New to Veg Gardening? Two Points to Consider

Note: This is the first in a 2010 veg garden series for new gardeners. The second post, about county/parish extension offices, is here.

Veggie gardens are getting a lot of press here in the states, but that doesn’t mean that one should just grab some seed, a shovel and start digging. Well, you could… but then you might make some amateur mistakes that lead to disappointment. And we definitely don’t want that!

Two big things to consider before you start:

1. Support – Do you have the right support network in place for your endeavor? Do you know where you’ll turn if you have a question? Your local Cooperative Extension office can provide you with information on what will (and what won’t) grow where you live.

Books are helpful, too, but remember that what works where the author resides isn’t necessarily going to grow where you live. So go ahead and enjoy the pretty pictures of the latest gardening bestseller, but also make a point to look for books, blogs, online groups and magazines tailored to your region for the most useful, relevant scoop. (Libraries are a terrific source for these materials!)

2. Location – Speaking of region, do you know your zone? It’s a vital piece of information since where you live determines what will grow optimally in your lawn or on your patio. Most gardeners dig the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, but others of us (myself included) prefer the more subtly detailed Sunset Climate Zone Maps.

More information of use to new gardeners:
How to Read a Seed Packet (
Planning Your First Vegetable Garden (

Have a tip to add? Feel free to weigh in. (Links to relevant blog posts are welcome, too.)


  1. Awesome responses via Twitter:

    @getinthegarden Advice for newbies: Keep a journal!!

    @BikeGarden newbie advice: start small.

    @badgerpendous potential New Gardener tip: it’s ok to fail, to be lazy, to experiment. Just have fun.

    @susancohan The most important ‘newbie’ advice I ever got — be patient.

  2. Pamela – A few thoughts about your 2010 garden posts , way too long for a tweet.

    Last year was my first to garden. Last year was an AWFUL year to start learning to garden in Texas. So this year I have just as many questions as last year. There must be lots of others out there like me . . . .SO. . . .here are a few ideas for you to think about when you’re writing …..

    lots of real basic stuff. . . . .

    SOIL ISSUES – – – Is it okay re-use the same soil that’s already in the garden from last year – or is it necessary to buy new soil? Maybe it works to add compost and /or other ingredients to recondition that old soil? Does soil get used up in a year?

    INSECTS – – – How bad do we let the bugs get before we run crying to a nursery for help? Last year, before I knew better, I was killing ladybug larvae (yeah, yeah, I know NOW, but I was way too ignorant of good bugs vs bad bugs) But I still had plenty of bad bugs.

    WATERING – – – HOW to determine how much to water? Last year it was impossible to water enough, so now how do you judge watering?

    • If it makes you feel better, I consider 2009 a “learning year.” Lots of headaches for lots of people here, even “advanced” gardeners.

      Re: soil, I don’t know particulars of your situation (including where you live), but adding compost is ALWAYS a good idea here. I know one blogger (Hippy Chick) who adds it 2 or 3 times a year. That’s what my raised beds need here in NW Bexar. (She’s near Austin.) Most traditional garden books will tell you to send a soil sample to your extension office for testing, but that just seems silly to me. An inch or two of good compost mixed in seems safe, in general, before one plants. I’d add some in the summer-when stuff dies off anyway–and then again in the fall.

      Re: insects, Again a “it depends” issue. This is where traditionalists will tell you to reach for the insecticide, but I say look those critters up online the minute you see them and seek options. Most of the time, that involves squishing the bad bugs or similar. If you create a journal or blog where you document what you find, that can help you the following year.

      Re: watering… AHA! Finally, an easy one. I like to check levels by putting a finger in soil, much like you would to test a cake. If it comes out clean, it’s too dry. You want to address water issue somewhere between muddy finger and dry.

  3. Oh, and Cindy… if you’re interested, there’s a really good book called “The Southern Kitchen Garden” by Adams and LeRoy. It’s Texas-centric and very handy. Plus, it’s short and to the point!

  4. I love Countryside magazine for “how to” type articles (and yes, I like to read the want-ads and letters too LOL), and Mother Earth News for some more local ideas. I make a habit of splurging on two gardening magazines per month, which then go into the bathroom, where all good reading material resides. *chuckle*

    Don’t be afraid to experiment! I’m not so experienced, but my other half is VERY experienced, and last year we tried new varieties of many things. We discovered a green bean that will last through anything SW New England will throw at it, and a cherry tomato that is almost as big as regular tomatoes and is unaffected by blight. We found these things out because, when we ordered seed last January, we looked and said, “Hey, let’s try this one!” Experimentation is fantastic if you keep good records. 🙂

    Ask neighbors what they plant. We happen to live in farming area, so that’s good for us, but almost every neighborhood has at least one backyard gardener. I assure you that just about every backyard gardener WANTS to show off their stuff, so if you go over you’ll get The Tour, and a lot of advice.

    Re soil… We’re in NE with Connecticut River bottom soil, so it isn’t so bad, but we come from southern Pennsylvania originally, where they grow rocks, not soil or plants. 😉 We would go out every February (after the worst of the cold but long before the frost went away) and get truckload upon truckload of manure from whatever local farmer wanted to get rid of it. If you have horse people near you, I guarantee you’ll get free manure for your garden. Once you get it back you can pile it neatly for use over the summer, or you can drive your truck over your frozen fields, and “FLING POO” which will then defrost and get mulched under come warmer weather.

    Start getting your groceries in paper bags. Not only is it better for the environment, those bags are not throw away or even fire starter – they’re MULCH. Open the bags out and put them down over pathways, between plants, around the stems of tomato plants to help avoid cutworms… and the rain and such will eventually turn them into food for your soil. 🙂

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