Beginners Guide: How to Start a Vegetable Garden

raised garden bed with fence

Have you always wanted a vegetable garden in your backyard? Are you a lazy gardener like me and want an easy to manage vegetable garden in your backyard? On a budget and want a DIY vegetable garden that is not expensive and does not require professional help to set-up? In short, you want it all. You want a low maintenance vegetable garden that is easy to set up and not expensive! The good news is you can have it all! You can have a no fuss vegetable garden that is easy to set up and inexpensive! Here is a beginners guide on how to set up an easy and inexpensive backyard vegetable garden. You will also find a lot of vegetable gardening tips for beginners and lazy gardeners!

How to Set Up a Vegetable Garden in Your Backyard

When I started a vegetable garden in my backyard, I had very limited gardening experience. And on top of that I was busy and lazy so I didn’t want to spend a lot of time fussing over my vegetable garden. Plus I had a limited budget and I wasn’t handy at all. Yet with all my restrictions, I was able to easily set up a low maintenance and productive vegetable garden! Below I will share 7 easy steps to set up a no-fuss, inexpensive and easy vegetable garden in your backyard.

Step 1: Pick a Good Spot for your Vegetable Garden

Location, location, location! Picking the right location for your vegetable garden is key to success. A poorly located vegetable garden will result in poor plant growth, low yield and overall subpar vegetables! If your vegetable garden is located in a good spot in your backyard, then the fruits and vegetables you plant will thrive (whether or not you have a green thumb!) It’s pretty fool proof and the secret to successful vegetable gardening.

What are the criteria for a well located Vegetable Garden?

What are the criteria for a well located vegetable garden? A well located vegetable garden will need lots of sunlight, water and good soil conditions.

Sunlight is Important for your Vegetable Garden

Sunlight is key to growing a successful vegetable garden. The amount of sunlight is the most important criteria to for your vegetable garden. You need to find a location in your backyard that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight. From personal experience, I’ve found that the more hours of sunlight a vegetable garden receives the better and more productive it will grow. I’d shoot for at least 8 hours of sunlight for your vegetable garden. As you walk around your backyard look for a patch of land that is not blocked by the shadow of tall trees, bushes, fences, your house and other structures in your yard. You also don’t want to be near trees because the underground roots from the trees may affect your vegetable garden. In order to decide the best location for your vegetable garden you need to take your time to really observe your yard throughout the day. Find the sunniest spot in your yard. Don’t rush, take your time to observe. It took me a few days of observing to figure out the sunniest spot for my vegetable garden. You can use a light meter to help you gauge the sunlight level of various spots in your backyard.

Vegetable Garden Needs to be near a Water Source

In order to have a successful vegetable garden, you need to water it everyday. It is especially important to water your vegetable garden during hot summer days or dry spells. Since you will be watering your vegetables everyday, it will make it easier for you if you locate your vegetable garden near a water source. However, if the sunniest spot in your yard happens to be far from a water source, don’t worry. I’d pick the sunny location over being near the garden spigot. You can easily reach your vegetable garden if you just have a long enough garden hose. I have a big backyard and unfortunately the sunniest spot in my backyard is not near the garden spigot. I solved my problem by extending my garden hose by connecting two 100 foot garden hoses to make a 200 foot long garden hose. It was pretty easy to connect two garden hoses to make one long hose using a garden hose repair kit. I also used a long watering wand to make it easier for me to water my vegetable garden. It was less tiring to use the long watering wand because I don’t have to constantly push the trigger to turn on the water and the long wand makes it easier to reach my vegetables.

Vegetable Garden Needs Good Soil Conditions

Good soil is important for a successful and productive vegetable garden. The easiest way to control soil conditions is with a raised garden bed. The nice thing with raised garden beds is that instead of working with existing soil and amending it, with a raised garden bed, you are starting your soil from scratch. You can fill your raised garden bed with good soil from day 1. For example, I wanted my vegetable garden to be organic so I was able to fill my raised garden bed with organic soil. I highly recommend going with a raised garden bed for your vegetable garden.

