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Planning a Great Vegetable Garden for the First Time!

Reginald is a retired educator with a passion for gardening. For the past 30 years, he has proven techniques and loves sharing with others.

There is nothing better than eating fresh vegetables that you grow yourself. Gardening is a great hobby for young and old alike. This article is all about planning a great vegetable garden for the first time. I will show you step-by-step some great ideas to follow for you to have a successful garden.

I am writing this article as I start to build my own garden in my backyard. You will be able to see each phase of the planning process. By the end of this article, you’ll see how my plan is ready for spring planting.

Here's a look at the new garden area I mapped out.

Here's a look at the new garden area I mapped out.

Plotting Your Garden's Outline

When you start thinking about your garden, take lots of time to plan. I plan my garden for the next spring during the winter months. Outline what your goals are for this project. From this outline, make a project list to complete.

Next, take your project list and, with your calendar, map out a weekly schedule for the projects to get done. If you don’t make a well-planned schedule, you will find yourself working a garden by the seat of your pants. This results in missing many important steps along the way.

Below is a list of seven important steps we will cover in this article.

How to Plan a New Vegetable Garden

  1. Choose a location
  2. Map out the area
  3. Build a frame to level the slope
  4. Bring infill
  5. Build raised beds
  6. Fill the raised beds
  7. Plan the vegetables to be planted

Location, Location, Location!

The first thing you need to do in planning a vegetable garden is to choose the best location. Many people forget or disregard this most important aspect of growing vegetables.

Understand that almost all of your vegetable plants require six to eight hours of good sunlight. If you ignore this first step, you will deprive your plants of the growing medium's proper amount.

Below is a list of location tips for your garden.

  • Study the area and track the sun during the day.
  • Stay away from shady areas (trees, large bushes).
  • Build away from the house or building that produces shade or shadow.
  • Try and avoid building your garden on a hill or slope.
  • Aim for it to be close to a water source.

Mapping Out Your Garden Area

Planning a vegetable garden includes working around the existing conditions on the property. Determine how big you want your garden to be. If you are new to gardening, you may want to start small. If you have a large garden and cannot spend the necessary time, you will waste time and money.

The photo earlier in the article shows the area that I picked out. It is an area around 20' by 20' expandable. This will give my garden the optimal amount of sunlight.

The problem with this location is that it is on a slope. To rectify this situation, I needed to level the area for my garden area. I was able to find someone to donate a few truckloads of fill to the spot. The fill was dirt and rocks not suitable for the garden plants. The reason for the fill was to make the sloped area level for the garden.

Before the fill was brought in, I built a frame 14’ wide by 7’ long. This would not be the garden but part of it. The photo shows the slope of the area. It also shows the raised frame area and how one of the raised beds sets on top of the frame.

Here's a look at the frame I set up for my garden.

Here's a look at the frame I set up for my garden.

Building a Frame to Level the Slope

Look at the photo above and notice how the area is a bit of a slope. The plan for this dilemma was to level the surface with additional fill brought in from outside.

You may not have this problem, but I include it here for the readers that may have a similar situation.

I used two 14’ long pressure-treated boards. The boards are 12 inches wide. I used one for the back and cut the second one in half for the sides.

After leveling the frame, three metal spikes were pounded into the ground in the back for support of the frame. This is a must, as the frame's back must be supported for all of the fill coming in. Without the spikes, it would allow the long 14’ board to develop a big bow.

Bringing in Material

The next step is to level out the dirt fill. This was a simple raking process. It didn’t take long and the result was fantastic. Later, I plan to mulch the entire dirt area.

After the area was raked, I left it for a few days. The reason for this was to let the dirt settle. The weather helped because it rained both days.

Most home properties do not have suitable soil for gardening. There are two options for the home gardener:

  1. Travel to your local garden outlet and purchase your materials. These come in bags of assorted weights. This is good if you only need small amounts of garden soil, manure, or peat moss.
  2. Purchasing large amounts of materials such as mulch, compost, or garden soil by the yard is a less expensive option. These materials can be delivered through a local garden supply company.

Gardening is great fun if you plan ahead!

Planning a Vegetable Garden With Raised Beds

One of the best systems of gardening for the homeowner is using raised beds. This section will show you how I took an area out back and built a few raised beds.

