Ready to Create Your Own Vegetable Garden at Home?
Taking time to properly set up your organic vegetable garden is literally the most important step in the whole process.
I like to say "worst first" when it comes to designing and installing your own vegetable or kitchen garden. In other words, do the hard work to set up your garden the right way at the start, and you'll save yourself so much frustration and disappointment later. You'll be thankful months and years from now that you didn't skimp on the important steps.
With my Houston-based company, Rooted Garden, I can't tell you how many garden consultations I've gone on where clients had an existing garden setup that just wasn't successful. And more times than not, it's because the garden wasn't thoughtfully or carefully set up in the first place.
So, remember "worst first" and do the hard work now for a successful vegetable garden this season and for many years to come.
Let's look at the three steps to do the "worst first".
Step One to Set Up a Vegetable Garden
Choose a Vegetable Garden Design and Location
The first step to set up your home vegetable garden is to choose a location and design. Compare this with picking a new home: The location is pretty much everything, right? The same house in two different parts of town is likely two very different prices. The one in the right spot is worth way more than the other one. And the same will be true for your kitchen garden.
Choose a Location
Selecting a location for your vegetable garden or kitchen garden is perhaps the most difficult decision. There are so many factors to consider when choosing the right spot—or for some of us, there are so many limitations.
When choosing the spot for your home vegetable garden, it's a great idea to map out your property to get a better sense of the space that's available, where existing structures are located, and what spots might be better than others.
Consider at least three to four different spots for your home vegetable garden before choosing one, and then think through your priorities and goals for the garden before narrowing it down to one.
In a recent gardening workshop, a student asked if she could grow certain herbs or vegetables in one spot of her landscape and then set up a raised bed garden in another location to grow fruiting plants that would need more sunlight.
My answer: Of course!
In fact, I do this as well. I have my kitchen garden on the side of my home, where it receives the most amount of sunlight and lines up with my home design best, and then I grow the majority of my herbs in another spot right outside my back door on our deck.
So, whether you're setting up one or two or twenty vegetable gardens, look at all your options before narrowing it down to your favorite locations.
Create a Design
Once you've chosen your location for your vegetable garden, it's time to create a design.
There are, of course, a million different vegetable garden layouts possible (well, maybe not quite that many). But your imagination is literally the limit in terms of the design and layout you can create for your own home garden.
My recommendation is to create a design that lines up with your home and reflects its general aesthetic, and I always suggest setting up more than one raised garden bed in your vegetable garden design.
The common understanding of a "vegetable garden" is one lonely raised bed out in the middle of the yard, looking a little overgrown and unkept. But the truth is, it doesn't have to be that way. In fact, I like to say, "Just say no to the lonely awkward garden."
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Step Two to Set Up a Vegetable Garden
Set Up Your Vegetable Garden Raised Beds
Once you've decided on the design and location for your home vegetable garden, it's time to clear an area, build your raised beds, install them, and fill them with soil.
I personally love growing in raised beds and don't garden any other way when growing herbs, vegetables, and fruits. My company, Rooted Garden, exclusively works with raised gardens as we design and set up kitchen gardens throughout Houston, TX, and this is the method I teach inside Kitchen Garden Academy.
Clear a Spot for the Vegetable Garden
Before you rush to place your raised beds in their place, be sure to clear your garden area first. Take time to clean all the grass and other vegetation already growing in this spot and then level the area.
This is possibly the step in the process that takes the longest amount of time, at least it always seemed to be that way for Jason and me as we set up our gardens, and it's definitely the slower part of the process as we do this for Rooted Garden clients. It's also the step where you'll look around at the mess you've created and wonder how it will ever be a beautiful garden.
Trust me: Taking time now to thoroughly clear your kitchen garden spot of all vegetation and make it level will make all the difference in your long-term success, even if it feels like you're just tearing up your yard.
Build or Purchase Raised Garden Beds
You can build your raised gardens with a variety of materials, but I highly recommend ensuring you use a wood, steel, or stone that's both natural and durable. We generally use untreated cedar for all of our raised beds in Houston, and it's the type of wood I used in my Chicago home garden as well.
Unless you're setting up your vegetable garden on a patio, you'll want your garden to have an open bottom so it drains quickly and well. It's generally not worth building a raised bed garden unless you have at least 15 square feet available. Otherwise, you're paying for a lot of material and not much gardening space.
You can build your own raised garden, buy a do-it-yourself kit, or hire a garden coach company to build it for you. However you do it, I highly recommend taking time to make sure you're buying the best you can afford at the moment. The higher the quality and the better it's constructed from the start, the more likely you'll have this raised bed for years to come.