Step 2: Choose the Best Raised Garden Bed for Your Vegetable Garden

Raised garden bed kits makes it easy to set-up a vegetable garden. Even if you are not handy like me, you can easily buy a raised garden bed kit and set it up. There are many raised garden beds in the market. You can get raised garden beds made of pine or galvanized metal. I suggest cedar raised garden beds. Cedar garden beds are aesthetically more pleasing and naturally rot and insect resistant. I like the Cedar Raised Garden bed with weed barrier because it comes with a cut to size weed barrier so it’s just one less thing to do.

raised garden bed with weed barrier

I personally have the Greenes Fence Cedar Raised Garden bed and I purchased the weed barrier cloth separately which is more work since I have to measure and cut the weed barrier to size. If you have difficulty bending down, a raised garden bed with legs is a good option for you. Although vegetables planted on raised garden beds with legs will not be as productive as the raised garden beds that are on the ground.

raised garden bed with legs

If you are serious about vegetable gardens, you can upgrade to this U-shaped aspirational raised garden bed with fence. It’s kind of pricey but it should last you many years. Plus it will definitely impress your guests during your backyard BBQs this summer!

raised garden bed with fence

What is the best size raised garden bed for beginners?

I think a 8 feet by 4 feet raised garden bed is a good size for beginners. It is roomy enough to fit a good variety of fruits and vegetable. And at the same time, it is still small enough so you can easily reach from one side to the other.

Step 3: Prep the Soil in your Vegetable Garden

Before setting up your raised garden bed, you should prepare the soil under your raised garden bed. The objective of preparing the soil under your raised garden bed is to minimize the weed that comes up and to loosen the soil under your raised garden bed which will allow the roots to reach down beyond the raised garden bed.

How to Prepare the Soil under your raised garden bed?

Preparing the soil under your vegetable garden is probably the most difficult part of setting up your raised garden bed. The first step to preparing the soil under your raised garden bed is to clear the weeds and grass off the patch of soil. I find it easiest to do this with a 2 in 1 hoe that has a flat side and a prong side for cultivating the soil. Having both the flat and prong sides will make it easier to clear the weeds. After clearing the weeds, you can aerate the soil using the prong side of the hoe.

vegetable garden soil prep

Step 4: Build Your Raised Garden Bed

Follow the instruction of your raised garden bed kit. Fortunately, most raised garden bed kits are easy to assemble requiring minimal or no tools for assembly. I’m not handy at all, but it was really easy to build my raised garden bed. It was just a matter of sliding the precut cedar wood planks into the connector groves. It was so easy, it only took a few minutes to assemble my raised garden bed.

raised garden bed kit assembly

Step 5: Prepare Your Raised Garden Bed

Before you start filling your raised garden bed with soil, it’s smart to first prepare the bottom of your raised garden bed. You want to line the bottom of your raised garden bed with weed barrier cloth and chicken wire to keep your vegetable garden weed-free and inaccessible to critters. I lined the bottom of the vegetable garden with weed barrier cloth to block off the weeds. Then I lined a layer of chicken wire on top of the weed barrier cloth to prevent underground critters from digging a hole up to my raised garden bed. One thing to note is that chicken wire openings are big so small underground critters can still sneak their way up to your vegetables. If you are looking for wires with smaller openings then you can use hardware cloth. You will notice in the picture below there are stones on the edge of my raised garden bed. I added the stones around the bottom edge of my raised garden bed to fill little gaps at the bottom of the cedar planks. Since my backyard is not level, my raised garden bed is sitting on a slope. Adding the stones was my way to keep the soil from coming out of my raised garden bed.

Bottom of raised garden bed

Step 6: Fill Your Raised Garden Bed with Good Soil

I wanted an organic vegetable garden so I filled my raised garden bed with organic soil. The nice thing about raised garden beds is that you can fill it with clean, uncontaminated soil. You will feel good planting your vegetable garden in good quality soil. I like the Coast of Maine Organic Raised Bed Mix. It’s a premixed, nutritious, ready to use soil that requires no additional mixing plus it’s clean soil with no bio-solids and waste. After you fill your raised garden bed with soil, rake it out so the soil is evenly distributed.

raised garden bed assembly

How Much Soil Do You Need For Your Raised Garden Bed?

To calculate how much soil is needed to fill your raised garden bed, you simply multiply the length, width and height of the raised garden bed dimensions to get the total cubic feet of soil needed to fill your raised garden bed. Just remember to convert your measurements to feet and not inches so you can get the cubic feet. To make it easier for you, below is a Raised Garden Bed Soil Calculator. You can use the raised garden bed soil calculator to compute how many cubic feet of soil you need for your raised garden bed. Most bags of soil are commonly sold in 0.75 cubic feet bags, 1 cubic feet bags or 1.5 cubic feet bag. Fill in the fields below to easily calculate the number of bags of soil needed for your raised garden bed.

