Planning Your First Garden


Our first garden was a little area on the side of our house where we grew a small variety of veggies (aka, I don’t remember what we grew…). We did really well…the first few weeks. I think most beginning gardeners deal with the same naive, over-optimism when it comes to planning their first garden. We were finally realistic with our expectations with our sixth garden. And we did so well that year, that we actually expanded the next year. We intend to expand again this year, too. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Planning for your first garden is exciting…and overwhelming. I have four tips for you to think about.

1. Location, location, location

Real estate is not the only market where the key phrase is “location, location, location.” Location is very important when planning your first garden. Most vegetables need at least 6-8 hours of sunlight each day. There really is no replacement for sunlight when it comes to gardening. You are not limited to an open field, though.

Watch your space, but keep in mind that if you are doing this now, the sun does change positions throughout the year. What you want to watch for is tall objects and the shadows they cast, areas where water puddles (to avoid), and where the natural traffic flow is for animals (and humans). If you plant your garden where the dog routinely walks, guess what? The dog WILL walk through your garden. Planning your first garden with these things in mind will save you some headaches in the long run.

If you don’t have enough open space, look into container gardening (be sure to check out her follow-up post, too), vertical gardening, windowsill gardening, or urban gardening. If you don’t have a space that isn’t sopping wet, build a raised bed to get your plants’ feet out of the puddle. There are lots of ideas floating around Pinterest, check those out for inspiration, too.

2. Size Does Matter

Um, gardens, people. Gardens. Sheesh. As I mentioned before, I am notoriously over-optimistic when it comes to how much garden we can handle. Ultimately, we hope to produce much of what we eat here on our one acre homestead. Learn from my experience. Start with less than you think you can handle, unless you think you can’t handle anything, then start with a 4’x8′ bed. Nothing ruins the gardening experience better than losing control of weeding and losing all the time and money you invested. Trust me.

3. Plant What You Eat

Tomatoes are fun to grow. They come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and even flavors, especially heirloom varieties. But if you don’t like tomatoes or eat food with tomatoes in it, you are wasting your time and space. I know it is tempting to think “well, I don’t eat them now, but I will when I grow them…” You won’t.

Plant what you eat, not what you think you should be eating. Trying new things is fun. Shopping all the things you can grow in your first garden is fun. Rotten veggies that you invested time and money into is not fun. It does nothing to inspire your gardening efforts. Try new varieties and veggies next year. This year’s new thing is planning and growing the garden itself.

4. Easy Does It

Now, let me expound upon number three. You also want easy to grow. Zucchini is easy to grow and it is a prolific plant. However, zucchini plants are prone to squash bugs. Want to know how I feel about squash bugs? Ahem. I would avoid plants that are prone to these buggers your first year and read all you can about natural pest control in the garden (please, please, please do not use pesticides or such chemicals in your garden).

Tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers are all relatively easy to grow. So is lettuce and spinach (green smoothies, anyone?). Root veggies take a little extra ground work at the beginning, but keep well once harvested in the fall.

Remember that everything you plant in your garden is going to need watered and weeded. Raised beds and mulching help you out in this area tremendously. Trust me on that one, too.


Bonus Tip #1

Keep a garden journal. I don’t, so this may seem hypocritical advice to some. To that I say, learn from my mistake! I intend to start one in my home management binder this year. I can’t tell you how much I wish I could reference notes about our past successes, failures, pest problems, yields, etc. I’m not talking anything elaborate or pretty, though if that’s your thing, go for it. A spiral bound notebook will work just fine.

Bonus Tip #2

Raised beds. Build them, fill them, use them. They make gardening infinitely better and easier.

Bonus Tip #3

If you find a snake in one of your garden beds, go right back out the next day. You probably scared him off when you ran screaming out of the garden the day before anyways…

{Good Reads} for Planning Your First Garden

Wondering where to buy seeds and transplants? I’ll cover that on Monday. I’ll see you then!

Related posts here on ye ol’ blog:

I’m linking this post up to Encourage One Another at Deep Roots at Home, Wellness Wednesday at Intoxicated on Life, and Hearts at Home on Upside Down Homeschooling.

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  1. We’re in the throes and garden planning again (and dreaming, pinning, and slamming ourselves back down to reality!) too. My biggest issue (besides all the work!) is planting too much–I don’t pickle, so I only need to plant enough cucumbers to eat over the summer. I DO want to can tomato sauce, so I have to figure out how much extra to plant this year. We’re constantly adjusting.

    • It is a constant adjustment. We had 75 tomato plants last year and we had tomatoes out our ears. I ended up losing a bunch of the harvest because I had never canned tomato sauce before and was not prepared with the right equipment. This year, a food mill will be purchased to help deseed my tomato sauce. 🙂

  2. All very good advice. We will be starting a garden this Spring and I could use all the help I can get. 🙂

    • Thank you! Have you given any thought to what you will be growing? The planning is my very favorite part of gardening…well, actually it’s my favorite part of anything really.

  3. Fantastic advice on garden planting! I’ll be sharing this post with my facebook readers. I’m sure many of them will find it very interesting. Thanks for linking this up on Wellness Wednesdays @ Hope to see you next Wednesday! 🙂

  4. Thanks for the advice! Very helpful! I’ve been thinking about starting a garden for years but this is the year! Great to know to plant what I will eat and not what I hope to eat and to avoid where the dogs wander 🙂


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