How to Start an At-Home Vegetable Garden

By Maureen Wise in Thinking Sustainably

Are you ready to take the plunge and finally start your very own at-home vegetable garden? There's nothing quite like growing your own produce to put on the table over the summer. But chances are you've waited this long because the idea of harvesting your own food seems, well, a little daunting. But it doesn't have to be!

From what to plant to how often to water, we cover all the basics of growing garden vegetables in this helpful beginner's guide.

Benefits of Growing Your Own Veggies

Growing your own vegetable garden has a ton of benefits for both your family and the greater world. You can visualize this by calculating your food miles, which shows how far food travels to get to your plate. A lower distance means less fuel consumed and less wear and tear on roads and tires.

Plus, the closer to home your food is produced, the fresher the food is. Growing your own veggies takes these benefits to the next level.

By going to your backyard to pick your salad greens, reds, oranges, purples, and beyond, your food miles drop down to zero! You'll save on grocery bills and completely cut out food packaging waste. Eating with the seasons also deepens your family's sense of place and community. Tomatoes picked right from the vine become a delicacy compared to those bought at the supermarket.

Cucumber in at-home vegetable garden

When to Start Growing

Once you've made the decision to grow your own produce, choose plants that'll thrive in your specific location. To do so, you'll need to know your hardiness zone. Find your zone using the United States Department of Agriculture's interactive map, which will tell you when your last frost date was, when your plants will begin to survive outside, when your first frost date is, and when your plants will start to die off.

Also check out this planting guide from Urban Farmer, which breaks down when planting and harvesting typically begins, based on your hardiness zone. Notice that many veggies have multiple growing times, so if you're starting late in the season, it might be OK! Many plants even have enough wiggle room for two growing periods over the summer. Starting a few seeds inside, under grow lamps, extends your growing season, too.

What to Plant in Your At-Home Garden

Now that you've established when to get your plants in the ground, you need to know what to plant! Poll everyone in your family. What are their favorite vegetables? Does anyone want to have their very own plant to tend?

Think in advance about adding fruits to your garden, as well. Bushes or trees can produce a fruitful bounty over time, though they may not offer much for your table during their first season. Strawberries, however, are an exception, as they do really well in pots.

You may also consider growing the age-old trifecta of corn, winter squash, and climbing beans. In this symbiotic growing relationship, the corn plants hold up the beans. Beans are legumes, so they infuse nitrogen into the ground, which naturally fertilizes both the corn and the squash, explains Modern Farmer. The squash plants create shade to deter weeds and keep the ground moist for all three. And when eaten together, corn, beans, and squash create a complete protein that's perfect for vegan or vegetarian diets.

Person holding strawberries from at-home garden

Where to Put Your Garden

Know that you don't need a big space for your at-home garden. My family grows strawberries in pots on our deck and we also have two blueberry plants. (Pro tip: some types of blueberries only grow fruit when planted in pairs.) It's no giant garden by any means, but we're quite happy with our annual fruit harvest. I've also planted asparagus in my flower beds, which is great because raised beds don't take up a lot of room.

If you're lacking backyard space, there may be a community garden nearby where you can rent a plot. The American Community Gardening Association offers a free resource that helps you locate all kinds of gardens near you using their customizable map. Certainly, the more space you have, the more you can plant and the greater harvest you'll reap!

Two people holding bowl of fresh tomatoes

Beginner Gardening Tips Everyone Needs to Know

Here are some basic growing and harvesting tips to help you get the most out of your at-home vegetable garden:

  • Consider asking your gardener neighbor for sure-to-perform seeds they've saved from last summer's harvest. That way, you'll know the seeds are perfect for your exact location and weather.
  • Even if your plants aren't sprouting yet, don't forget to quench their thirst. Watering is most important before plants are emerging from the ground, as well as when they're about to bud.
  • Take measures to keep away pests. Prevent the big guys like deer, groundhogs, and rabbits from nibbling on your plants with fences and smelly plants like marigolds, lavender, or echinacea.
  • Have the kids inspect the plants daily for holes, and quickly take action if you notice insect damage. Neem oil and insecticidal soap are great natural bug deterrents.
  • Resist the urge to water your veggies and fruits every day. In particularly dry locales, opt to water your garden deeply a few times a week.
  • If you want an extra boost to your bounty, try a compost tea fertilizer a few times over the summer.
  • Give your produce a good wash before preparing it. This will ensure your veggies and fruits are free of any dirt, natural bug deterrent, or actual bugs.

Starting an at-home vegetable garden gets the entire family active and teaches a valuable lesson that food doesn't just magically appear on your table. What will you be harvesting with your family this summer? Let us know on Twitter!

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Why It's Good

Gardening of any kind gets you and your family outside, which is good for the soul. Growing your own produce will deepen your family bonds, while also lessening the environmental impact of your food miles.