The best way to install a low-budget vegetable garden is to choose a spot that gets at least six hours of sunlight every day.
How big should a new vegetable garden be
How Big to Make Your New Garden Think about how big to make your new garden. I suggest a 10-foot by 10-foot or 12-foot by 12-foot garden to start…at most. That gives you enough room to grow some staple crops without getting too far in over your head. Start smaller if you live alone or you’re worried it will be too much work. You can always make it bigger in subsequent years. It doesn’t have to be a perfect square either; any shape will do.
How to start a vegetable garden
Now that you’ve selected a location, let’s go through the steps for the quickest way to install a new vegetable garden. This plan barely costs anything and yet still allows you to produce fresh veggies for your family as soon as 30 days after installation.
Preparing soil for a new garden
Instead of layering materials like grass clippings, leaves, straw, compost and shredded newspaper to create a new garden bed (a process which can take time and a lot of materials, which may not all be free), you can build framed raised beds. This task requires building skills and building materials, and it can be costly to purchase enough soil to fill the beds.
Step 1: Remove the sod
If you want to know how to start a vegetable garden quickly, you will have to lift sod. It is not fun, but it is essential.
I recommend using a flat-bladed spade (mine has a short, D-shaped handle which makes the job easier) to cut the sod into strips that are only slightly wider than the shovel’s blade. Start around the outside of the garden and work your way toward the middle, cutting it into strips. You don’t have to cut down very deep; maybe about 3 inches.
After cutting the sod into strips, use the blade of the spade to pry up the sod in short, jabbing motions. Roll each strip up as you continue to slice the sod roots beneath it. Sitting on the ground will make this process easier on your back.
Shake the rolls to remove any excess dirt before picking them up and transporting them in a wheelbarrow. You can use the rolls to fill in gaps in your lawn, start a compost pile, or create a new lasagna garden bed for planting next season.
Step 2: Amend the soil
The best way to start a vegetable garden is to remove the sod and then fertilize the soil. You can get your soil tested to see what nutrients it is lacking, but this is not necessary. It is more important to focus on making the soil more fertile. This will be beneficial no matter what kind of soil you have to start with.
The only other thing you might have to spend money on, in addition to buying plants and seeds for your new vegetable garden, is something that is essential for a garden that will grow well and produce results.
After removing the sod, spread an inch of compost over the soil. This can be your own compost if you have a bin, leaf compost from municipalities (which may be free), or compost from a nursery or landscape company.
Using the bags of topsoil, create a one-inch layer of topsoil over the entire surface of the garden.
Step 3: Turn the soil
Sod areas are compacted and turning the soil when installing a new vegetable garden loosens it quickly and works the compost down closer to the root zone of your future plants. This is a controversial step, especially for experienced gardeners who have decided to no longer turn the soil to prevent the destruction of soil microbes and other soil life. However, when you’re starting a new vegetable garden on a previously sodded area and you need to get growing fast, it’s a step you’ll want to take.
To prepare the area for planting, first use a shovel to break up any large clumps of soil by hand. Then, use a rake to smooth out the area.
After you’ve finished install your new plants, it’s important to lay down a layer of mulch. This will help prevent weeds and protect your plants.
If you want your new garden to be low-maintenance and weed-free, now is the time to take preventative measures against weeds. This is a crucial step when learning how to start a vegetable garden, because weeds are what often cause people to abandon their garden halfway through the growing season.
Mulching is a process of covering the surface of the soil with a material, which can be done with lots of different materials. Newspaper is a recommended material to start with, as it should be spread across the entire garden about 10 sheets thick. If necessary, get it from your neighbor.Cover the garden with a layer of newspaper or paper grocery bags. Wet the paper down to hold it in place.I used last year’s dried leaves on top of the newspaper, but you could also use a bale of straw from a feed store or grass clippings you collect from your lawn.
Next spring, the paper will have been broken down by microbes and a new layer can be added. Only after the new layer is in place is it time to plant your new garden.
How to Build Your Raised Garden Bed
- Drill/driver and bits, screwdriver
- If cutting the planks yourself (vs. lumber store): Hand saw, tape measure
- For a 4×8 foot bed, get 3 pieces of 8-foot long 2”x6” lumber. If they have 2”x8” or 2”x10” lumber, even better. For a 4×4 bed, get 2 pieces of lumber.
- If you don’t have a saw, ask the guys at the lumber yard to cut the pieces in half. For the 4×8 foot bed, cut one of the pieces in half for you giving you two 4-foot lengths to use for the ends. For the 4×4 bed, cut both pieces in half.
