Starting a Garden: For the Beginner


Do you know what my number one favorite reason for gardening is? (Ok, I have like FIFTY number one reasons but this one is pretty high up there)

I get to save BOO-KOO bucks on the grocery bill.
And it’s incredibly rewarding to grow your own food.
…And it makes me feel closer to nature and God.
…….And because I can grow organically and not have to worry about pesticides and herbicides.

Oh ya, I was just going to give you ONE reason. Ha!

But seriously, there are few things as rewarding (according to a plant-loving, nature nut like myself) as growing a garden.

I love to give this example when someone asks me about starting a garden.
Take a tomato plant, and say it is the only thing you grow. Your costs will come down to:

Seed packet: $2.49 (which alone can grow 75 or more plants)
Average amount of tomatoes from one plant (medium sized tomato): 60
Cost of 1 tomato from the grocery store: $.75-$1.00
So by growing just ONE plant, you could save, at the very least,
(60 tomatoes x $.75)= $45
-$2.49 seed packet= $42.51

This doesn’t include watering or fertilizing costs I know, but you get the general idea.
This is ONE plant… And you can use that tomato plant to make sauces, canned tomatoes, ketchup…all of which cost even more than just fresh tomatoes do at the grocery store.

So don’t doubt yourself, GROW something!

There are A TON of ways you can plant a garden, or grow your own food. Some of which I will talk about later, in other posts.
Today, I’m going to discuss planting in the ground and how I began.

Disclaimer: I have had some serious “failure” gardens. Mainly because I was young and didn’t realize what I was doing at the time. So this is based off PURE, RAW experience ha!


1) Figure out WHERE you’re going to plant your garden

Most gardens are going to require full sun. The amount of sunlight that is considered “Full Sun” can differ based on who you talk to.
Personally, I choose my garden plot according to which plants need more or less sunlight.
(Example: Lettuce needs full sun, but can easily grow in around 6 hours of sunlight. Whereas if you want to grow sweet corn or peppers, they need ALL the sun they can get. So place your garden where it will get 8-10 hours of sun if you want to grow high sun requirement crops.)

There are some really cool garden designs out there, that are in partial-sun (around 6 hours of sun). You have a smaller variety of plant options for those types of gardens, but if you’re limited on sun, a partial-sun design could be a great choice for you. I’ll have more on those types of gardens later.

2) You need to think about what you’re going to grow and more realistically, how much you can manage

Trust me. There is NO shame in starting out with a 5×5 garden plot, and simply having some carrots, lettuce and potatoes.
I feel that so many people think they can’t garden, because they have the misconception that to have one, they need 10-15 different varieties of vegetables and fruits. But that just isn’t the case.

Funny story: When I was 13 or 14 years old, my mom and dad decided to forgo planting their usual garden for that summer. So I took the initiative and bought seeds thinking I could plant and take care of the garden that year (this would be my first time ever gardening solo by the way). My dad would usually till up an area 5 feet wide by almost 25 feet long, so how much ground did I till up that year? 5 feet wide by 25 feet long, of course. Long story short, I planted about 10 different varieties of vegetables, and I think I got squash and zucchini to grow; and the rest turned into a giant weed bed, that my dad ended up just mowing down in mid-July. Ha!

DON’T HAVE THAT WEED BED! Plan ahead by thinking of maybe the top 5 vegetables you eat the most of. You’ll have more of an incentive to upkeep your garden when you’re growing things you’ll actually use.
For example, I know what I’d do with onions. Rutabaga? Not so much.

3)Once you decide how much time, and money for that matter, you can dedicate to your garden, take your chosen plants and draw out each one’s required spacing needs.

Determining plant spacing will help you determine how big or small of a space you need to till up. (Or you can use no-till methods, which are my favorite)

PLEASE don’t go out to your garden, till up a 30ft x 30ft plot and THEN sit down and figure out what you’re going to plant. You’ll save yourself a lot of time, hassle, and headaches by doing some pre-planning.

If you have plants in mind that you want to grow look up their spacing requirements online or in your seed catalog.
I use the same seed companies every year, and can look up exactly exactly how I need to space my plants by going to their websites.

If you’re saying to yourself:”Well, don’t I need a box or some sort of shape to be able to draw out how much space each plant will take up?”

I don’t want you to PLAN your rows right now. I simply want you to figure out how much space you need for your garden and to take it slow. Don’t think “What about companion planting?” “What about plants that don’t grow well together?” “What about drawing things to scale?”
Start on one end of a piece of paper, like so

And just start placing plants based on spacing and how many you want to grow, or think you can handle.
We’ll get to plant placement and garden design in a little bit.

Side Note: If you have already tilled up a garden plot, or you only have a certain amount of space, and are concerned about what to do next, don’t worry; you will simply need to begin thinking about spacing and your garden layout while you’re figuring out what you want to grow. Again, start with the top 5 vegetables and/or fruits you use the most of and go from there.

My home garden layout, pictured above.

