Starting a new fruit and vegetable garden and learning how to grow your own food is an exciting and rewarding endeavour. Knowledge is the key to success, so the more you learn about gardening, the more fresh food you’ll be able to harvest.
It’s also an excellent way to get the kids outdoors and learning about where food comes from. My boys love getting involved with planting seeds and picking fresh strawberries to try!
Growing plants is also a learn-as-you-go-process. There will always be new plants to try, new products to use and new knowledge to learn.
Last year my Husband and I started our own fruit and vegetable garden. I’m not going to lie, it was hard work however it was all worth it when the first few veggies were ready to be picked and eaten!
When I first started looking into what the first steps needed to be to start our fruit and vegetable garden I struggled to find all the beginners information in one place. I’m hoping this post will help you feel confident in knowing how to get started. I am wanting to put together a bit of a series on sustainability and gardening so if there is anything in particular you would like to see or hear about then please let me know in the comments below and I will do my best to help.
Now, I’m going to be honest, I am certainly no expert in this field yet. Therefore, I have had a little help off some more knowledgeable folk to put this post together for you! So here it is…
How To Start A Fruit and Vegetable Garden.
Start your fruit and vegetable garden off right by following these tips and tricks so you can begin to enjoy the fruits of your labour in just a few short weeks (see what I did there!??)
Fruit and vegetable plants need direct sun every day in order to thrive. Start your garden by selecting the right location – one that receives at least 6 hours of direct sun daily. More sun is better, so if you have a location in your garden that is in full sun all day, use it.
Select a location that is as far away from large trees and shrubs as possible. Trees, shrubs and plants will compete with garden vegetable plants for food and water.
After selecting a location for the garden, observe it for a day or two to see exactly how the sun hits it throughout the day.
Observe which side of the garden receives the morning sun and which receives the afternoon sun. Note any sections that might be in the shade during certain times of the day.
Make a drawing or jot down notes of what you observe, it will come in handy at planting time.
Soil needs to be tested next to work out what type of amendments need to be added for optimum plant growth.
A DIY soil test kit can be purchased anywhere garden supplies are sold. The soil test will alert you to what the soil is lacking and what should be added to bring it to the proper pH balance. This can sound a bit complicated but don’t worry it’s not!
Compost is typically all that needs to be added to make soil loose, fertile and drain well. But other amendments may be needed if soil has been depleted of nutrients or is considered ‘poor’ soil.
Heavy clay is one type of poor soil because it’s compact and stays soggy. Working sand into the clay will loosen the soil and enable it to drain better. Tender plant roots cannot grow in soggy, heavy clay and the soil must be amended with some type of organic matter to lighten it up and improve drainage.
If soil is too sandy your fruit and veg will not grow well here either because the sandy soil cannot retain moisture and plants will dehydrate. The addition of organic matter will solve the problem and allow soil to retain moisture.
Gypsum is an organic ingredient that will help break-up clay soil, help sandy soil retain moisture and improve the structure of all types of soil.
As a general rule, big fruit and vegetable gardens will need big tools and small gardens will need small tools! A shovel, hoe, turning fork and hand-held trowel are tools needed for any size garden. You will also need something to break-up the soil, such as a tiller or mattock.
Gloves, bucket, knee pads, wagon, water hose and a rake also come in handy.
Prepare the Soil
New ground for a fruit and vegetable garden must be broken up in some way to prior to planting. This can be accomplished with a tiller or mattock and shovel. The soil needs to be broken up to a depth of 12-18 inches to loosen it and remove weeds and grass.
After the soil is broken up and worked until it no longer is in big clumps, add the needed amendments on top of the soil and incorporate it into the soil with a second working. Use a turning fork or give the soil a quick once-over with a tiller to incorporate the organic amendments.
Preparing the soil in a raised bed garden is easier. You can either buy these ready to be assembled or make one yourself. To make one use some old bed frames/ slats and join them together to the desired height. Fill the bed with selected soil mix, add 2 inches of compost and incorporate with a turning fork.
Rows, Hills and Holes
The fruit or vegetable being planted will determine if it goes into a row, hill or hole. For example, corn seeds are planted in rows that are 2 inches deep and seeds are spaced 8 inches apart; squash (seeds or plants) are planted in hills that are 1 foot in diameter and 6 inches high with hill spaces 2 feet apart; carrots, onions and loose leaf lettuce are sown by scattering seeds on top of the soil.
Each vegetable has its own unique planting and growing pattern, research each particular vegetable to discover how to plant it and how much space it needs to grow.
Right Plant, Right Place
Refer to any notes you made regarding sun and shade in the garden when it’s time to plant. Putting the right plant in the right place will give it a much better chance of survival and increase productivity.
All plants enjoy the morning sun, but some wilt in the mid-afternoon sun. Squash, lettuce, cucumbers and melons benefits from a little afternoon shade and taller growing vegetable plants can give them the reprieve they need.
Plant tomatoes, corn, okra and other tall growing plants on the west side (Northern Hemisphere) or East Side (Southern Hemisphere) of lower growing plants that need a little shade. This is an aspect of companion planting in which plants provide mutual benefits to each other, so both can thrive.
Corn will shade squash and provide beans a sturdy stalk to grow up. Squash plants act as a living mulch to help prevent weed growth.
