Focus on what you’d really like to eat
What do you and your family really enjoy eating? This is going to be an important question for any beginner vegetable gardener. You’re going to need something to sustain your interest and there’s nothing that’s going to motivate you more than the end product. Don’t take on too much at first – choose a maximum of five or ten vegetable varieties and aim at growing them well.
That’s plenty to start with. Make a list. Get to know main vegetable family groups such as the onion (Alliaceae) family, the cabbage family (Brassicaceae), The potato and tomato family (Solanaceae) and the cucumber and pumpkin group (Cucurbitaceae). It’s going to be important to change your vegetables round on your plot on a regular basis (you can prevent diseases from building up in the soil) and this is known as crop rotation.
Attend to your soil
The quality of your produce will depend on how well you look after your soil. It’s important to find out what condition your soil is to start off with. Has your vegetable plot been tended before, or has it been derelict for a while? Is it stony? Have you got many weeds, and if you have, what kind of weeds are they? (Tap-rooted weeds like dandelions need to be removed completely or they will re-grow easily).
Is your soil very heavy (clay) or light, free-draining and sandy? Once you have removed weeds, consider improving your soil with well-rotted manure or compost that you have bought in. If you have heavy soil that becomes waterlogged easily, consider using raised beds. Improving the condition of your soil may take some time and these can prove helpful for a beginner.
Location, location, location
Most vegetables need a sunny site and adequate amounts of water, especially when they are at the seedling stage. Observe the effects of sun and shade on your plot. This will help you decide how to design your vegetable patch and where to site your compost heaps, your shed and your water butts.
Seed packets or plug plants?
Growing vegetables from seed can be really exciting and it can also save you money, but when you’re starting out, there’s a lot to think about and plan – so consider making it easy on yourself in your first season and buying in some plug plants. That means you’ve one less job to do. Or even better, get to know your gardening neighbours, ask them for advice and they may even give you some spare plants as a gift. Gardeners like to pass on their know-how.
Get yourself a gardening calendar
Timing is really important in vegetable gardening. You need to make the most of sun, rain and daylight hours. When you start, get yourself a journal, a wall calendar or start a gardening blog. Take some photographs. Write down what you did that week in the garden, what sort of weather you had, how you did what you did, and how much money you spent on it. That way when next season comes around you can look back at the diary to check what worked for you. Keeping a journal or making notes on a calendar means that you won’t miss your planting windows.
Join a gardening club or association
Becoming a member of a recognised horticultural club gives you access to expertise and discounts to seeds and merchandise. You’ll also get moral support and encouragement from fellow gardeners – to guide you through the highs and lows of your first successes and failures.