If you want to know how to start a vegetable garden for beginners from scratch then this post will walk you through the process…
Whether you have a tiny patio, a big back yard or need to find an allotment near you then we have the information you need to start a vegetable garden.
Before you start planning your garden from scratch, you’ll need to understand how outside temperatures will influence your choice of plants.
Finding your hardiness zone number or your average first and last frost dates is important because it will guide your planting choices and schedule.
You can find out your plant hardiness zones here | United States | Canada
Observation is a really important (but often overlooked) gardening skill.
Taking the time now to plan your new vegetable garden could save you a lot more time and effort later.
So, instead of rushing out spade in hand, find a comfortable spot in your garden and sit down.
As you sit, observe.
Notice where the sun shines and where shadows fall throughout the day. Look for spaces that feel more sheltered from the wind.
Do you spot anything potentially useful or beneficial in your garden, like a forgotten compost heap or comfrey plant (makes a brilliant natural fertilizer).
When starting a garden from scratch it can feel a little overwhelming knowing where to start.
But, the rest of this post will guide you through each step…
In an ideal world, you’d have space for at least 4 vegetable beds because it allows you to rotate disease prone crops like brassicas and peas but if you have less space then it’s still possible to grow vegetables.
If your growing space is limited then it’s a good idea to grow foods that are often expensive to buy in the shops.
Plants that grow vertically like runner beans, peas and some courgette varieties are great because you can train them up a wall or fence to reduce the amount of soil space they require.
Planning your plot layout will also help you to get more from your garden.
For example, you can plant a few early potatoes and once harvested in June you can transplant your leeks in their place so your soil is being used at all times.
We have plans below for a 4 bed and a one bed layout below that will provide you with fresh vegetables to enjoy all year round and allow some crop rotation (planting families of plants in a different spot each year to prevent diseases and pests).
If you have a big enough garden then you can choose where to create your beds by observing the sun and wind.
A sheltered, sunny spot will suit most vegetable plants but most gardens will have a mixture of both sunny and shaded areas.
If that’s not possible then facing East would be your next best option and then West.
If your beds are going to be very shaded then you should consider growing mostly leafy greens as sun-loving plants will struggle.
The image below will give you an idea of which vegetables might suit your garden:
To give you an idea of size, the plan below is for four vegetable beds measuring around 3ft x 6ft (approx 1m x 2m) each.
Something you’ll learn quickly as a beginner gardener is that what one gardener swears by, there will be an equally experienced gardener who disagrees.
This goes for raised beds too!
Some gardeners love raised beds because they keep a garden looking neat and tidy, are easier on your back, relatively cheap to build and clearly seperate paths from soil helping to prevent weeds and mud. They also make it possible to start a vegetable garden on any type of soil or even on a patio.
However, as other gardeners will tell you they do offer slugs a lovely place to hide.
In ground beds require less watering and are free to make (especially if you have your own compost!)
We have a mix of raised beds we filled for free and in ground planting because we have incredibly stony ground. If your soil is full of stones then take a look at our guide to improving soil.
If you choose raised beds then take a look at these options for the best raised beds and how to fill a raised bed cheaply.
If you choose to grow in the ground then the no-dig method (explained below) will make it easy!
No-dig builds soil health by adding organic matter as a mulch to the top layer.
2. To prevent weeds you will also need to lay cardboard over the paths between beds too.
3. Cover with a thick layer (15cm/6 inches) of compost or a mix of top soil and compost.
4. If you like then you can lay very well rotted wood chippings along your paths to prevent mud. Use well rotted chippings as it’s less appealing to slugs.
5. You can use wood to hold the soil and compost in place until it settles a little and remove it later.
If your ground is very hard then you can gently fork it over before laying the cardboard. Don’t lift the grass right off or turn it. Just stick the fork in and gently lift to loosen to add some air.
Read more about improving soil for a vegetable garden in this post.