- Deck/exterior screws
- To make it stronger, use a piece of 2X4 or 4X4 in the corners to give you something stable to nail or screw into rather than the end grain of the board.
Make the Bed Sides
- If your two 8-foot long boards were not pre-cut at the lumber store, mark off the halfway point and cut each plank in half for a 4 ft x 4-foot bed. Then you’ll have four planks.
- You’ll screw the planks together using decking screws. Two holes at the end of each plank are sufficient. Drill pilot holes using a drill bit slightly thinner than the screws themselves. One end of each plank will overlap the end of the next and screw directly into it, so position your pilot holes correspondingly. It is easier if you have a helper to hold it while you fasten the corners.
- If you’d like extra bracing and a sturdier frame, cut your pine stake into four pieces and use them to nail the boards at the corners for bracing.
Assemble the Raised Bed
We have cut all the wood to size and drilled all the holes, so now we can start assembling the bed.
- Lay down the beds. The walls need to be laid out so that each plank overlaps the next with the pilot holes located at the overlapping end.
- Screw the walls together with long screws so that each wall is probably secured to the next.
Fill the Bed
- Fill your bed with a nutrient-rich compost mix (homemade or commercially-produced).
- Then, top the compost with enriched topsoil specially formulated for vegetable gardening. It has a fine texture to allow for immediate sowing and planting.
- Fill your beds all the way up! The soil will settle, especially with watering. As it settles, you can always top it off with compost.
You’re all set! Your bed is ready for planting seeds.
What to Plant in Raised Beds
If you are just starting out gardening, we recommend that you start with one raised bed. Try growing some of your favorite vegetables. Four or five raised beds grouped together make a good-sized garden.
The amount you can grow is limited by the depth of the soil. This includes the depth of your raised bed plus the depth of the soil you’ve loosened below ground.
What grows well in 6” soil depth:
are examples of plants grown as cool season crops Some examples of plants that are grown as cool season crops include lettuce, salad greens, spinach, onions, leeks, radishes, strawberries, basil, chives, cilantro, dill, mint, oregano, parsley, thyme, marigolds, and other annual flowers.
What grows well in 12” soil depth:
Beans, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cantaloupe, carrots, cauliflower, collards, cucumbers, garlic, kale, summer squash, Swiss chard, turnips, lavender, rosemary, sage, borage, calendula, cosmos, lantana, nasturtiums, snapdragons, sweet alyssum are all plants that can be grown in six inches of soil (plus everything in the six inch list).
What grows well in 18” soil depth:
all love hot weather. There are a variety of vegetables that love hot weather including eggplant, okra, peppers, pumpkins sweet potatoes, tomatoes, watermelon, and winter squash.
Some vegetables are best grown from seed, while others, like tomatoes and peppers, do better as young starter plants.
Benefits of Raised Garden Beds
There are many reasons to garden in raised beds.
- They drain well and help prevent erosion.
- They warm up early in the spring and give you a longer growing season since the soil raised above the ground warms up more quickly.
- Raised beds give you control over the soil you put in them making it possible to plant intensively; plants grown close together in raised beds mature faster.
- They keep weeds from taking over because the beds are elevated away from surrounding weeds and filled with disease- and weed-free soil.
- Since you are not walking in the bed, the soil doesn’t get compacted and stays loose without the need for backbreaking digging every spring. Raised beds help to keep things organized and in check.
- Garden chores are made easier and more comfortable thanks to less bending and kneeling. Save your knees and back from the strain and pain of tending the garden!
- Raised beds are ideal for small spaces where a conventional row garden might be too wild and unwieldy.
- It is easier to separate and rotate crops each year.
- Raised beds allow for easier square-foot gardening and companion planting.
How Wide Should Your Raised Bed Be?
To make it easy to access your garden without stepping into the beds, keep them no wider than four feet. This conveniently lines up with the standard lumber width, which is also four feet.
- Stepping into the bed is a no-no. It compacts the soil, making it harder for plant roots to get the oxygen they need. Making the bed too wide will also make it difficult to reach the middle, which makes weeding and harvesting difficult, too.
- If your raised bed is being built against a wall or fence, we recommend making it narrower than 4 feet (2 to 3 feet wide), since you’ll only be able to access the garden from one side.
You don’t need a long bed to grow crops. You can make a bed that is 4×4, 4×8, or 4×12. It is easier to have several shorter beds than one long one. Also, it is best to have separate beds for different crop families.