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How to Start a Vegetable Garden From Scratch In Your Backyard [Step-by-Step Guide]

Are you considering starting your own vegetable garden in your backyard? In my heart of hearts, I genuinely believe that anyone can learn how to start a vegetable garden from scratch. No matter where you are in the world or what your yard looks like, with a bit of effort, you can grow your own food.

So, here is your ultimate, step-by-step guide to how to start a vegetable garden in your backyard from scratch! We’ll walk you through all of it, going over how to find the perfect spot, gather the right materials, amend your soil, pick the best veggies, and plant them. We’ll also give you tips for keeping your garden healthy by watering, mulching, pruning, and fertilizing.

So, let’s get started!

How Do You Start a Garden From Scratch: A Step-by-Step Guide

If you want to learn how to start a vegetable garden from scratch in your backyard, you’ve come to the right place. Starting a garden takes some general knowledge, a small plot of land, and tools, but once you have those three things, you are all set! It’s really that easy.

So, let’s look at all the steps to creating your own vegetable garden. By the end, you should have all the info you need to succeed.

1. Choose a Location for Your Vegetable Garden

how-to-start-a-vegetable-garden_4187
You can fit a vegetable garden into almost any space you have, whether that’s a sprawling lawn or a small alley. The plants don’t care as long as there are soil, water, and nutrients.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need much space to grow vegetables.

It’s a good idea to start with a small garden. When you commit to a small space first, you start with a more manageable time investment, and you increase your odds of success because you can focus on the plants that you have.

If you’re not sure whether it’s worth starting a garden, look at the benefits of gardening. I think you’ll be convinced.

I like to add one or two beds each spring to gradually grow my garden’s size and complexity. That way, I do the same initial prep work every year but have a bigger garden as time goes by.

How Much Sunlight Do You Need to Grow a Vegetable Garden From Scratch?

Most vegetables need six to eight hours of direct sunlight daily, but not all vegetables are the same. For example, cool-season vegetables such as lettuce and kale thrive in partial shade, while most fruiting and flowering vegetables need more sunlight.

Most vegetables fall into one of two categories: heat-loving or cool season. As their names suggest, these vegetables are most productive in hot and cool weather, respectively. However, they also need different amounts of sunlight.

For example:

  • Heat-loving vegetables include tomatoes, peppers, spinach, beans, and cucumbers. These vegetables tend to take off once it gets warm. Their fruits take a little longer to ripen, but they can be very productive plants and are well-worth cultivating. They will take as much sunlight as you can give them. The warmer, the better.
  • Cool-season vegetables like lettuce, kale, cabbage relatives, and radishes will do well in areas that get some shade over the day. In the middle of a hot summer, an area with partial shade can be exactly what you need to stretch your cool-season crops further into the year. Too warm, and these plants tend to bolt.

Observing your space is the best way to determine a good position for a vegetable garden. Take this area in the photo below, for example. This photo was taken around 2 pm, the hottest part of the day. There are distinct shade areas – these are great places for vegetables that appreciate some protection from the hot afternoon sun.

Sun angles change with the seasons. You can use a sun calculator like SunCalc to calculate your exact sun angles in both summer and winter. With this tool, you can calculate precisely how many hours of sun each of your plants will get during the day.

choosing-vegetable-garden-location
Light exposure changes, so be sure to take a look at how much light your backyard garden space gets before settling on a place to plant your veggies.

Microclimates and Temperature

Gardeners often refer to maps of plant hardiness zones. Once you know your zone, you can research which varieties will perform best in your area and which plants need a lot of attention to thrive in your zone.

Microclimates are small areas within a region where the climate differs from the larger zone. Whether you live at the bottom of a valley, near the ocean, or the top of a mountain, your yard may not be the same as your larger zone.

If you think carefully about your backyard even, you can probably identify some spaces that are cooler or warmer than others. For example, areas near brick walls or asphalt driveways are often warmer than treed or shaded areas. Likewise, some areas are more susceptible to wind than others.

When learning how to start a garden from scratch, you can create your own microclimate by planting different varieties of plants and trees close together. You’ll be amazed at how they improve each other’s growth, protect each other from pests, and increase pollination.