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Be aware that a lot of online raised bed suppliers don't source beds with wood that's more than 1" thick. This means your raised bed will be less durable and able to hang on through years of humidity and harsh weather. So, if ordering online or purchasing from a supplier, be sure to ask about the wood's thickness before giving them your credit card.
After you've cleared your garden area and gotten your raised beds, you're ready to place your raised beds in their spot.
Line them up well because once the soil is in place, they're difficult to move!
Install Your Garden Soil
Once your beds are in place, it's time to bring the magic: vegetable garden soil.
This might sound like the dirty work, but it's actually where the very best thing happens. Soil is the most important element of your home vegetable garden, literally more important than any other aspect. So, don't skimp on this step!
When I teach students my soil blend, I constantly remind them to think about nature. Don't rush off to the store or purchase loads of synthetic fertilizers or products promising a "miracle." Nature is actually a miracle in itself—no special stuff needed.
I recommend using a sandy loam soil in your home vegetable garden with plenty of compost. Most vegetables and herbs love this mixture, and I use it in all my Rooted Garden kitchen gardens. Any garden you see that I've designed and planted is using this signature soil blend.
So, don't buy cheap dirt or try to make up for what you don't have with the "miracle" stuff. Think about nature and seriously prioritize great soil for your garden. You won't be sorry.
The simple formula for determining the amount of soil you'll need for your gardens is the width X length X height of your raised garden beds. This will give you the cubic feet of soil needed when you order or buy or make your soil blend.
If you'll be using permanent trellises in your garden, order them in advance and install them at the same time as the soil.
Step Three to Set Up a Vegetable Garden
Plan and Plant Your Vegetable Garden
Now that your home vegetable garden is designed and set up, it's nearly time to plant.
But don't head out to buy all the plants just yet. First, we need to do some planning.
Just like doing the worst part first is critical for home vegetable garden success in the setup phase, planning your priorities for your garden before buying plants or seeds is super important, too.
One of the simplest ways to start planning is to first think through the vegetables, herbs, and greens you enjoy eating in your home at the moment. Take a second and list those out before you plan out your plantings.
Understand Your Vegetable Garden Seasons
A key thing to understand as you plan your plantings for your vegetable garden is your own unique seasons. Most garden websites talk about zones, which is just a rough number that kinda tells you when your last and first frost date occurs.
But, after gardening in more than five states, I've learned the zone isn't nearly as relevant as the temperatures for each month and the planting season I'm in. So take some time and learn the temperatures in your own town for each month, and you'll start to better understand what's possible in your own garden.
Discover Your Vegetable Garden Plants
Once you know your seasons, it's time to learn your plants. Just like some of us love summer and some of us love winter (well, I'm not sure on that last one), plants have temperatures they prefer as well.
You want to think of yourself as creating an Airbnb for your plants, and your goal is to make them feel right at home. By learning which plants love which temperatures, you're less likely to make the mistake of planting tomatoes with cilantro (even though the hardware store sells them at the same time).
One great way to learn which plants thrive in your local growing seasons is to shop regularly at your local farmers' market. You local growers know the specifics of your particular seasons, how to get the timing right, and how to make the most of your climate. Whenever I move to a new town (which my family has done a lot), I visit the farmers' market first to see what they're selling. Most likely, if something is on their table, that means it was planted two or three months earlier, depending on its size and maturity. Before you know it, you'll have created your own planting calendar and have an excellent idea what's in season when.
So, learn which plants like what temps, and you are well on your way to creating a beautiful and successful vegetable garden.
Make a Planting Plan
Finally, make a plan. Now that you know which temps happen when and which plants love which temps, it's time to prioritize the plants you enjoy eating and want to grow most.
With a kitchen garden or even a larger home vegetable garden, setting priorities for your planting is key to success. Our space at home is limited (unless you've got a farm growing over there), so now is the time to decide which plants get priority this season.
After you've made your plan, you're finally ready to shop for seeds and plants. You're definitely well on your way to creating the best vegetable garden ever.
Gardenary Is Here to Help
If you're a DIY'er but looking for a little more support to make sure you get the "worst first" right the first time around, work with one of our professional designers online or enroll in Kitchen Garden Academy to work through the steps with our coaching, alongside a community of fellow learners.
For a little more support, find a Gardenary-certified garden coach near you. Your local garden coach can help you design your space, source local materials, and plant your garden with plants that thrive in your climate.
Here's to creating the most beautiful raised bed vegetable garden together!
Learn our proven three-step system that ensures your success with your own kitchen garden this year. Kitchen Garden Academy helps you set up your space and find support from both expert gardeners and a community of fellow learners.