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The Beginner Vegetable Garden – 7 Simple Strategies for Success

by Victoria Gazeley

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There’s just something about having a vegetable garden.

Imagine – your own organic market, right outside you front door.  No more running to the store for salad, no more worrying about pesticide residues, no more concern about having nothing to eat in an emergency.

A beginner vegetable garden is a key piece of your self-sufficiency plan, and having one sets you free in so many ways – if you do it right.  Do it wrong, and you won’t be all that excited about trying it again next year.  Sadly, I know that from experience.

My first vegetable garden was in the back yard of my landlord’s house on a quiet street in the city.  I worked hard on it, putting in raised beds (sort of – they were more like raised soil), soil amendments, and seeds.  The plants grew beautifully, but it was just too much.  When the morning glory and clover started creeping into the beds, the weeding took more and more time, and the slugs charged en masse, the whole venture lost its lustre.  Big time.

I was single and childless at the time, with no commitments time consuming enough to disqualify me from veggie garden bliss.  The garden was only about 10’ x 10’ – not big by any standards.  But I was busy with friends and work, and I knew nothing about pest prevention.  Needless to say, the slugs eventually got the better of me.  I just didn’t have the desire to spend a tonne of time hunting the slow-moving gastropods at night (which apparently works, but I can’t tell you by personal experience), so by the end of the growing season, most of the zucchini and beans had been devoured by these remarkably efficient chompers.

Since then, I’ve learned a few things.  And last year, our foray into self-sufficiency by way of a veggie garden, was reasonably successful.  But this year, I’m approaching it a bit differently.  Here’s what we’re going to do.

7 Simple Strategies for a Successful Beginner Vegetable Garden

  1. Make a list of the vegetables you love to eat. Don’t plant things you don’t.  Simple as that.  This way, all the work you put in will pay off big when you get to enjoy luscious veggies you love, rather than having bushels of produce you can’t give away, such as (insert prolific vegetable name here).  Zucchini, anyone?
  2. Take an honest look at your weekly schedule. How much time do really you have to spend in your garden every week?  Not how much you wish you had, or plan to have.  If you’re honest with yourself in this step, your food growing experience will be so much more enjoyable.  In my own case, I really don’t have more than an hour or two a week, tops, so I have to take that into account when I’m planning my beds an what I want to grow.  Plant more than I can look after and the whole thing goes sour pretty quickly.  The last thing I want is to resent my garden, or worse, have all my hard work rot on the vine (which, sadly, happened last year with our bean crop).
  3. Be conservative. This combines points 1 and 2:  only grow veggies you love to eat AND only grow as many of them as you can look after.  An effective way of doing this is to pick one type of food you want to be self-sufficient in this year, then grow that and grow it well.  We tried this our first year and decided that we were going to be self-sufficient in lettuce.  And, lo and behold, that’s what happened!  We didn’t buy any salad greens from March through October.  And it felt good!  Ensure your own success by not taking on too much and you’ll feel great too.
  4. Plant your garden close to the house. Depending on your property, this might not be possible, but the general consensus seems to be that the closer the garden is to your house, the more convenient it is to care for.  Even better if you have to walk past it to get to your car or to another part of your property that you frequent regularly.  It just makes it efficient and, well, easier.
  5. Order seeds suitable to your region. Most regions of North America have a seed company that specializes in seeds that do well in the area.  Some gardeners order from big national seed houses, but I like to support smaller, ‘local-as-possible’ organic and heirloom seed suppliers.  You can find many of these online with a simple search of ‘organic vegetable seeds + your province/state or region’.  Even better, ask gardeners around town for seed suppliers who may not have a big internet presence but whose seeds are robust and well-suited to the local growing conditions.  It will only add to your chances of success.
  6. Pay attention to growing conditions. When I say don’t try to grow tomatoes where there is no sun, I speak from experience (sadly).  Seed packages are pretty detailed, and most seed suppliers have extensive websites with basic growing info on each seed variety offered.  If you stick with what works, you’ll be successful.  Of course, you can always experiment (because you just never know what might work in your garden), but most of the time, the plants are bred for specific conditions and do best under those conditions.
  7. Keep track. This one is hard for me, as I have a hard time sitting down and recording facts (I just want to ‘do’, I don’t really want to ‘plan’).  But the more I read about growing food, the more I’m realizing that having some way to record what worked and what didn’t from year to year would be very helpful indeed.  I’ve just started using a tool called the GrowVeg Garden Planner and am anticipating it will help me grow more food this year, but you can also use a binder with simple notes, or buy a pre-made garden journal.  Either way, I think you’ll find it’s an incredibly helpful tool for vegetable gardening success.

Online Garden Planning Tool
There you have it!  Seven simple strategies for a successful beginner vegetable garden. There are more, of course, including knowing how to pick the best seeds for your situation, but these will set your course in the right direction.  The technical bits and pieces can come as you learn.

With so much of growing your own food being trial and error, with so many variables, anyone who says they have a one size fits all method of vegetable gardening is selling you a line.  Soil, light levels, plant diseases, moisture levels, predators, garden location, time availability, different plant varieties – all have a direct impact on the success, or failure, of your first vegetable garden.

So try things.  Test different techniques.  Talk to people in your neighbourhood who seem to be successful gardeners.  See what works for you.

And as you do all that, remember the 7 Simple Strategies.   Working with them will make your whole gardening venture so much more enjoyable.   And an enjoyable gardening experience means you’ll do it again next year.

And that’s a very good thing, indeed.

Do you have any tips for beginning veggie gardeners?  Please share in the comments below!

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Revised on February 4, 2013

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Elvie Look January 26, 2011 at 6:05 pm

Love your site …so refreshing. I can hardly wait for spring and to get planting. Bookmarking your site!

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Anonymous January 26, 2011 at 6:10 pm

Really great info Victoria! We have been wanting to attempt a vegetable garden for a long time…so I have printed out your article for a guideline…Thanks!

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Susan McKenzie January 26, 2011 at 6:11 pm

I love the simplicity of your plan… specializing in one veggie that you like as opposed to planting a full garden! As a newbie, I feel like I could do ‘one’ thing for starters! Thanks so much, Victoria!

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Annemarie Cross January 27, 2011 at 3:12 am

I’m not really a gardener Victoria, however your article has certainly inspired me. Thanks for the great suggestions!

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Laura Bergstrome February 1, 2011 at 6:54 pm

A benefit I found to point 4, “plant your garden close to the house” is that your hose will like reach! Nothing like investing the time and serious man-labour in digging up lawn and building beautiful beds only to find that your longest hose doesn’t reach :)

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