While regional info is always helpful, you can also take advantage of the microclimates within your own yard. Plant heat-loving crops in warmer spots and plant cool-weather varieties in cooler spots. It just comes down to knowing your space.

2. Prepare Your Soil

chickens-to-prepare-soil
Chickens will do the work of preparing a garden for you! They do a great job of weeding and fertilizing.

Before starting your garden from scratch, you should know what type of soil you have in your backyard.

What Soil Is Best for a Vegetable Garden?

There are three main types of soil: sand, silt, and clay. Sandy soils drain water readily, which makes it difficult for plants to soak up the water they need, while clay soils have high water retention, which can drown plants or cause very heavy, compact soil.

The best soil for a vegetable garden is “loam,” a very desirable soil for no-till gardening. Very few gardeners are blessed with loam, so most of us amend the soil we have to get it to a workable state.

What Is the Best Way to Prepare Soil for a Vegetable Garden?

If you have sandy or clay-based soil, the best way to prepare the soil for a vegetable garden is to make the soil heavier or lighter. For sandy soils add water-retentive things like peat or coconut coir. For clay soils, add compost or gypsum.

The best thing you can do for your soil is mulch. Mulch enriches sandy soil and makes clay soil less dense. Mulch all your plants and gardens in a deep layer. You can use many different things for mulch, like hay, straw, sugar cane trash – anything that eventually breaks down.

However, steer away from things like rocks – they don’t add anything to your soil and can increase summer temperatures to the point that they burn your plants.

If you want to learn more about how to make your backyard soil more suitable for a vegetable garden, you might want to check out this video for some inspiration:

3. Gather Your Tools

The tools that you need to start a vegetable garden in your backyard from scratch will depend on the size and type of garden you decide to grow. If you grow your vegetables in raised beds, smaller hand tools are more manageable than their full-sized counterparts. If you’re planning a larger garden, bigger tools are better.

Read More – How Deep Should Raised Garden Beds Be?

What Do You Need to Start a Vegetable Garden From Scratch?

beginners-vegetable-garden-essential-tools
A few tools will go a long way, and they last practically forever!

Here are some of the most useful garden tools to have before learning how to start a vegetable garden in your backyard:

Essential Gardening Tools

Shovels  + Trowels

Excellent for digging holes, excavating new beds, and adding compost and other soil-enriching amendments

Pruning Shears + Loppers

Hand-held shears are the perfect garden tools for harvesting vegetables and pruning plants.
I also use loppers for trimming the spring shoots from my Canadian plum tree (Prunus nigra). I later use these extremely long, very straight shoots as stakes for climbing plants like peas, beans, and cucumbers.

Gloves

Gloves are essential in preventing that persistent halo of dirt around your nail beds. I’m a big fan of leather gloves as they’re thick enough to pull thistles and brambles by hand.

Pitchforks

Handy for spreading hay over your beds as mulch. They can also be helpful in

digging out potatoes or rocks and integrating compost deep into your soil without disturbing the ground too much.

Buckets

I’m always using them to move potting soil, dump handfuls of weeds, or carry a harvest of fresh fruit into the house. It’s nice to have a few different sizes. My favorite is a horse feed bucket.

Wheelbarrow

A good wheelbarrow can save you a lot of walking. In the summer and fall, I fill mine with weeds and trimmings for the compost pile. Then, in the spring, I load mine to the brim with compost and mulch to distribute over my beds.

Watering Can + Hose

Watering is essential to successful gardening. You can use a watering can or a hose. It’s nice to have a watering method that is gentler for young seedlings and a higher-flow method for mature plants.

4. Decide Which Vegetables to Plant

easy-to-grow-vegetables
Planning your garden well will ensure that each plant has the proper sun, water, nutrients, and space to thrive.

First and foremost, when learning how to start a garden from scratch, remember that you should grow what you love to eat. The greatest joy of gardening is eating the produce that you’ve grown. The flavors of homegrown produce are incredible compared to store-bought veggies.

Which Vegetables Are the Easiest to Grow to Start a Garden In Your Backyard?

If you are a beginner or even a more experienced gardener with a lot going on, you’ll want to choose some easy-to-grow plants that will more or less take care of themselves.