It may seem a little premature to start thinking about making compost before you’ve even decided exactly what you want to grow.
However, homemade compost will not only save you money but it will also be hugely beneficial to your soil and the plants that grow…but it takes time to decompose so start it as soon as you can!
We don’t use any technical recipe to make our compost. It’s best to add a mixture of both greens (nitrogen-rich) and browns (carbon-rich) because they will work together to speed up the composting process and create a home for helpful organisms.
Depending on the size of your garden you may need a few compost heaps to save you lugging wheelbarrow loads from bed to heap.
if you’re site is sloped then consider placing your heap on top of the slope so that gravity will help you to wheelbarrow your compost down onto your plot.
If you have a small garden then growing potatoes and courgettes may not be the best use of space as they require a lot of room.
However, you could pack in lots of lovely salad leaves and some tumbling tomatoes in hanging baskets.
Write a list of your favourite fruits and vegetables that can be grown in your climate. Browse a local garden centre or look online (we love these online ethical organic seed companies).
Plan your planting. You’ll get a lot more produce from your plot if you plan it out.
There are so many clever little tricks you can use to maximise the crops in your garden (this post explains them all from multi-sowing to intercropping!)
Choose a variety. Each vegetable will have numerous varieties that offer varying harvesting times, flavours, textures and colours.
Before you buy, think about what you want from each plant. You’ll often be able to find vegetables that will work better for you. For example, dwarf courgettes that take up less space, climbing vegetables that will grow upwards and take up less of your space, storing varieties of peas that you dry and use all winter, stumpy carrots that can grow in shallower beds.
There’s no need to go overboard especially as some seeds don’t save very well (Think I should practice what I preach 🤣)
Print out our vegetable garden planner and sketch out your plot or containers on the grid paper. It’s helpful to make it to scale so that you can work out how much space you’ll have for plants.
Number each bed or container and note down what you’d like to grow where. Use a pencil so you can move things around.
Work out spacings. Your seed packets will give you an indication of how much space each plant will need.
Consider crop rotation which works on the basis that moving families of vegetables around the garden will prevent pests and improve soil quality. Our free printable plans demonstrate how you can rotate disease prone plants.
We do try to make sure that peas, potatoes, root vegetables, alliums (onions etc) and brassicas (cabbages etc) aren’t planted in the same space until the fourth year.
Knowing when to sow (plant seeds) and when to transplant (plant your seedlings in their final spot) can get confusing so we have this really simple guide that explains when to plant different vegetables in relation to your areas last predicted frost (find out how to use it and print your free copy in our when to plant different vegetables post).
We also have a monthly guide to give you an idea of what to plant when.
We also have a more detailed free Month By Month Gardening Guide that gives you an idea of what you could be sowing, transplanting and harvesting each month. It also lists key jobs for each month.
If you haven’t bookmarked it yet then our post all about maximising the crops in your garden tells you which plants can grow effectively as clumps.
Early spring seems the obvious time to start growing but you’ll see from our Garden By Month Guides that there is always something to be done in the garden.
If you haven’t already then read our post that explains when to plant different vegetables it will help you to work out your last predicted frost date.
From there you just count back the weeks to reveal when each vegetable needs to be planted.
Follow directions on your seed packet to sow your seeds. You’ll should sow more than you actually want to plant out as not all will germinate and some will inevitably get eaten!
Don’t worry if you end up with surplus as there will be casualties and giving away extra seedlings is a great way to make new friends!
When your seedlings are a decent size you can pot them on or thin your seeds. Many vegetable seedlings are edible and make great salad leaves.
That’s it really!
There will always be different opinions, mistakes to be made and new things to learn.
Find out what works for you and don’t get too bogged down in the technicalities and potential problems.
People who read this also read:
When to plant different vegetables
Improving soil for a vegetable garden
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Amy is on a mission to demonstrate that gardening doesn’t have to be complicated. Her motto is ‘shove it in the soil and see…and usually it works