I’ve just had a request from a client to replace a chunk of her back yard (all grass requiring a lot of water) with a vegetable garden. She decided that if she has to pay for water she might as well as get a return on her investment. I thought other folks might be interested in getting a return on their monthly LADWP (Los Angeles Department of Water and Power) contribution so here is a primer from The Old Farmer’s Almanack on Vegetable Garden Planning for Beginners.
Smaller Is Better
If you’re a beginner vegetable gardener, here are basics on vegetable garden planning: site selection, plot size, which vegetables to grow, and other gardening tips.
Remember this: It’s better to be proud of a small garden than to be frustrated by a big one!
One of the common errors for beginners is planting too much too soon and way more than anybody could eat or want. Unless you want to have zucchini taking up residence in your attic, plan carefully. Start small.
The Very Basics
First, here are some very basic concepts on topics you’ll want to explore further as you become a vegetable gardener extraordinaire:
- Do you have enough sun exposure? Vegetables love the sun. They need at least 6 hours of full sun every day, and preferably 8.
- Know your soil. Most soil can be enriched with compost and be fine for planting, but some soil needs more help. Vegetables must have good, loamy, well-drained soil. Check with your local nursery or local cooperative extension office about free soil test kits so that you can assess your soil type. See our article on preparing soil for planting.
- Placement is everything. Avoid planting too near a tree, which will steal nutrients and shade the garden. In addition, a garden too close to the house will help to discourage wild animals from nibbling away your potential harvest.
- Decide between tilling and a raised bed. If you have poor soil or a bad back, a raised bed built with nonpressure-treated wood offers many benefits. See more about raised garden beds and how to build them.
- Vegetables need lots of water, at least 1 inch of water a week. See more about when to water vegetables.
- You’ll need some basic planting tools. These are the essentials: spade, garden fork, soaking hose, hoe, hand weeder, and wheelbarrow (or bucket) for moving around mulch or soil. It’s worth paying a bit extra for quality tools.
- Study those seed catalogs and order early.
- Check your frost dates. Find first and last frost dates in your area and be alert to your local conditions.
Deciding How Big
A good-size beginner vegetable garden is about 16×10 feet and features crops that are easy to grow. A plot this size, planted as suggested below, can feed a family of four for one summer, with a little extra for canning and freezing (or giving away).
Make your garden 11 rows wide, with each row 10 feet long. The rows should run north and south to take full advantage of the sun.
Vegetables that may yield more than one crop per season are beans, beets, carrots, cabbage, kohlrabi, lettuce, radishes, rutabagas, spinach, and turnips.
Suggested Plants for 11 Rows
The vegetables suggested below are common, productive plants but you’ll also want to contract your local cooperative extension to determine what plants grow best in your local area. Think about what you like to eat as well as what’s difficult to find in a grocery store or farmers’ market.
(Note: Link from each vegetable to a free planting and growing guide.)
- Tomatoes—5 plants staked
- Zucchini squash—4 plants
- Peppers—6 plants
- Bush beans
- Lettuce, leaf and/or Bibb
- Marigolds to discourage rabbits!
(Note: If this garden is too large for your needs, you do not have to plant all 11 rows, and you can also make the rows shorter. You can choose the veggies that you’d like to grow!)
When to Plant?
- If you are planting seeds, consult our Best Planting Dates for Seeds chart. It’s customized to your frost dates as well as Moon-favorable dates.
- If you’re putting plants in the ground from a nursery or transplanting from a greenhouse, see our Best Planting Dates for Transplants (by region).
Try our Garden Planner
It’s easy to plan your garden with our Almanac Garden Planner!
This planning tool spaces out your vegetables for you, provides sowing dates, and has many free garden plans for inspiration! Try it for free here.