So, here are ten of the easiest vegetables to grow:

  • Lettuce
  • Radishes
  • Peas
  • Beans
  • Garlic
  • Zucchini (Summer Squash)
  • Potatoes
  • Kale
  • Carrots
  • Swish Chard

These veggies flourish, even when you water them inconsistently, and most of them are unlikely to develop mold or mildew.

It’s also worth mentioning that some of these veggies have varieties and cultivars that are hardier and more resistant than others. For example, heirloom peas and beans generally do better than other varieties.

Here are some good examples of veggies that are both easy to grow, naturally pest-resistant, and resistant to diseases and fungi:

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Learn More – Top 10 Most Beautiful Easy to Grow Vegetables

If you want more ideas of some of the easiest plants to grow to start a vegetable garden from scratch, this video might help:

Plant a Combination of Cool and Warm Season Vegetables

Each year is different. Some summers seem to stretch forever. Heat-loving tomatoes ripen on the vine for weeks on end. However, in other years, the summer months are more like summer weeks, and you may have to pick everything early to avoid death by frost.

Because there are no guarantees in gardening, I try my best to plant a variety of warm and cool-season crops. Usually, this means that even if it’s a terrible year for heat-loving veggies, I’m likely to get a bumper crop of cool-season plants.

So, I highly recommend mixing things up when learning to start a vegetable garden from scratch. Variety will ensure you can harvest something each year, even if one plant dries up or gets frost-burn.

Annuals, Biennials, and Perennials

asparagus-perennial-plant
Asparagus is one of the most productive perennial vegetables you can grow!

Plants come in a few different kinds: annuals, biennials, and perennials. Perennials are an excellent option if you want a reliable harvest every year, but annuals and biennials can also bear seeds, so you can replant them yearly.

  • Annuals are plants that complete their lifecycle in one year. Examples would include lettuce, tomatoes, and radishes. At the end of the season, the plant dies back completely, and you need to restart from freshly sown seeds the following spring.
  • Biennials take two years to complete their lifecycle. Usually, gardeners grow biennials as annuals and eat them before they start the reproductive phase of their lifecycle in year two. You would only bring the plant into its second summer if you had seed-saving intentions. Examples of plants in this category would include celery, cabbage, and kale.
  • Perennials are a gift to the busy gardener. Perennials are plants that come back year after year. Some perennials can live for decades, and often, the older they are, the better they produce. This category includes rhubarb, asparagus, raspberries, honeyberries, blueberries, grapes, and globe artichokes.

Here’s a great guide to picking out some perennials when learning how to start a vegetable garden in your backyard from scratch:

Most fruit and nut trees also fall into the perennial category. A healthy fruit tree can be astonishingly productive. The apple tree in my front yard can produce a few hundred pounds of apples over the course of the summer.

I also love growing avocado trees from seed. Seed-grown trees tend to be tougher than grafted trees. They take a little longer to start fruiting, but they are less susceptible to pests and disease, grow faster, and are more resilient.

avocado-grown-from-seed
My latest batch of avocado seedlings

Perennials can be slow to start, and you may have to wait a few years before they really take off, but once they are established, it’s often as simple as harvesting the fruit.

In addition, your garden zone can be an important factor to consider here. Not every plant can be grown as a perennial in every climate. Some plants are too frost-tender to succeed as perennials in cold northern areas.

How Much Should I Plant When Learning How to Start a Garden From Scratch?

If you have never grown a certain vegetable before, you may wonder how many plants to grow. The first year that I gardened, I planted an entire packet of zucchini seeds.

In case you didn’t know, zucchini may be the most productive plant in the world. I was overwhelmed by more than one hundred zucchini that summer. It was complete zucchini madness. I stuffed zucchini into every dish I could think of and still had so many that I was giving them away to anyone who stopped by.

It was so overwhelming that I had to come up with new ideas for using my harvest. I even wrote an article about how to eat zucchini in 87 different ways!

When learning how to start a vegetable garden in your backyard from scratch, start small and discover the best way to sow your seeds. By following the instructions on your seed packets, you can estimate how many plants you’ll get.

A Vegetable Garden Layout for a Family of Four

To feed the average family of four, this is an approximate guide to how many plants you want to have in your vegetable garden.

