Tips on Planting a Vegetable Garden

Plant a vegetable garden and play an active role in your diet by growing your own food.

Whether you have an acre of full sun real estate in your backyard or a deck with part sun exposure, you can plant a vegetable garden and enjoy playing an active role in your diet by growing your own food. While planting dates are dictated by where you live (and when your area is free of frost), the basic principles of starting a veggie garden are the same.

Plan your garden: The first step you'll take -- and one you can do in winter, before you can plant your garden -- is deciding what to grow. Take your sun exposure into account. Many popular garden plants love full sun and will not thrive without at least 6 hours per day of sun. Tomatoes, eggplant, corn, zucchini (generally, anything grown for its fruit) need full sun. Plants grown for their leaves (think lettuce, salad mix, herbs, collards, kale) can get along with part sun exposure. Draw up a short list of plants that you want to grow and can support in your yard. 

Prepare the soil: Whether you're planting in backyard raised beds or containers on the deck, you need to provide your garden with rich soil. If you're growing in the backyard, consider contacting your local county extension for a soil test. This will tell you what nutrients your soil lacks and offer you a blueprint for improving it. Then amend the soil using the recommendations given. Work 2 inches of compost or manure into the soil to give an even bigger nutrient boost. If you're using containers, fill them with organic potting soil.

 Follow the spacing and depth instructions on the seed packet.

Plant your seeds: Some seeds can be sown directly in the garden bed, either before or after danger of frost passes. Your seed packet will tell you when to start each type of seed, and a farmer's almanac can tell you when your area will be frost-free. Follow the spacing and depth instructions on the seed packet when planting your seeds. If you're not sowing seed, select hardy starts from your local garden center and plant these in the garden. Dig a hole twice as wide and deep as the container holding the start, then remove the start from the container, place it in the hole, and gently firm the soil around the plant.

Nurture your garden: The work doesn't stop when the plants have been planted. You'll need to regularly water your plants (especially during heat waves), weed the garden bed, and watch for pest presence. Bugs, bunnies, and neighborhood cats can turn your lettuce patch into a party zone.  As your plants grow, harvest them for a healthy, homegrown meal.

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