Starting a New Vegetable Garden

Starting a new vegetable garden from scratch can be challenging if you aren’t sure where or how to start. I took a lot of photos to document how I started my new vegetable garden (and later when it was expanded), and now I want to share the process with you.

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Starting a New Vegetable Garden

Ever since I bought the house in 1994, my goals have been to restore all the gardens to their former glory. It’s the house I grew up in, so I have lots of photos and memories of how all the gardens looked after my parents bought the place in 1950. Now that the property is mine, each of the 10 gardens will be re-designed and updated with new techniques and new plantings – starting with the vegetable garden.

The vegetable garden is in the same spot where my dad had his vegetable garden – but my version is made using raised cedar beds. When I was a kid, the vegetable garden was in long rows running in a north to south direction.

Starting a new vegetable garden from scratch.

Orientation & microclimate

The above photo was taken facing south, and there is approximately 25′ or more of garden behind me to the north. The entire piece of property is fairly level, but moving down the street to the west (toward the right of the photo), the other properties on the street begin to slope downhill, ending in a fairly steep drop-off to a saltmarsh.

Behind me – to the north – is the next street over. Those properties that are adjacent to mine on the other side of the fence, are a 10′ drop down from my property.

The house to the west of the garden is a light blue, and mine is a light grey. What this means for the vegetable garden, is that the sun is reflected off both houses. This – in addition to the houses being about 75′ apart – means that the vegetable garden area stays warmer and is protected a little from the wind.

When the elevation of the property is added to the sun reflection from the houses, the garden has a perfect little microclimate.

Choosing the ideal spot

The ideal spot for starting a new vegetable garden is one that gets at least 6 hours of sun a day during the growing season. If you are starting your new vegetable garden in the early spring, you will have to estimate where and how much sun the area will get during summer. Do the best that you can, and pick the sunniest spot.

Another factor to keep in mind is the proximity of the area to a water source. Having a hose bib nearby is not only convenient, but is a necessity during the long, hot days of summer.

Raised Beds

One of the first things I did, was to move the compost bin closer to the back patio. You can see it to the far right in the photo above. That previous winter, the snow was about 3′ high, and the bin was too far away to get to easily. Now it’s at the edge of the patio, and easier to get to all year long.

Now that the compost bin was relocated, I planned out a 4′ wide path going from the patio through the center of the vegetable garden – wide enough to get a large wheelbarrow through.

Cedar, no-tools-needed cedar raised beds are used to make 4' x 8' raised beds.

Next, I bought a few boxes of no-tools-required cedar raised bed kits. Each box will make a 4′ x 4′ bed, but I put two kits together and made 4′ x 8′ beds. The goal is to have four 4′ x 8′ beds; a 4′ wide path; and then another four 4′ x 8′ beds to the north of the path. I am laying down pieces of slate that I had scattered all over the place, and using it to make paths between the raised beds.

Two cedar raised beds are in place, and a third will be next.

Double Digging

After three hours of digging, assembling and moving rock, I got two beds put in. Both were double dug as well. Double digging is digging down one shovel-full of soil and putting it aside in a wheelbarrow. Then another shovel-full is turned over in that same spot. The next section is dug and added to the top of the first section. When the length of the bed is done, the soil from the wheelbarrow is added to the top to finish the last section.

Raised bed with soil double-dug for a new vegetable garden.

While this sounds like a lot of work (it IS), it is great for the plants and the soil. The soil is loosened at least 12″ down and makes it easier for when the plant establishes roots. Since the beds are 4′ wide, I can reach across them from either path, and never have to step on the soil. Once the beds are double dug, the soil will stay loose, since it won’t be subject to being compacted. It’s one of those “do-it-once-and-do-it-right” kind of chores.

Cedar raised beds have been double-dug, and a trellis has been added to one for cucumbers and beans to climb on.

Prepping to plant

Now that three cedar raised beds have been assembled, and the soil double-dug, the new vegetable garden is ready to have a soil test.

Testing the soil is necessary to determine the ph (acidity level) of the soil, it’s composition (clay, sand, loam) and to determine if any amendments are needed and how much of each to add.

Once that was done, I added a make-shift trellis for the cucumber and bean plants to climb on. (Don’t laugh – a neighbor was throwing out a baby crib, and I swiped the sides to use as “trellises”. They lasted for three years!!)

Keep It Small

When starting your first vegetable garden, it’s best to keep it small at the beginning. This one, with three raised beds was the perfect size for me (at the time). I had all the room I needed to grow enough food for the year, and it was small enough to be able to manage while working full time.

Here’s what it looked like in mid-summer:

Three raised beds in the new vegetable garden during the summer.

Once you get an idea of how much you want to grow and how well you keep up with the maintenance, you can work on expanding your garden.

To give you some ideas of what to plant, be sure to check out this listing of 87 Free Seed Catalogs.

Happy gardening!