Keep in mind that there is no accounting for personal taste. Plant extra if you have a few favorite vegetables or want extra for preserving!

Vegetable

Number of Plants

How to Grow

Beets

20 – 40

Succession Plant ♥

Broccoli

3 – 6 

Single Sow

Cabbage

3 – 6

Single Sow

Carrots

50 – 100

Succession Plant

Cauliflower

3 – 6

Single Sow

Cucumbers

5 – 8

Single Sow

Cucamelon

5 – 8

Single Sow

Kale

5 – 10

Single Sow

Leaf lettuce

30 – 70

Succession Plant

Peas

60 – 90

Succession Plant

Peppers

5 – 8

Single Sow

Pole Beans

20 – 30

Succession Plant

Potatoes

4 – 8lbs

Single Sow

Radish

30 – 50

Succession Plant

Tomatoes

5 – 8

Single Sow

Zucchini

3 – 4

Single Sow

A planting guide for growing enough vegetables to feed a family of four.

Succession planting refers to the practice of planting a small number of seeds at one time and then returning to plant more later. This spreads out the harvest so that you are not inundated by a huge volume of one type of vegetable in a short period.

Also, keep in mind that there can be a big difference in how productive a plant is, depending on the exact variety you choose.

Once you’re growing enough vegetables for your family, consider growing some for your animals, too!

5. Plan Your Vegetable Garden Layout

Once you’ve chosen which plants you want to use to start a vegetable garden, you need to think about how much space you have and how you want to use it.

All plants need a different amount of space to grow, and there are many clever garden designs to help you get the most out of the space you already have.

So, let’s take a quick look at how to space your plants and go over some ideas for raised garden beds.

How Do You Plan a Vegetable Garden Layout?

There are many ways to lay out a garden and space your plants, and it’s worth thinking about your garden design before you start planting.

Rows are traditional, but if you are planting in a raised garden bed, consider a triangle garden design, as this allows you to fit the most equally distanced plants.

Try a keyhole garden if you have an in-ground garden or are building raised garden beds. These are similar to row gardens, but they lose less space for walkways.

Here’s a great tutorial on how to build a keyhole raised garden bed to start growing vegetables in your backyard:

Intensive Planting vs. Wide Space Planting

Intensive planting involves putting plants as close together as possible while still providing enough space for plants to mature. If done effectively, this minimizes the amount of space weeds have to grow and maximizes the number of plants you have per bed.

Food forests are an example of intensive planting. We have a guide on how to grow a food forest if you are interested – it’s fantastic!

Wide-space planting gives plants more than adequate room to develop. The benefit of this method is that plants don’t have to compete for space, and they can grow larger without being inhibited by the plants around them. Still, this method can require more weeding.

So, when learning how to start your garden from scratch, it might help you to think about how much time and space you have for your garden.

Intensive planting may be a good option if you are always busy or have very little space to work with. On the other hand, if you have more time for weeding and have plenty of room to spread out your plants, wide-space planting may work best.

wide-space-vegetable-garden- in-backyard
Vegetables planted in rows with wide spacing generally grow bigger but take a bit more weeding.

Which Vegetables Grow Well Together?

Last but certainly not least, it’s a great idea to think about where you want to plant your plants in your garden.

Companion planting is always a good consideration during this phase. It can help you naturally prevent pests, encourage healthy root growth, and prevent one plant from taking up all the water and nutrients from the soil.

For example, some great companion plants for zucchini include corn, beans, garlic, and herbs. The garlic and herbs naturally repel pests and grow into the soil while the zucchini vines spread. The beans and corn grow upwards, providing ventilation for the zucchini. Meanwhile, beans fix nitrogen for everything else to stay nourished.

Zucchini also grows well with tomatoes, as the tomatoes grow upwards, and the zucchini trails, providing shade to the soil and keeping it humid.

Here’s an example of a Victory garden from TouchWood Editions that follows some great companion planting practices:

Look at how much you can grow with just 10 x 4 feet! Intensive planting victory gardens are a great place to start when you learn how to start a vegetable garden from scratch in your backyard.

Systems like these can help make your garden low-maintenance and ensure you have a healthy harvest every year!

