How to Plant Your First Vegetable Garden

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For new food gardeners, anxious to learn how to start a new vegetable garden quickly, it’s important to find a method that stays within a limited budget, requires minimal skills, and gets you growing fast. Food gardening is on the rise. Today, we are going to share step-by-step instructions for how to start a vegetable garden. This method doesn’t require a huge financial investment or major building skills, but it does require some elbow grease and a small budget. All good things in life require a bit of work, and a vegetable garden is no different.

Where to put a new vegetable garden
The key is sun. Full sun. That means choose a site that receives at least 6 hours of full sun every day. Yes, the sun is lower in the winter and higher in the summer, so if you’re choosing a spot for your garden in the early spring, you’ll have to consider the level of sunlight reaching the location later in the growing season. Just do your best and pick the sunniest spot possible.

How big should a new vegetable garden be
After you have your site chosen, think about how big to make your new garden. When considering how to start a vegetable garden you should also think about how much time you have to care for it. We suggest a 10 foot by 10 foot or 12 foot by 12 foot garden to start. That gives you enough room to grow some staple crops without getting too far in over your head. Start smaller if you live alone or you’re worried it will be too much work. You can always make it bigger in subsequent years.

How to start a vegetable garden
Now that you’ve got the location selected, let’s go through the steps for the quickest way to install a new vegetable garden. This plan costs very little money and yet still allows you to produce fresh veggies for your family as soon as 30 days after installation.

Preparing soil for a new garden

Step 1: Remove the sod
We will be open here. This step is the hardest. Lifting sod to put in a new vegetable garden is not fun. But if you’re here because you want to know how to start a vegetable garden quickly, it’s an essential step.

We recommend using a flat-bladed spade to cut the sod into strips that are only slightly wider than the shovel’s blade. Start around the outside of the garden and work your way toward the middle, cutting it into strips. You don’t have to cut down deep; maybe about 3 inches.

Once the sod is cut into strips, jam the blade of the spade sideways under the sod in short, jabbing motions, lifting the sod as you go and rolling it up. It may help to sit on the ground to do this. The sod will pry up easily. Just roll each strip up as you continue to slice the sod roots beneath it.

The rolls will be pretty heavy, so shake off as much excess soil as you can before lifting them into a wheelbarrow and hauling them off. You could use them to fill in bare patches in other areas of your lawn, or start a compost pile.

Step 2: Amend the soil
After the sod has been stripped and removed, it’s time to “power up” your soil. If you have a few extra dollars, you can take a soil test which will tell you the existing nutrient levels of your soil, but the truth is, when you want to know how to start a vegetable garden fast, you can hold off on this task. Instead, focus on boosting the fertility of your existing soil in a way that’s beneficial no matter what kind of soil you’re starting with.

Other than purchasing plants and seeds for your new vegetable garden, this is the only step that might cost you some money. But, it’s money well spent because it’s essential for growing a garden that will perform and produce.

Spread one inch of compost over the soil after you remove the sod. It can be compost you made yourself, if you already have a bin. It can be leaf compost made from collected leaves that many municipalities in the U.S. give away for free (call your local municipality and ask them if they do this – you might be surprised). Or it can be compost that you purchase by the bag or by the truckload from your local nursery or landscape supply company. Open the bags, dump it on your new garden, and rake it out until it’s one-inch thick across the entire surface.

Step 3: Turn the soil
Yes, I know this is a controversial step, especially for experienced gardeners who have decided to no longer turn the soil to prevent the destruction of soil microbes and other soil life. However, when you’re starting a new vegetable garden on a previously sodded area and you need to get growing fast, it’s a step you’ll want to take. Sod areas are compacted and turning the soil when installing a new vegetable garden loosens it quickly and works the compost down closer to the root zone of your future plants. Use a shovel to turn the soil by hand, breaking up any big clods of soil as you go. Then, rake the area smooth.

Step 4: Lay down mulch immediately (yes, before you plant!)
If you don’t want your new garden to be labor-intensive and weed-filled, NOW is the time to prevent weeds. It’s a critical step when learning how to start a vegetable garden because weeds are what cause most people to give up on their garden halfway through the growing season.

You can mulch with lots of different materials, but we recommend starting by spreading newspaper across the entire garden, about 10 sheets thick. If you can’t get newspapers, then use a single layer of paper grocery bags. Cut them open and spread the paper out over the garden. Then, cover the newspaper or paper grocery bags with a layer of mulch. This good stuff on top of the newspaper or paper bags should be about 2 inches thick. By the time next spring arrives, the paper will have been fully broken down by soil microbes and a new layer can be added on top. Only after this mulch layer is in place is it time to plant your new garden.

Planting your new vegetable garden
After your new garden has been prepared, it’s time to get planting. You can plant your veggies one of two ways: by directly sowing seeds into the garden or by planting transplants. When you’re ready to plant, gently push back the mulch. Then, slice a hole or slit through the newspaper, and plant your seeds or transplants right through it. After covering the seeds with soil or nestling the roots of the transplant into the ground, put the mulch back in place. Water the plant or seeds, and be proud of yourself for creating a new garden!

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