Getting a garden started


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  • LindseyD

    Well, my husband and I are firmly committed to planting our very first vegetable garden in our backyard this year. My parents kept a garden when I was a child, but I can’t remember enough to know when to plant, how to plant, etc. I know many of you are avid gardeners, so I am asking for some help to get us started.

    • What books or sites can you point me toward that are helpful and easy to understand?
    • Is there anything special I need to know about growing a garden in town, in our backyard?
    • Do you plant seeds or start plants indoors before transplanting outside? Why?
    • Our garden will be organic. What do we need to know about that?
    • Composting?

    Again, I don’t expect you to take the time to type out everything you know about gardening. If you want to, that’s great! But I understand you might have better things to do today than giving a Gardening 101 tutorial. LOL

    Any help is much appreciated, as we are anxious to get started toward the end of next month.




    I’m by no means an expert, but I’ll help with what I can. You may also contact your local Extension Service or access their website for help.

    If you start tomatoes from seed, you will have to start them in the house and transplant them. I don’t know why. Same for eggplant and peppers.

    How big is your backyard? If it’s small, you may want to look into square foot gardening. We use containers, so we haven’t tried it, but it looks like an option. Your library may have the book, or google it for the website.

    Can’t help with the organic aspect and I don’t know much about composting. Sorry.



    Gardening is so fun! First, composting is pretty easy – take grass clippings and shredded fallen leaves and layer them with your kitchen scraps (no meat products). You may have to add a small amt of black dirt at first. Keep it damp as a wrung out sponge, let it heat up, then turn every so often. The thing about compost is that it takes a while. We usually put all of one year’s pile on the garden in the fall which we rototill in in the spring.

    Starting plants indoors can be a pain, but very rewarding. Since this is your first garden I suggest just buying plants for tomatoes and peppers rather than growing from seed. Take this year to learn about the process and the equipment you’ll need for seed-starting. A good book is From Seed to Bloom. Other plants grow best being planted right in your garden as a seed. This includes things like beans and cucumbers, pumpkins, carrots, and some herbs. A note on herbs – some are very difficult to grow from seed so its best to purchase it as a plant. A brief amount of internet research on what you want to grow will help you tremendously.

    Plants are divided into cold season and warm season, which has to do with when you plant – either before the last frost or after the last frost in your area (determined by your zone – easy to find via Internet). Cold season things are lettuce and spinach, peas. potatoes, I think carrots too. Warm season stuff would be tomatoes and peppers, beans, squash, etc. A note on growing peas – you need a whole lot of room to get anything much out of the plants. This I learned the hard way :).

    A really great book for gardening in general is The Square Foot garden. I admit I don’t use his methods completely b/c they haven’t really worked for me. But he has a lot of info on planting and harvesting dates, etc.

    Since this is your first year, I suggest starting with only a few things and see how you do, then add more over the years. Gardening is an inexact science – every year is different! That’s something I really like about it! BTW, we live in town with a very small garden and its pretty amazing what we’ve grown for our family. We don’t really look at it as practical for canning and freezing so much – with the exception of tomatoes – but we eat really well all summer long! I buy produce from the farmer’s mkt for freezing and canning. This November we purchased a house on 3 acres so now I can have a HUGE garden. I can grow pumpkins anywhere I want! 🙂

    Ok, sorry this became so long – can you tell its a subject I’m passionate about? LOL

    Have fun – feel free to ask more questions!



    I’ve bought several books over the past year and read a couple from the library because we are starting one this year too.  The books that have been most helpful to me to figure this all out and start planning have been Vegetable Gardening for Dummies (I hate those titles, but this one is really good) and Square Foot Gardening.  We don’t have a ton of space for one, but the Square Foot Gardening helps you maximize your space.  Also, Laura at has a great e-book with great ideas for what you can put in containers to do even more, like we are planning on doing potatoes, peppers and possibly tomatoes in containers.  I’ve probably read way too much at this point, but am excited to get one going this year. 