Learn More – How to Create the Perfect Fruit Tree Guild Layout for Permaculture

6. Plant Your Vegetables

Direct-sown-zucchini
Zucchini seedlings that were sown directly into the garden.

How to Start a Vegetable Garden In Your Backyard From Seeds

Not all seeds are the same. Tomatoes and peppers can take weeks to germinate, while beans, peas, and radishes can come up in a couple of days.

You should always refer to the back of the seed packet for specific instructions, but here are a few tips and tricks that apply to most seeds:

Seed Sowing Tips

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I love using these trays for vegetable seeds. They hold 40 plants per tray and they are nice and deep. There are 15 different vegetable seedlings in this box!

Sowing seeds can be deceptively overwhelming when learning how to start a vegetable garden in your backyard from scratch. For example, how deep should you plant them, and what soil will be best? Do you water immediately after sowing the seeds?

Well, let’s talk about it:

  1. Seed size determines how deeply you sow your seeds. Generally, place seeds in a hole that is two times the seed width. So, if a pea is 1/4″ in diameter, your hole would be 1/2″ deep.
  2. When sowing tiny seeds that only need to be 1/4″ or 1/8″ below the surface (carrots for example), scatter your seeds over the bed, then sprinkle a fine layer of soil over the top of your seeds, and then press everything down firmly. It is far easier to sprinkle 1/4″ of soil than dig a hole 1/4″ deep.
  3. Soaking seeds overnight in water or applying heat from the bottom speeds up germination times. I have an electric heat mat that I use to give my tomatoes, peppers, and cabbages a boost when I start them.
  4. Some seeds need light to germinate, so you wouldn’t want to cover them in soil. It’s always a good idea to read the back of the seed packet so that you catch things like this. Many lettuce varieties, for example, need some light to germinate.
  5. To speed up germination, you should generally keep the seeds moist but not wet. A fine mist every few days should do the trick, as misting will keep the soil in place. You don’t want to shoot away your seeds with your high-pressure hose water!

Once you’ve sown your seeds, maintain consistent moisture until the seedlings start growing roots and have a little sprout.

soaking-vegetable-seeds-before-planting
Soaking seeds greatly increases germination rates and speeds it up, too!

It’s also a good idea to read up on germination times and the ideal planting time for each plant you select. That way, if seeds aren’t coming up after their germination window, you can resow and not lose time waiting for plants that aren’t coming.

Do I Need to Plant Everything In the Seed Packet?

When you buy a package of seeds, you may think that you need to plant all of the seeds in the package or else they will not keep for the following year. This isn’t necessarily true.

You don’t need to plant everything in the seed packet when starting a garden. While age is an important aspect of germination, most seeds will keep a few years before germination rates decline in any significant way.

If you have a good germination rate from a package of seeds one year, you are usually okay to sow again the following year.

The fridge is generally the best place to keep your seeds for next year. Make sure they are in a moisture-proof package.

How to Grow Vegetables from Scraps

One of the best parts of learning how to start a vegetable garden in your backyard from scratch, in my opinion, is learning how to use your veggie scraps as plant starters!

Not all vegetables are started exclusively from seed. Many plants have clever secondary methods of reproduction.

For example, you typically start potatoes from the previous season’s tubers. Anywhere a sprout emerges, a new plant will grow. I like to cut one potato into a few chunks to maximize the number of plants I get from each tuber.

I have successfully planted potatoes and sweet potatoes from the back of my pantry and those from the garden center.

sweet-potato-grown-from-scratch
Sweet potato is one of the easiest vegetables to grow from scraps. If you have one that is a bit past its best – plant it!

Garlic also grows straight from a clove. The longer garlic is grown in one location, the more finely attuned it is to grow in that location. It’s not unusual to find varieties of garlic that are unique to your microclimate and more resilient to life in your specific area at farmer’s markets or co-ops.

Also, you can even start plants from grocery store trimmings! Celery, green onions, cabbage, bok choy, and lettuce will all develop new growth when placed in clean water in a sunny spot.

Save the seeds from grocery-bought vegetables and fruit, too – you can sprout all of these for free plants!

When starting plants from trimmings, you want to keep the bottom two inches of the plant intact and submerge the lower half of it in water. It’s important to regularly change the water. After a few days, you should start to see some new growth.

