Have you been thinking about growing vegetables in your yard but don’t know where to start?  You can start by reading these handy tips written for the beginner gardener to be successful in a suburban yard or a city balcony.

  1. Determine What You Will Grow

Nothing is more motivating to get out and grow vegetables and herbs than writing down the list of your favorites that you use a lot in cooking, snacking, or picking up at the farmer’s market.  Putting the list together is also a great activity for the whole family.  Growing things you like to eat will keep you caring for them throughout the season as your mouth waters in anticipation!

With the list in hand, do some research into how to grow them.  You’ll need to know how much sunlight and space they need to grow; how long they will take to ripen, which will determine if they can be sown directly outdoors and if you can have repeated harvests throughout the season; and if they have any challenging disease or pest issues, which you will want to avoid.   

All of this information helps you pick out a good spot and to begin to understand their care requirements, which are described below.

2. Start off Easy

Easy-to-grow vegetables and herbs, and those that you can keep sowing and harvesting throughout the season will give you a high volume of produce in a relatively small area.  These plants include:

  • Lettuce, spinach, arugula, and other leafy vegetables can be sown early in the season and late in the season providing a nearly year-round harvest.  Snip only what you need for a salad and let the heads keep growing.  Avoid letting the plant go to seed because that causes the plant to turn bitter.
  • Radish, beets, bok choi, and turnips can be sown in small, alternating one-foot-square areas, every two to three weeks for a nearly year-round harvest.  While they are growing, the greens can be used for cooking or salads.
  • Herbs such as basil, cilantro and tarragon are annuals and are great for pots.
  • Herbs such as rosemary, thyme, and sage might even come back every year and are good for planting directly into the ground.
  • Peppers are mid-season producers that come in a wide variety of flavors, colors and heat. They are easily bought as plants.
  • Bush beans and pole beans are prolific mid-season producers.
  • Tomatoes come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colors and are prolific late-season producers that are easily bought as plants.

3. Pick a Good Spot

People think vegetables need to be grown in a big open space, in long rows, and directly in the ground.  That would be a “farm” growing food as a commodity.  You are most likely an urban/suburban resident looking to grow food as a hobby/leisure activity. 

A few pointers for locating your gardens:

  • Pick a location with at least eight hours of sunlight for the best results.
  • You will be watering almost daily, so it should be near a water source or be ready to bring hoses out to the planters.
  • Pots and raised beds are preferred as planters because you have full control over the quality and makeup of your soil.  If you plant directly into the ground outside your house, the weed seeds are just sitting there waiting for sunlight and water and will take over. 
  • Pots can fit into any open spaces in an existing garden as an accent or in groups on a patio or balcony.  The size of the pots should be in proportion to the mature size of the plants you are growing. 
  • Herbs and salad vegetables should be near the kitchen for easy frequent harvesting.

4. Understand the Care Requirements

First, establish your frame of mind. If this is going to be a “chore” it will end in failure.  But if you are doing this to unplug, be outdoors, and get a little closer to nature, you will end up wanting to do more.

A few care requirements to know ahead of time:

  • Watering—this is almost always a daily requirement, especially for small pots and full-sun beds.
  • Fertilizing—vegetables are watered frequently and known as “heavy eaters,” which quickly depletes the fertility of the soil.  Use organic fertilizers and follow instructions for the best tasting vegetables and largest harvests.
  • Weeding—this is needed a lot if you plant directly into the ground outside your house because the weed seeds are just sitting there waiting for sunlight and water.  That is why we recommend pots and raised beds (see below).
  • Tending and staking—inspecting your plants often will allow you to catch any insect or disease issues before they become widespread.  Tomatoes, peppers benefit from staking or supports.
  • Managing surpluses—sharing what you grow is another feel-good benefit of vegetable gardening.  Moreover, surplus vegetables can be blanched or roasted and then frozen in a food saver device to provide you with a summer-flavor treat in the depth of winter.

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