    BTW, organic gardening is pretty easy – just don’t spray anything! Ha! 🙂

    No really, after a while you’ll catch on to companion planting and you’ll figure out what bugs are causing problems and you just look them up on the internet or in a Rodale book. Those are also awesome – check out OG magazine and and books by the Rodales – they’ve been doing it for decades. My library has a pretty good selection of both.

    The reason you have to start tomatoes and peppers and eggplants inside is because they take to long to grow to fruition once its warm enough to plant them outside. Again, I would suggest just buying plants of these to begin with. You won’t plant them until May or so depending on where you live.

    And plan on weeding by hand. Which I like to think of as my private war that I wage outside. I actually really love to do it. I’m so weird.


    We are hoping to grow potatoes, squash, zucchini, jalepenos, onions, garlic, and possibly some berries. Not sure about the berries yet, though. We may decide to do a raised bed because I’m afraid that the spot in the backyard where we want our garden may have a gas line under it. I’m also going to check w/ the gas and electric companies first. Thank you for the book suggestions! DH and I are very excited to learn as much as we can before it’s time to prepare soil and plant in a couple of months. Please keep the info coming; I’m learning a lot!

    P.S. Where do you get your seeds? Is there a place online to order? What can you recommend?

    The best thing for pest control is you!  Everyday I check UNDER all the leaves of my plants to see what is lurking there and I hand pick them off and dispose of them.  A lot of people don’t know that they hide under the leaves not on top.  Encourage predator insects, ladybugs, lacewings and predator wasps – I do not use chemical pest control on the lawn or garden – I only use organic fertilizer and compost.  I also use raised beds and plant in pots so I have a variety of methods to utilize for planting.  I am not allowed a greenhouse where we live, so that makes life more difficult – in the UK I had one and it was the best for starting things early.  The raised beds work for me because the soild heats up faster and I can get my young plants out sooner – but it depends where you are in the country.  I also water and weed by hand and if I need to mulch something I use straw and not commercial mulch.  Most of my garden is landscaped for flowers and trees which I started when I first got here – but I am not going to turn more over to veg as it is a good thing to do in the economy.  An organic garden is wonderful, but it does take time and effort to keep it bug free, once you get into the routine then it is not bad at all.  I love gardening and find it therapeutic, it is also wonderful to involve the children they make great bug spotters, just teach them the good from the bad.  I also like Squarefoot Gardener and the Rodale books.  First thing to do is to check what planting zone you are in for your area and then I would do a soil test – you can get an inexpensive test at Lowes or any place like that.  Once you know what type of soil you have, you can amend it accordingly to get the best growing soil for your needs.  If you are in the far north or have snow on the ground you may have to wait to do that test.  Anyway, good luck it is a great thing to do.  Linda



    You’ve gotten great advice so far. We, too, love gardening. We’re in the Northern region of the U.S. however, so timelines and suggestions may be different for the south. You might find this website helpful. If you look under “INFORMATION” You will find a “Monthly To-Do List” for your garden. It will help you determine what to sow (whether plant or seed), what month is best, and means to harvest, etc.

    Enjoy Your Garden! ~ Heather


    Raised beds are very awesome. The soil just gets better and better over the years as you add compost. Also, you are less likely to churn up dormant grass and weed seeds from rototilling. The Square Foot Gardener is going to be a good resource for you. I usually get my seeds from a local farm store, but there is a ton more variety ordering from a place like Burpees. They also sell plants too. BTW, berries need a little time to get going – a year or two depending on size of plant and if you’re growing something like strawberries vs. raspberries or blueberries.

    Lindsey I only use non hybrid seeds, that is seeds I can collect seeds from as opposed to the hybrid seeds which are sterile and the ones you see in most of the stores.  My source for most of my seeds is

    and also

    Botanical Interests sell both hybrid and non hybrid so be careful to buy heirloom non hybrid seeds if you wish to collect and save your seeds. 