One fruit that is so much fun to grow from scraps is pineapple. Simply twist the top off and cut the bottom leaves off to make it easier to plant. Leave it to dry for an hour or two and plant in a pot or straight into the garden.

grow-pineapple-from-scraps
Don’t throw out your pineapple tops! If you put them in soil, they will root again and give you a pineapple plant.

The flavors of foods grown from scraps tend to be a little different. Often they’re a bit milder than the store-bought plants. You won’t get huge yields from this type of window-sill gardening, but it’s a fun project to do, especially with kids.

I like to propagate my tomato trimmings using a similar method. After I’ve taken the “sucker” branches off of my larger tomato plants, I put them in a jar of water. After a week, the root systems on these plants are significant enough to place them in the soil. It’s remarkable how quickly they catch up.

They’re the easiest tomato plants you’ll ever start!

7. Care for Your Vegetables

Whichever vegetables you choose when learning how to start a garden from scratch, you need to give your plants adequate water and nutrition to see success.

So, let’s go over how to water, fertilize, prune, and mulch your garden. We’ll also give you the low-down on some of the most common garden pests and how to naturally eliminate them so you can keep your garden healthy and productive.

Watering Your Backyard Vegetable Garden

backyard-vegetable-garden-irrigation
I’m a huge fan of drip-style irrigation. These hoses don’t cost much, I buy them in 100ft lengths. I set my timer for an hour and the dripper waters evenly and thoroughly while I can go and do something else.

Usually, water is the secret ingredient we need to make our gardens thrive. Thirsty plants are stressed ones, and stressed plants are more likely to suffer pest damage, fall prey to diseases, and ultimately fail to produce a healthy harvest for you and your family.

When it’s time to water your garden, water deeply rather than frequently. This will encourage the plants to form deep root systems, which makes them more resilient in the long run. It also means that your plants won’t wilt so readily if you miss a watering session.

The fruit trees in my yard are on the “Tough-Love Watering Schedule,” in which I water them rarely and when I feel like it. It sounds harsh, but the goal is to get them accustomed to irregular watering — which is true to nature.

When I water these trees, I soak the earth very deeply. This pushes them to sink their roots deep into the ground, which not only helps them seek water better during droughts. It also helps them stay stable during wind and snowstorms.

watering-backyard-vegetable-garden-and-dogs
Entertain the kids and the dogs, and water the garden at the same time
water-garden-and-dogs
Although the dog doesn’t really need to be entertained… He’s quite happy lazing about, watching others do the work.

How and When to Fertilize Your Vegetable Garden

benefits-of-vegetable-gardening-in-your-backyard
When we first moved in, the soil was really depleted. We bought organic fertilizer in ton bags and went hard with it. The right organic fertilizer adds wonderful stuff to your soil. It made a huge difference to our soil!

Initially, when learning how to start a vegetable garden from scratch in your backyard, you probably won’t need to think too much about fertilizers. When you start, you usually have rich soil.

Still, as the summer goes on, leaves may become yellow. This can signify that your vegetable plants need extra nutrients from fertilizer.

There are many ways to add nutrition to your soil. Some of the best things to use as a fertilizer are:

  • Compost
  • Manure
  • Kitchen scraps
  • Compost tea
  • Epsom salt
  • Organic fertilizer mixes (pelleted or liquid)
  • Worm castings from worm farming (learn how to farm worms here!)
  • Mulch

While each method takes a different amount of time, liquid fertilizer additions are usually best. Liquid fertilizer mixes with the water that you give your garden, allowing your plants to quickly absorb the nutrients from their roots.

On the other hand, solid fertilizer takes a while to dissolve and work its way down into the soil. Still, adding some solid fertilizers, like a layer of compost, can work as a slow-release fertilizer, continually fertilizing your garden year-round.

To identify which minerals your soil is missing and to get a complete picture of your soil health, you may want to use some form of soil testing. You can purchase soil tests from a lab, and they tend to be fairly inexpensive. Still, you can also run a much more limited test with a home kit.

Learn More – How to Improve Garden Soil Naturally [Over Winter and Year-Round]

How to Prune Your Garden Plants

Some plants are as easy as sowing it and forgetting it. Others take a little more finesse and grooming, requiring pruning every once in a while.