Basil planted near tomatoes will enhance tomato flavor. Every plant has a specific companion, but a couple of plants will benefit the entire garden — marigolds and nasturtiums. These 2 plants provide natural pest control, so you can have an organic garden that is virtually pest-free.
Marigolds are a versatile companion that benefit most garden plants by keeping underground nematodes away. Marigolds also deter beetles and a host of other destructive garden pests. Plant a few marigolds around the perimeter of your garden and among tomato plants for natural pest control. Use the dwarf variety of marigolds so the flowers won’t compete for soil nutrients and won’t shade vegetable plants growing nearby.
Nasturtiums, basil and mint repel mosquitoes, flies and other little flying garden pests while attracting insects that are beneficial.
Mulch is a Must
Adding a layer of organic mulch on top of garden soil will stimulate the natural growing conditions for plants. Mulch also prevents weed growth, moisture evaporation, prevents soil compaction and helps maintain a consistent soil temperature.
Apply a 2-4 inch layer of organic mulch around plants after they reach 6 inches tall. Straw, compost, tree bark, wood ashes, nut hull or newspaper (black print only) are good choices.
Wood mulches, ashes from the fireplace, diatomaceous earth, pine needles, crushed egg shells, nut hulls or coffee grounds placed on top of garden soil will naturally repel slugs, snails and other creeping pests. These items have a rough texture that repels many creepy-crawly garden intruders and the organic mulch will decompose over time and improve soil quality.
Food and Water
Garden plants need a steady supply of food and water to produce. The initial application of compost added to the soil will get the plants off to a good start but won’t keep them growing strong all summer. Plants will need to be fed consistently to keep them growing.
If your fruit and vegetable garden is organic, use compost as mulch or apply as a side dressing (place a trowel full of compost on top of soil beside each plant) and replenish it every 4 weeks. Compost tea or manure tea is also a way to feed and water an organic garden in one easy step.
To make compost or manure tea, add half a trowel full of compost or manure to a 9 litre bucket of water and place the bucket in a sunny location to steep for 3-4 days. Use the fertile tea to water plants as needed. Have a couple of buckets of tea steeping all the time so you won’t run out of the highly nutritious plant food. Even if you don’t have an organic fruit and vegetable garden, this is an easy and inexpensive way to keep plants fed and watered.
When using a commercial fertiliser, select a variety that is balanced, like 10-10-10. A balanced fertiliser will provide all around nutrition to plants and comes in granulated or water-soluble form. Granulated varieties are worked into the soil prior to planting and added again as a side dressing once during the growing season. Water soluble plant food can be mixed at one-half the recommended rate and fed to plants once a week.
Provide a consistent amount of water to plants between rain showers. Anytime a plant looks wilted or leaves begin to droop, give it a drink of water. Water in the morning before the sun hits the plants and apply water at the plant base, not on leaves. Moist leaves invite pests and disease to the plants. Water plants deeply to promote deep root growth.
The thrill and production of a first fruit and vegetable garden in spring can be prolonged to include a second garden crop in the Autumn. Succession planting will maximise crop yields and provide fresh vegetables from early spring until the first killing frost of Autumn. Kale, cabbage, collards, turnips, Swiss chard lettuce and broccoli are called ‘cool season’ vegetables because they grow best when the weather cools down in the Autumn.
As soon as one crop is finished, like squash or peas, pull the plants up and toss them on the compost pile, then feed the soil. Turn the soil over with a spade, shovel on six inches of compost, then turn the soil over once again. The compost will replenish the nutrients of the soil so the second crop can thrive.
Autumn Cover Crop
Even if you don’t want to plant a second crop of greens to harvest, it’s a good idea to plant an Autumn cover crop in your fruit and vegetable garden. Planting, growing and plowing in a winter cover crop is often referred to as ‘green manuring’ because you are growing a green crop for the sole purpose of enriching the garden soil.
An Autumn cover crop will prevent soil erosion during the winter, prevent soil compaction and will be turned under in early spring to become a ready source of food for new garden plants.
Keep your fruit and vegetable garden thriving year after year with crop rotation. Follow the three year rule for all garden crops. Rotate crops each year so that the same family of fruit or vegetable is not grown in the same place for three years. That gives enough time for soil pathogens to die and soil be healthy enough to sustain the crop planted.
Rotate with crops that give back to the soil what the previous crops took away. For example, sweet corn grows deep roots which help break up compacted soil, as do potatoes, carrots and radishes. Legumes and nasturtiums add nitrogen to the soil, and broad-leafed greens suppress weed growth and germination.
Compost is ‘black gold’ to gardeners and is easy to make. Compost is full of nutrients that will feed the soil and improves its structure, so you can grow stronger plants that produce more food.
Compost is simply decomposed vegetation and all you need to create your own ‘black gold’ for your garden is a dedicated space to keep the decomposing matter.
Place organic matter like vegetable peels, leaves, coffee ground, eggs shells and grass clippings in a bucket, barrel or pile. Add to the pile, keep it moist and turn it every few days. It will become blacker as it decomposes and be ready to use in the fruit and vegetable garden. Make sure not to add any meat scraps, grease or bones to compost pile.
Following these steps should get you well on your way to starting your own fruit and vegetable garden.
If you have any great tips on how to start and fruit and vegetable garden then please share them in the comments below.