    Both websites are excellent and full of great info.  Hope this helps.  Linda

    An interesting thing is that the huge corporation Monsanto who are responsible for the Genetically Modified products are now trying to get the government to allow it to sell the terminator seed.  That seed would devastate all heirloom seeds eventually and render them sterile as well.  It would mean that Monsanto would have the monopoly of all seeds growing which in my mind is a very bad thing.  I would encourage all gardeners and people who care about what foods they eat to stick with non hybrid seeds to grow and oppose anything that is GM – the GM products will destroy all organic gardeners because you cannot control pollination – it is a large worry.  Sorry a bit political, but health and well being are important to me and my faily and I am sure they are to you too – so it pays to be aware.


    Linda is right! We need to do our best in not letting Monsanto control everything! GM is NOT the wave of the future!!

    I need help too! Thanks Lindsey for this post! Last yr we tried our first garden. Father inlaw tilled the ground for us. We have a huge patch. But we didn’t do too good! Our squash came out great! Some tomatoes and lots of zuchinni. However we had a few cucumbers then the rest turned out yellow??

    Then we had problems with weeds everywhere and then the grass grew back. We pulled and dug up to no avail. I thought tilling would help control some stuff. I know weeds will grow…seeds will travel and root to cause more weeds..but grass??

    I will definately get the books recommended! Do you think we just need to do raised beds? Do you just buy organic soil to fill them in? I suppose I will find out more!

    Please keep the answers coming! Oh, we planted onions, red bell peppers, runner beans(got a few of those) these did  not do well!

    You live and learn! But I felt like I waisted time and money!!

    2flowerboys, gardening is an exercise in trial and error – I was a very successful gardener in the UK – here I have been on  steep learning curve, as soild, climate and bugs are very different to what I am used to.  I have had many mistakes over the years I have been gardening and one piece of advice I would have is find out the items that grow well in your area – some areas are better than others for certain things – I got a book here about growing in Illinois and it was most helpful, maybe there is something like that for your area.  We also had heavy clay soil and I have spent a lot of time, energy and some money on amending it – now I have lots of earthworms and that is a very good sign.  Preparing a bed from scratch is hard work and I am a bit older so I find that these days raised beds work well for me, Here are 4 books that I refer to often are

    Gardening when it counts by Steve Solomon – it is A Mother Earth News book – this is great for those with little or no experience as well as more advanced gardeners

    Raised Bed Vegetable Gardening made simple by Raymond Nones – also ideal for the novice

    Great Garden Companions by Sally Jean Cunningham – a Rodale book which shows how to plant a chemical free garden – I highly recommend this as I do all these titles.

    finally I really recommend

    Storey’s Seed Sowing and Saving, which gives step by step instructions for collecting and growing 100s of veg, herbs and flowers and how to collect and save seed.

    I think these books would be a great start and may be all you really need to grow a great garden.  Blessings, Linda



    Well, we had a field trip this evening to a local organic farm. We have decided to go with raised beds rather than planting straight into the soil of our backyard. I am definitely going to look into your book suggestions! Thanks for those! I would appreciate any other helpful tips to help get us started. Thanks so much!


    I can recommend a couple of great sources for seeds.

    Fedco Seed – this is my number one seed shop, they don’t sell monsanto seeds, they sell very rare heirlooms, and their prices are the lowest – what a great combination LOL.  I find a lot of those beautiful heirloom seed catalogs to have very high priced seeds.  Fedco has a newsprint catalog, but you can look up illustrations online if you want – they are thrifty!

    Johnny’s Seeds is a great resource – if you want to avoid monsanto you can stick with the original Johnny’s varieties which are marked in the catolog.  Also the catalog/site is a great resource for gardeners.

    And last here is a plug for a small seed company in the south – that is not easy to come by LOL, and we southerners have special requirements that sometimes seed from Vermont and Washington State just can’t meet.  Wilhite is in Texas, and they specialize in watermelons but sell a few varieties of lots of other veggies in their catalog.  If you are a southerner, then give them a try!  I am a loyal customer.

    Have fun!

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