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. Vegetables need a lot of sunlight.
Make sure the location you choose has easy access to water. You will need to water your plants whenever Mother Nature refuses to cooperate, so make sure you have a convenient source of water nearby.
Water is heavy. You don’t want to be hauling it very far.
Gardens need care, so position your vegetable garden in an area that is convenient to get to with the tools you need to work in it. If you place it too far from the house or garden shed where you keep your tools or in an area difficult to reach with a wheelbarrow, you may find yourself tempted to neglect it.
Make your life easier and plant your garden in the most convenient sunny location you can find.
If you have a choice of locations, consider building both a small, convenient kitchen garden (a potager) AND a larger garden with vegetables that require less attention.
You may have to do some work for this one, especially if you live in an area with heavy clay or compacted soil.
If you find the area you want to plant tends to collect standing water, you will want to build your beds up to protect your plants from overly wet feet.
Create Your Garden Beds
Once you’ve identified where you want your garden, you will need to decide where you want the individual beds within it. As you are doing so, keep in mind the orientation of the sun throughout the day because taller plants or those growing on trellises can cast damaging shadows if they aren’t positioned correctly.
To create the individual beds, many old school gardeners swear by the traditional practice of removing heavy layers of sod, then tilling and amending the soil beneath it before planting your vegetable plants.
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Although this method will certainly work, you don’t have to work that hard.
I’m going to tell you that I did it – and then I stopped because it was far more work than necessary.
Instead, you can use the Lasagna Gardening method of building your beds UP instead of digging down to create them. This methods works equally well with raised garden beds or directly on the ground.
To get started, add flattened cardboard or a thick stack of newspapers on top of the ground and then add alternate layers of peat, topsoil, aged manure or barn litter, organic mulch, yard clippings and/or compost.
You can either prepare these beds months in advance or right before you plant. Either way, the layers will meld together into a beautiful, rich soil for your plants.
For more details on this no-dig gardening method, check out Lasagna Gardening, a New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens.
Once your beds are ready, it’s time to start planting!
Before you start digging, you have some choices to make: you can sow seeds directly into the soil, start seeds indoors then harden them off outdoors before adding them to your garden, or plant established transplants you’ve purchased directly into your prepared beds.
Some plants require direct sowing, while others need to be started indoors several weeks before the frost-free date in your area in order to perform well. While you are creating your list of plants you want to grow, make a note of the growing requirements for each so you can give your plants the best chance of survival.
You can read more about a fool proof way of determining planting dates, and download a handy cheatsheet in this post.
Gardening is not difficult. Four simple steps – decide, locate, create, plant – and you know how to plant a garden.