4) Designing your Garden Layout
This will be its own post at some point, because I do not set up my garden the “easy” way. I use square foot gardening techniques because I concentrate on getting every possible iota of good growing space out of my garden, and straight rows don’t meet those requirements for me.
I am going to show you a basic square foot gardening set up.

Take your rough garden plan and calculate up about how wide and how long of a space you’re going to need.
(I’m going to do this based on our example)
Squash will require 6ft x 6ft to grow
Carrots- 1ft x 5ft
Onions- 1ft x 5ft
Tomato- 3ft x 3ft
Pepper- 3ft x 3ft
Potatoes- 2ft x 6ft.

//Math Skills Required Here\\
(6×6)+(1×5)+(1×5)+(3×3)+(3×3)+(2×6)= 76 square feet

This is only adding what space you need to grow these vegetables. We will also need to add in some walking paths between each plant.
I eventually want to put in permanent walking paths throughout my garden, but I change my mind constantly, so at this point, I haven’t found exactly what will work within my own garden so temporary paths it is!

My general rule of thumb is 1 foot between each row of plants.
There are 2 sides per plant, so take however many varieties you have and multiply it by 2.
To go back to the above example: 6 varieties x 2 = 12 feet of row spacing needed

76 square feet for plant space + 12 feet for row spacing= 88 square feet

Now just need to figure out the most even spacing (in this example we’re going to do 8ft x 11ft)

Now, you can go ahead and place your crops according to your spacing requirements.
In this example, it may seem like I didn’t leave space between my squash, potatoes, and pepper plant, and between my tomato plant and onions, but when you’re planting something in a single row (like onions or potatoes) the 1 foot spacing between plants is more of a guideline, than a set rule. (Cue Pirates of the Caribbean theme music) <<YouTube-The Code to this link ha!

Use a piece of grid paper when you’re placing your crops. Then you don’t have to worry about using a ruler to keep things “to scale”.
(To Scale means- measurements taken outside to be drawn in a much smaller dimension on paper, but in equal proportions)
It’s common for landscapers to use a 1:10 ratio. So for every 10 feet outside, it equals 1 inch on paper.
That ratio is mainly for large scale landscape work and not for the small time garden.

I use a 1/4:1 ratio.
So for every foot outside, it equals 1/4 inch on a ruler.
This way I can add detailed lines to my garden plan. I’m extremely picky and precise when it comes to drawing out my plan to scale, and honestly everyone should be.

NOTE:I did not use grid paper for my home garden plan or for the example garden (what a pain, I tell you!) and just drew out my garden according to scale, which you can also do, it just takes a little more time.

I love this part, as I’m sure most people do…even first time gardeners!
I love flipping through my seed catalogs and researching the varieties of plants I want to grow that year!
I use Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and love them. They’re an heirloom, Non-GMO, Non-Monsanto owned seed company. They have some awesome varieties to choose from, and what I can’t buy from them, I get from Seed Savers Exchange

If you don’t want to order online, your local nurseries will have whatever you are looking for.

6)Start Seeds Indoors
Depending on what vegetables or fruits you want to grow, you may need to start seeds indoors well before they need to go outside.
Look on your seed packets, go online, order a “gardening book” or keep reading my blog to determine which plants you need to start indoors. Majority of plants can be started inside, but on the flip side, a majority of crops grown as transplants, can easily be sown directly into the garden.

7)Keep Good Records
I know what you’re thinking. “If I’m only going to grow a few vegetables, why do I need to keep records?”
If you’re growing 1 pepper plant, I’m going to tell you to keep records!
If you’re “not a detailed person”, keep records.
If you have a photographic memory, keep records.
If you’ve got the best data entry/knowledgeable/record holding brain on the planet, KEEP RECORDS.

Records are so very important. Why?
So if something totally fails, you have a physical, documented source as to WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, HOW, AND WHY.
Did you not water enough? Did your garden plot not get enough sun? Did you not fertilize correctly? Did it freeze? Was that variety/cultivar not suited for your soil? Was it a cloudy, cold summer?

You also will have records if a plant totally rocks your socks off!
Did it yield a crazy amount of produce for you? Was it drought tolerant? Did it grow like crazy, regardless of fertilizer? Was it an easy plant to take care? Was the flavor outstanding?

Trust me. Once you start gardening, it’s an addiction. And every year, you’re going to say “I could probably grow juuuuuuuust a couple more things”. Then pretty soon, you’re like me, and you want to turn every nook and cranny into a vegetable bed (God bless my husband for his patience and handyman skills) How are you going to remember what varieties you liked the best or the worst, if you don’t keep records? You won’t.
I have a really high tech system.
It’s called: 3-Ring-Binder.
Fancy, I know.

But hey, that works for me!

Let me know what start up gardening tips you have for me and for others!

Any totally epic fail “1st Time Gardening” stories? Shoot me an email or comment below!

Starting a Garden: For the Beginnger
Article Name
Starting a Garden: For the Beginnger
7 steps to starting a garden. Step by step detailed process to starting a garden and why you should grow and have one.
Publisher Name
The Blooming Mama

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