A raised garden bed is a box that is set on the ground filled with soil for your plants. The size and dimensions will be determined according to the overall size of the garden space.

Advantages of Raised Beds

Having a raised garden gives the beginning-to-intermediate gardener several advantages.

  • Control of limited space
  • Unlimited design possibilities
  • Allows you to work on them at a good height
  • Improve poor existing soil conditions

Raised beds can be made using various methods. (concrete blocks, wood, metal containers)

For my space, I built 4 boxes measuring 4’ x 8’ x 12". Each box was constructed of 2" x 12" x 8' pressure treated lumber for the sides. The ends were 2" x 12" x 4'.

After the four boxes were built, I stacked each one. The height of both is 24”. This gives me the optimal height to work on them without getting down on the ground.

I chose the 4' x 8' size for two reasons:

  1. When buying lumber, the 8' size is a common length and easier to work with.
  2. Two raised beds of this size will give me a good amount of growing space for many vegetables. Each year is an expansion of the garden if I choose to.

Materials and Tools List

  • Box of 2 1/2" all-purpose screws
  • (12) 2" x 12" x 8' long (pressure treated)
  • (6) 2” x 4” x 8’ long (pressure treated)
  • Garden rake
  • Hammer
  • Sledgehammer
  • Power drill
  • Power saw
  • Level

Filling the Raised Beds

After you have your raised beds constructed, set them on a level area. Added strength for the boxes can be achieved by cutting the 2 x 4s in half. Next, take a saw and cut the corners off, providing a pointed end. Pound the pointed end into the ground at each corner of the beds. Secure the supports by using 2 1/2 “ screws.

The second most important item for the success your garden is the soil. The soil that you have will determine whether you have a good crop or not.

We are now ready to start filling the boxes. Remember that one of the main reasons for a raised bed of this type is for height. Don’t start filling them with expensive garden or potting soil. This would be a wasted expense. The beds should be filled with layered materials. Follow the formula below.

5 Layers of Soil You'll Need

First Layer: Look around your property and collect any old branches, leaves, grass clippings, and put them in the bottom of your beds. This will be layer number one. If your box is 24” deep, you can use up to 8” of the materials that will compost down over time.

Second Layer: The second layer can be sand, clay soil. Depending on what you have on your property, you can decide if trucking in dirt and or sand is for your project. You may want to purchase soil from Lowe’s or Home Depot. This layer can be about 2 inches.

Third Layer: This next layer for your raised bed should be a good amount of compost and peat moss. Compost provides organic materials for your vegetables. Peat moss is a material that helps keep moisture in the soil. For a raised bed measuring 4' x 8', you can add 6–8 inches of compost.

Fourth Layer: The fourth layer of material should be about 2 inches of good potting soil that contains vermiculite.

Final Layer: This final layer is the last step after all of your vegetables are planted. The material is mulch and serves three important functions:

  • Helps to keep the top layer from drying out
  • Helps keep weeds under control
  • Gives your garden a nice uniform look

Garden mulch comes in a variety of grades and colors. The most popular is black. For a raised bed of 4' x 8', you will need approximately two to three bags.

The First Layer for the Raised Bed

The First Layer for the Raised Bed

Planning for Your Vegetable Planting

If this will be your first season for your garden, let me recommend again to start out small. Don’t try to plant every vegetable that you know. That would be a disaster. You would not be a happy gardener and may not to grow vegetables a second season.

Stay with the old standbys: tomatoes, peppers, peas, cucumbers, etc. The key to planning what vegetables to plant is to learn as much as you can about each particular vegetable. This means when to plant them, how to plant them, and what vegetables grow well with others.

Once you learn the basics about your vegetables and how to grow them, you are on your way to having a great vegetable garden.

Ready for Spring!

Ready for Spring!

Gardening Is Your Personal Connection With Nature

Gardening is a great activity for anyone who loves growing flowers and vegetables. Follow the ideas in this article and see how planning a great vegetable garden for the first time will be an activity worth doing.

One last thought to leave you with: gardening is your personal connection with nature, while being rewarded for your efforts with delicious vegetables. Have fun with your new adventure.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Reginald Thomas

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