Step 7: Plant Your Vegetables in your Vegetable Garden

Planting is the last and final step to growing a vegetable garden in your backyard. Planting is my favorite step of the entire process. It’s fun and rewarding. I usually have my kids involved in planting the vegetables so they are engaged in the whole process and hopefully will eat more vegetables as a result of being involved in the planting! I usually buy garden ready vegetable plants. That is the easiest way to get your vegetable garden started and it’s usually fool-proof since these plants are ready to go from day 1!

top view vegetable garden

What to Plant in Your Vegetable Garden?

If you are a beginners and new to vegetable gardening, I suggest planting easy to grow vegetables in your vegetable garden. You want your first year to be successful. You want to plant easy, low maintenance, productive vegetables in your vegetable garden. Below you will find easy to grow, low maintenance and productive fruits and vegetables to plant in your vegetable garden.

eggplant vegetable garden
  • Cucumbers: Cucumbers are the easiest to grow. At some point during the summer, you will feel like your cucumbers are growing like weeds! You will be eating cucumbers every week!
  • Tomatoes: I find tomatoes extremely easy to grow. I suggest planting a few varieties of tomato plants. Growing tomatoes is so easy and effortless. Since tomatoes are so productive, you will always have tomatoes to harvest everyday! Note that tomato plants will require support otherwise it will topple over. You should definitely have a few tomato cages when you plant your tomato plants.
  • Peppers: Peppers are also easy to grow. I usually plant sweet bell peppers and spicy peppers like Jalapeno pepper. The yield from pepper plants are less than what you will get from cucumbers and tomatoes however, I still suggest planting a few pepper plants since it’s low maintenance and easy to grow. Plus you will hooked the moment you bite into your freshly picked bell peppers, it’s so sweet and delicious compared to store bought bell peppers.
  • Eggplants: Eggplants are also great for beginners. I plant the bigger black beauty eggplant variety and also the smaller ichiban eggplant variety. The yield for eggplants are similar to peppers, it’s not as productive as cucumber and tomoatoes but it’s still very rewarding to harvest your very own eggplant!
  • Strawberries: If you are looking for an easy to grow fruit. I suggest planting strawberry plants in your raised garden bed. You will have a lot of fun harvesting sweet strawberries direct from your very own vegetable garden. The nice thing about strawberry plants is that it is a perennial so it comes back every year. It’s also a good idea to plant Strawberries if you want something to harvest early summer (June) since you will need to wait until mid summer to harvest the other vegetables.
  • Basil: Basil is an easy to grow herb. I love growing basil because it goes with my tomatoes!
  • Mint: Mint is the easiest to grow of all herbs. Mint grows like weeds plus it’s a perennial so it grows back every year. However, I would avoid planting mint directly in your raised garden bed. It’s too invasive and you will get mint everywhere. If you want to grow mint, I suggest planting your mint in a separate container or pot so it is isolated and does not take over your raised garden bed!
strawberries vegetable garden

Additional Tips and Advice for a Successful Vegetable Garden

Below you will find some tips and advice for a successful vegetable garden.

raised garden bed with strawberry cloche

How to Prevent Critters from invading your Vegetable Garden

You will notice that your strawberries and vegetables are being eaten by garden critters like squirrels, rabbits and even deer. Unless your backyard is fully fenced in, you need some kind of fencing to protect your vegetable gardens from your garden critters. If you only have rabbits and rodents, a low fence is sufficient in keeping the rabbits and rodents away. You can use these aesthetically pleasing cedar garden fence to complement your raised garden bed. For small plants like strawberry plants, you can make garden cloche using chicken wire or you can buy ready made garden cloche to protect your strawberry plants from critters. However, if you have bigger animals munching on your vegetables. You may need to go higher and build a deer fence. I also installed a scarecrow owl to scare the garden critters and birds away from my vegetable garden. The scarecrow owl is surprisingly effective. You can get the scarecrow owl with the rotating head so it is more realistic and effective.

vegetable garden cloche

How Often Should You Water Your Vegetable Garden?

For best results, you should try to water your vegetables garden everyday. I know it is difficult to water your vegetable garden every day, if you skip a day or two don’t worry. Also, if you go on vacation, don’t worry, your vegetables will be fine. You may come home to semi-wilted plants but you can easily revive your plants with daily watering. If you are gone for an extended period of time, it is a good idea to use watering spikes that self-waters your plants while you are away.

tomatoes

Should You Mulch Your Vegetable Garden?

It’s a good idea to mulch your vegetable garden. It will help retain moisture especially during hot summer days and dry spells. It’s also helpful to have mulch if you know you are going away on vacation and won’t be able to water your vegetables everyday. Plus the mulch will help keep in the moisture if you miss a day or two of watering your vegetable garden.

Good luck with your vegetable garden! Have fun with it!

raised garden bed

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