On Your Marks, Get Set, Grow!

A beginner’s guide to growing common vegetables.

By Erik J. Martin

Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your vegetable garden grow?

The answer is you give it lots of sunshine, plentiful water, and extra TLC, the pros agree. And the results speak for themselves in the form of robust, delicious, and nutritious edibles that are fresher and healthier than what you can buy at the grocery store.

Anyone who gardens knows that this outdoor activity is rewarding and fulfilling. But it particularly pays off when you grow vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, leafy greens, and squash, provided you have the backyard real estate for the growth needed and the time, energy, and dedication to nurturing these DIY foods.

“There’s nothing like the slow satisfaction of watching your veggies grow, taking that first bite, and knowing that store produce can never compare,” says Ashley Christian, a gardening expert and fifth-generation homesteader. “We’ve all seen the impact of supply chain shortages and weather disruptions these past few years. Learning to grow your own food, even in small amounts, is an invaluable skill that can make us feel safe and more in control of a chaotic world.”

Growing a vegetable garden is not only a practical pursuit – it can also be a worthwhile form of exercise and an engaging way to spend leisure time as a productive hobby, adds Aaditya Bhatta, editor/founder of Plantscraze.com.

Eager to create your own veggie garden? First, choose the right location in your yard. “Plants need good soil, water, light, and space to grow. The best beginner raised bed garden sizes are at least 4 by 8 feet or up to 10 by 10 feet,” Christian recommends. “Pick a spot with full sun, good drainage, and close access to your garden hose.” Additionally, select a spot as far away from kids and pets as possible.

Prepare your soil properly by aiming for a 60/30/10 mixture of 60% topsoil, 30% compost, and 10% potting soil. Remove any sod present from your chosen location and top it off with 4 inches of compost. You may want to rent or borrow a tiller to break up the ground below and work in the compost, adds Christian.

When it’s time to choose your vegetables, consider species that are recommended for your growing zone and based on frost dates in your area. Fighting mother nature is an uphill battle, so look up your USDA hardiness zone and which vegetables grow best there,” notes Christian.

Ask Bhatta and he’ll tell you that greens like collards, lettuce, kale, turnips, and cress are the easiest and least demanding vegetables to grow. “I would also recommend kale, spinach, carrots, beans, potatoes, cucumbers, and tomatoes for inexperienced gardeners,” says Bhatta.

Tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers are typically the fastest growers. Tomatoes need loose soil to spread the roots, along with a tomato cage to support their weight once they get bigger. Cucumbers also need something to climb onto like a string or cage, as they grow vertically on the vine.

Recommended planting steps will vary from vegetable to vegetable, so read up on what’s required online before planting. “Read the seed packet instructions carefully before starting as a beginner,” advises Bhatta.

Be sure to water your garden daily for the first several weeks; then, you can move on to possibly watering weekly. “Remember that roots grow deeper when they are watered more thoroughly and less often,” says Christian. Use a sprinkler on a timer or in-ground sprinkling system for best results.

Most taller veggies need support while growing. A stake or string does the trick, but tying them up to a wall with some eye hooks works well, too. Use a garden twine that is easily cut at the end of the season and will not damage the plant.

Lastly, make sure to harvest your veggies when they are ready, as letting them sit on the plants too long can result in spoilage and spread decay inside the plant, possibly ruining your crop for the season.