Ten Steps to Veggie Garden Success
Successful gardening doesn't come by accident, and in my opinion, there is NO SUCH THING as a green thumb. Success comes from good pre-planning and thoughtful follow-through. It's knowing what each vegetable plant needs to grow to a successful harvest and giving each plant what it needs.
Sounds simple, doesn't it?
Consider that every vegetable has a completely different set of needs in almost all areas of growing, from timing to location, to temperature, to the soil they prefer, etc. You get the point. Then consider that even different sizes or varieties of the same vegetable might have different needs.
It can be enough to make your head swim!
So is the above kind of harvest possible? Sure, it is. It is hard work? Sure, it is.
Knowledge is key, and that's why a thorough plan is imperative before the season even starts.
I've learned a ton of things in my several years of vegetable gardening, and a lot of things were learned by trial and error, as most gardeners can attest to.
For this blog, I have condensed my experience into ten of the most important steps to follow that I think will give you the best chance for first-time vegetable gardening success.
PRE SEASON STEPS
STEP 1 - Collect Information
Here is some basic information you'll need to know about your specific growing area.
Your Planting Zone. This is important because most seed packets will give you a range of zones in which the seeds can successfully grow.
Your average first and last frost dates. You will need those dates to calculate when to sow seeds, plant, harvest, etc.
The number of days in your growing season. You will need this number to calculate if there are enough growing days in your season to be able to get a vegetable plant from seed to harvest.
If there are not enough growing days in your area for a specific plant, you may need to purchase a seedling or plant or grow your seedlings indoors in late winter or spring in order to have the plants ready to transplant outdoors on time.
The Farmer's Almanac has a great site where you can find out the above answers by putting in your zip code. Write these answers down and put the note in a place that you can refer to often.
Buy a few good vegetable gardening books. Here are a few of our top picks for 2020.
STEP 2 - Make a Chart
This is, without a doubt, the most important step and will take a good amount of time. Learning as much as you can about the specific vegetables you want to grow will greatly improve your odds of success.
Using the dates you've written down from the Farmer's Almanac link, and some further internet research, make a short chart of every vegetable you intend to grow and fill in the answers to the categories below.
I will use carrots as an example. Most carrot types will be ready to harvest in 60-70 days. However, there is a storage type of carrots that can be harvested up to 240 days after sowing.
So not only do you need some basic information about carrots, but you will need specific information about the type of carrot you will be growing.
Carrot varieties can be divided into early, main crop and storage varieties.
Specific Type: Example Chantenay Red Cored 75 days to harvest
Short, thick roots, 5 1/2" long taper to a blunt end. It's a golden orange carrot with good flavor.
Sun/Shade Requirement: Full sun. Will tolerate partial shade.
Optimal Growing Temperature: 60 – 65 degrees.
Soil Preferred: Rich, loose, well-draining soil.
Water: Consistent for best flavor.
Fertilizer: Lower Nitrogen. Higher phosphorus and potassium. (5-10-10)
Sowing Information: 1/4” Depth. Seed Spacing 2” apart or thin seedlings to 2" apart.
Sowing Tip: Keep soil moist for at least ten days after sowing. Carrot seeds do not need light to germinate. Cover with a board or cardboard and check daily for sprouts. Remove the cover once seeds have germinated.
Common Problems to Look For: If carrot shoulders start to turn green, cover with mulch.
Add any additional information you feel is important relative to that specific vegetable.
Here's where your frost dates come in.
Sowing Seed Dates
Direct sow carrot seeds 2 weeks before your average last frost date.
(Using your average last frost date, subtract two weeks and enter that date as your Spring sowing date.)
Direct sow carrot seeds 10-12 weeks before your average first frost date.
(Using your average first frost date, go back 10-12 weeks and enter that date as your Fall sowing date.)
Enter your expected harvest date: This is your sowing date plus the number of days to harvest from your seed packet. If I'm growing a variety of vegetables these dates help me not to miss a harvest date!
Combine dates on a calendar or garden journal
Once you have all of the information charted for each plant, take your list of dates for each vegetable and enter them on one combined calendar.
This will make it much easier to see, week to week during the growing season, what you should be doing with each vegetable. It may save you from missing an important timing step.
Steps 1 and 2 are the most time-consuming pre-season steps, but the more detailed your plan is, the better your chances of success.
STEP 3 - Plant or sow annual flowers to draw in pollinators
Some vegetable plants need pollinators to pollinate the plants so they can bear fruit. Planting a good variety of annual flowering plants can draw those pollinators into your vegetable garden.
Some of the easiest annual flowers to grow to draw in pollinators are Marigolds, Nasturtium, sunflowers, Borage, Calendula, Zinnia and Cosmos. You can also add these plants to your chart with growing information.
For more detailed information, read our article: Seven Annuals to Grow in your Veggie Garden