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You're ready to start your garden. But what do you plant? You've heard people say you should never try this vegetable or that vegetable your first season, but is that true? It can be overwhelming. You want your garden to be successful. Maybe you have tried to have a garden in the past and didn't have good luck. Maybe this is your very first garden.
Let's break it down together so that you can have a successful garden. I know how important it is to you to provide fresh, healthy, delicious produce for your family and yourself. Even if you have had bad experiences in the past and have relegated yourself to having a "brown thumb," I promise, there is hope for you!
First thing's first: You have to have a plan!
I know, I know! Planning is hard… Luckily you can download my free garden journal and planner here to help make it easier and more fun! I promise that having a plan will make things easier and more successful in the long run.
Here are some things to figure out before you get to planting:
- Decide where you want to put your garden. Find a spot that gets at least six hours of sun during the summer. This is the minimum amount for vegetables that require full sun.
- Decide if you are going to have a raised bed garden, a garden in the ground or an alternative garden. Maybe you even want to try straw bale gardening to start. Check out this post to learn more about no-till gardening and how to prepare your garden without a tiller. Now is a good time to start a compost pile to have organic matter to add to your garden throughout the growing season.
- Figure out if you have a water source. If you don't have one nearby, maybe you could invest in a rain barrel to help out in dry spells.
Sun - check!
Soil - check!
Water - check!
For more tips and tricks for beginning gardeners, check out this post.
Now for the fun part: planting!
Some vegetables will do better if you start them indoors about two months before you're ready to transplant (or buy seedlings). Some vegetables will do better if you stick the seeds directly in the ground. If you're curious about different types of seeds (heirloom, hybrid, etc.), check out this post.
Note: Planting dates will vary depending on your location. Use a planting calendar like this or go to the free one on the Farmer's Almanac website. Just enter your city, state or zip code to find out the best dates for planting each vegetable. Maybe include this information in your garden journal and planner for future reference.
Radishes are an easy root vegetable to grow and can be started in the garden early. Where I live in zone 6a, I can start planting radishes toward the end of February. There are many varieties of radish, and they tend to grow quickly. Plant them every two to three weeks throughout the summer to get a continuous harvest. Radishes are great in salads and even roasted. Sow the seeds ½ inch apart and ¼ inch deep (lightly covered with soil). Rows should be about 12 to 18 inches apart. Make sure that you thin them out so that they have enough room to grow and fully mature.
Carrots are another root vegetable that can be planted early in the spring. Plant them ¼ inch to ½ inch deep. The seeds are small, so you can sprinkle them in rows spaces about 18 to 24 inches apart. As the green sprouts emerge, you can thin them by pulling out seedlings so the ones that are left are about 1 inch apart. Carrots are good in salads, roasted or raw as a snack.
Lettuce can be planted early in the spring and can usually withstand a light frost. There are all types of lettuce, including head lettuces and leaf lettuces. You can direct sow the seeds into the garden or start them inside four to six weeks ahead of time to transplant outside. Your spacing will vary depending on the type of lettuce you choose. Make sure to follow the seed package instructions for the best results. All types of lettuce are great for salads.
I have to say, cucumbers are probably my all-time favorite. I like to grow a few different varieties, but when you’re just starting out, pick one or two depending on what you want to use them for. Opt for pickling cucumbers if you are planning on making pickles. Check out my recipe for pickles here. Choose a burpless variety if you want to slice them for salads or snacks. You can start cucumbers inside and transplant after danger of frost. You can also plant the seeds directly in the ground. I make little dirt mounds about one foot wide and stick three or four seeds in each mound. Plant seeds about one inch deep. You will want to let your cucumbers climb on a trellis or fence.
Green beans are a fast-germinating vegetable. They can be planted directly in the ground one to two inches deep. Bush beans will be planted about two inches apart in rows 18 to 24 inches apart. Pole beans need to have something to climb on, like a trellis, fence or pole. Plant them about three inches apart or in hills, with about four to eight seeds per hill. Green beans are great for freezing, canning or eating fresh.
Squash (summer and winter):
Squash are easy to grow. Start the seeds indoors or directly in the ground. I plant these like cucumbers, on small hills or mounds with three or four plants on each one. They can be prolific, so plan for that when you think about how many plants you want to plant. Winter squash like butternut and acorn tend to vine, so make sure you have the space for them. Summer squash like zucchini and crookneck tend to be bushier, but they produce a lot! Squash have a mild, delicate flavor that can be a great addition to sautéed vegetables. They can also be grated and added to all sorts of dishes to add some extra vegetables.
Peppers can be started from seed indoors four to six weeks before the last frost date or can be bought from seedlings from the nursery. Plant them in the ground when all danger of frost has passed and the ground is warm. Plant them about 18 inches apart in rows about 24 to 30 inches apart. Peppers love heat, so even if they start out slow, once the heat of summer arrives, they will take off. There are so many varieties of peppers that you can choose - anything from sweet bell peppers to hot jalapenos that go great in salsa.
I used to think tomatoes were so hard to grow. Given the right conditions, you can grow tomatoes easily. Tomatoes can be started inside six to eight weeks before the last frost date. You can also buy seedlings. Plant them outside when danger of frost has passed about 24 to 36 inches apart in rows 36 to 48 inches apart. Tomatoes have all kinds of uses! Take a look at some of their uses here.
Note: There are two types of tomatoes: determinate and indeterminate. Determinate tomato plants are a bushier type that will not grow as tall. The fruit will all ripen at the same time. Indeterminate plants grow taller, need to be staked and can produce fruit until they are killed by frost.
Okra can be started indoors, direct sown or bought as seedlings. Start it indoors three to four weeks before last frost date. Okra grows tall (five to six feet or taller), so make sure that you plant the okra plants one to two feet apart in rows about three feet apart. Okra likes hot weather. It can be prolific. Make sure to snip off the okra when it’s about two to three inches long. The bigger it gets, the tougher it gets. Yuck. Also, make sure to check your plants every other day. Okra can grow FAST. Fry it or mix it with stewed tomatoes. It’s also good pickled!
Some herbs are easier to grow than others. Some that I’ve had good luck with include basil, oregano, dill and cilantro. Wait until there is no longer a danger of frost, toss some seeds around and lightly cover with soil. Herbs are a great addition to any meal to add a punch of flavor and health benefits. Try adding some chopped herbs to your salad. Or sprinkle some in a soup or stew. Add fresh herbs to a finished dish to give it extra flavor. Herbs are very versatile, so experiment and find what you like. And don't forget, you will attract a lot of beneficial insects to your garden. This will help your plants stay healthy and produce more veggies for you and your family!
I know when I first started gardening, I thought it would be hard to start plants from seed. It really isn’t hard. It takes a little time, but it is a money saver. Plus, you get to pick whatever varieties you want! If you’re not up for it the first time around, that’s okay, but keep it in mind when you start to get more comfortable with your garden.
Every hardiness zone will be different. You may have a much longer or shorter growing season. Plant with that in mind. If your climate does not get hot enough for peppers and okra, stick with root vegetables, lettuce and other cooler weather crops.
If at first you don’t succeed…… There are so many things that can go wrong (or right) in the garden. You only control so much. Any gardener, from beginner to experienced may have a bad growing season. Maybe only with certain plants, maybe with all plants. You can’t control the weather. You can’t control the bug populations year to year. Just control the things you can and don’t get discouraged if you don’t get a bumper crop every time.
Let me know what your favorite crop is to grow in your garden!