Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Beginner's Vegetable Garden

Several friends of mine have asked recently about one or two easy things to grow to start a vegetable garden. I'm so excited that you want to plant some food, too! So here are some tips about planting for this year that should help you start a small but meaningful garden that you (and your children!) will love.
First, no vegetable garden should be without a tomato. My pick for you if you have children is a grape tomato plant, which can easily be purchased right now as a seedling. Only buy one plant! You don't need a six-pack, that will be too many to deal with. The tomatoes are tiny and easy to eat right off the vine or toss whole into salads. Yum! Plant in full sun, and be sure to leave some room for it to grow. Your tomato should grow to at least 4 feet tall if you are plating in full sun in Southern California. Place a tomato cage around it to help support the plant and the weight of the tomatoes.

Next to your tomato, plant some basil. The combinations of these two, from caprese salad to spaghetti sauce, are delicious and super easy to prepare. Basil is easy to grow, just be sure to harvest regularly to get a strong, bushy plant. To harvest, all you have to do is "pinch" back the leaves, which means to pick the leaves and stems from the top of the plant. If flowers appear on your plant, those need to be picked, as well.

I love red bell peppers - they are easy to grow and are super expensive at the grocery store! Bell peppers grow slowly, are easy to manage, and will start yielding a crop in mid summer. They are a very compact plant and need very little space. Like tomatoes, they require full sun.

Carrots are also easy to grow, and you can grow them from seed. They don't have to be in a row, just plant seeds in an around your other plants and you'll have little carrots popping up that are fun to pick when the top of the carrot is nice and orange (check your seed packet for specifics for your variety).
Before planting, get a bag of garden soil or planting soil (NOT potting soil) and use it to amend your soil. If you have a small space, get a small bag, open it up and spread it on top of your existing soil. Use a shovel, hand trowel, or hand rake to mix the soil together and then add your plants.

When you are ready to plant, dig a hole twice as big as the container of the plant. Fill the hole halfway up with water, and add some planting soil back in, making a big, muddy, soupy hole. Place the plant in the hole and cover with dirt, packing it in snugly to try to close up any air pockets in the soil. Add a little water on the top and you are done! A special note for tomato planting - pick off the bottom one or two rows of leaves from your plant, leaving about 4-6 leaves at the top, and plant it deep, all the way to the bottom of the remaining leaves. The little tiny white "hairs" on the stem of the plant will all turn into roots that will help to stabilize your plant and give it extra nutrients.

Your plants will need water a couple of times a week. We water three times a week for 15 minutes, which seems to be sufficient.Your plants will need water a couple of times a week. We water three times a week for 15 minutes, which seems to be sufficient.

Some things not to plant for your first time? Don't plant anything you won't eat! If you don't like eggplant, don't plant it. I would also avoid zucchini, pumpkins, and melons. These plants and vines get quite large and might be a little much for your first year.

Email me if you have questions! I'd love to help you get started.


  1. Cute Cute little boy you have. Thanks for the tips!

  2. i love it. thanks so much for the tips. i just may need to e-mail you with questions once we get started! thanks nikki.

  3. And now I learn :) Thank you!!

  4. The best way to support your tomato plants is with a simple and traditional stake. Easier to use than metal cages and stronger than bamboo, The Tomato Stake ( is the best and most cost effective way to support your growing plants!


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