We prune plants in our gardens for a number of reasons, including:

  • Removing some leaves can improve air circulation around plants that are sensitive to fungal infections.
  • Taking some leaves or stems off can encourage a plant to focus its energies on a different aspect of development (ripening green tomatoes, for example).
  • Trimming keeps plants a manageable shape and size.
  • Snipping off flower buds can prevent “bolting” or unwanted blooming.

Tomatoes and squash will develop fungal diseases if they don’t have sufficient airflow. Many gardeners struggle to keep squash leaves free from powdery mildew, and pruning is one way of helping with that.

If you are growing indeterminate tomato varieties (“rambling” ones that don’t grow to a certain size), trim off the sturdy little branches known as “suckers.” These branches grow from the middle of the forks on the larger stems of the plant. If you don’t limit the growth of these tomatoes to a single stem, they will quickly branch out all over your garden. I’ve been there, and it’s a little wild!

Ultimately, pruning can be a complex topic, but it’s also a powerful tool that can have a big impact on the productivity and health of plants.

If you don’t have time to learn the nuances of pruning as you start your vegetable garden, the most basic idea is to remove sections that are dead(ish). If it’s browning or has signs of disease, then that leaf isn’t helping the plant the way it should be. Removing the leaf will encourage the plant to focus on new, healthy growth.

How and When to Mulch Your Backyard Vegetable Garden

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We do a yearly “mulch mission.” The whole family gets involved, it’s great fun!

A good mulch is much like a good assistant. Mulch will suppress weeds, combat surface evaporation, prevent plant disease, protect plants from temperature fluctuations, and eventually break down and feed your soil.

A 2 to 3-inch layer of material around once a year is enough to do the job, but I encourage you to go deeper than that. The deeper the layer of mulch, the better.

Straw and sugar cane trash are my favorites (because I can get straw for free from a nearby stable and sugar cane from the neighbors), but leaves, grass clippings (best if you compost these first, or you’ll end up with a garden full of grass), and sawdust will also work.

Avoid heavier mulches like woodchips or gravel, as they won’t break down over the winter.

Choosing the right mulch now, as you’re learning how to start a vegetable garden from scratch, can help you ensure that your soil stays sustainable and healthy in the years to come.

Some Common Garden Pests That Infest Vegetable Gardens

All-natural gardening means that sometimes we do a little sharing, even if we don’t want to. So, when first learning how to start a vegetable garden in your backyard from scratch, it’s best to be prepared for any pests that might eventually pop up.

Here are some earth-friendly ways of keeping pests at bay:

Aphids

Members of the cabbage family are particularly prone to aphid attacks.

Aphids live together in colonies. They often hide underneath leaves, but an aphid-damaged leaf will often contort or curl in an eye-catching way.

Sometimes you will notice ants before you spot the aphids. Ants farm the aphids for the honeydew they produce. Aphids can be prolific, and the stress they cause the plant can impact your harvest.

Put the hose into “Jet” mode and wash them away.

Recruit some ladybugs. They eat aphids. Some garden stores sell ladybugs, but often I can find enough in our yard to relocate onto affected plants.

A solution of dish soap and water sprayed over the leaves can deter aphids.

Interplant aphid-susceptible plants with fragrant plants like marigolds, garlic, dill, and cilantro.

Deer

One hungry deer can cause a lot of damage in a garden, and when they’re hungry, they’ll eat pretty much everything.


Read more in 6 ways of keeping deer out of the garden.

Fencing, the taller the better, works best for these incredible jumpers. 6 to 10 feet is ideal.


Buy a border collie. Mine works just great! She works on rabbits and birds too.



Cabbage MothsThese pretty white butterflies will land amongst the leaves of your cabbages and lay dozens of green eggs near the base of the plant.

These eggs will hatch into very hungry caterpillars that can cause a tremendous amount of damage.
Check your cabbages a few times per week and remove caterpillars and eggs by hand.

Place a fine mesh over the top of the cabbage beds. If they can’t touch it, they can’t eat it!

Use a decoy of another white cabbage moth to ward them off. They are territorial, so they won’t go near a white piece of paper shaped like a butterfly.

I have one wonderfully wacky friend who captures white cabbage moths with a children’s butterfly net. Some years, her results are better than mine!
SlugsSlugs will munch off all the tender young foliage of the plants in your garden.

Lettuce, squash flowers, basil, cabbage, and spinach all seem to be favorites. They can cause a lot of damage, and they can be extremely prolific.
Slugs love beer, but can’t swim. Partially bury a container of beer. They will fall in and drown. There are also some great, yeast-based “fake beer” recipes that work too.

Place a wooden board out in your garden. During the day, slugs retreat to a shady space where they can hide from the sun. Each afternoon, discard the slugs that have congregated under the board.

Snakes eat slugs, and they’re easy to attract to your garden. They love to live in piles of medium-sized rocks.

Ducks will happily take care of a slug infestation for you. And they lay eggs too!
Wireworms

These hard-bodied grubs can live in your garden for years before they mature into a click beetle. Often, they come from areas with tall grass.

The breadth of their appetite is particularly annoying because they will readily burrow into root vegetables, but also very happily nibble entire root systems off of plants.

Two treatments of beneficial nematodes applied a few weeks apart in the summer can reduce populations to a manageable number.

Use a sacrificial carrot or potato as a trap to lure them away from other plants you value more. Regularly replace your sacrificial root veggies.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Starting something new can be confusing – and exciting! We’re here to help guide you through the entire process and help you take that leap toward growing your own food. There’s nothing like it.

So, let’s go over some of the questions we’ve heard most about how to start a vegetable garden from scratch – hopefully, it’ll answer all of your questions, too!

When Is It Too Late to Start a Garden?

There is no wrong time to start a garden. When it is wintertime, although it may be too late to plant seeds into the soil, it’s still the perfect time to build raised beds, start seeds indoors, and fertilize your soil. Additionally, all plants have different germination times, and some may grow best when you plant them in freezing temperatures.

How Much Does It Cost to Start a Vegetable Garden?

It doesn’t cost much to start a garden, especially if you amend your soil, use seeds and starters from your scrap food, and already have the basic tools. However, even without these things, getting started shouldn’t cost you more than $20 for small garden tools and some peat moss or compost. Using fall leaves for mulch also saves money.

What Do You Put In the Bottom of a Raised Garden Bed?

You can put many things in the bottom of a raised garden bed, but we usually recommend something like dry leaves, mulch, or straw. Adding items such as wood can imbalance the soil and create ‘sinkholes’ over time. Mulch, soil, and compost are always your best bet.

How Do You Start a Vegetable Garden In Pots?

You start a vegetable garden in pots in the same way you would start a garden in a raised bed. Add soil and mulch, pop in some seeds and seedlings, and water. Prune and fertilize your plants as necessary, and you should have a flourishing garden in no time.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Excited about starting a brand-new vegetable garden in your backyard? Let me know if this guide helped you get started, and please, show us photos of your progress. Nothing is better than turning a piece of earth into your productive paradise.

One final tip – work with nature, not against it. If your garden gives you lemons, make lemonade. If birds are eating all your fruit – plant more fruit. From experience, it’s easier to grow more and share than it is to stop sharing!

Thanks so much for reading this, please leave your comments and share with your friends and family!

More on How To Start a Vegetable Garden In Your Backyard and Keep It Growing:

How to Start a Vegetable Garden from Scratch in Your Backyard [Step-by-Step Guide]

Author

  • Elle

    Jack of all trades, master of some. Wild garden grower. Loves creating stuff. From food forests and survival gardens to soap and yoghurt. A girl on a farm with two kids and one husband (yep, just one - although another one would be handy). Weirdly enjoys fixing fences and digging holes. Qualified permaculture teacher and garden go-to.

Suzanne Harris

Sunday 22nd of November 2020

Wow Elle, what an amazing woman you are. I love the way you can create a productive garden from a bare patch of land, and even use the chooks to help. Great to see your girls learning so much good stuff as well. Well done and great article, I read every word and learnt lots.

Elle

Monday 23rd of November 2020

Thanks Sue! The girls love the gardens - they still do their daily rounds - check the raspberry bush, the mulberry tree, the strawberries. And Becky obviously checks the tomatoes every day :)

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