If you are planning on starting a vegetable garden then in this article we are going to offer you some great beginner tips for starting a vegetable garden. Most people in the UK don't start a vegetable garden with the intent of being able to supply an unlimited amount of vegetables for their home.
Most start their vegetable garden as a hobby, and to grow a few of the most common vegetables in their garden at home. That way they can have home grown and fresh vegetables at a very low cost.
Some beginner gardeners leave it that basic level, but many more then take their basic knowledge and start to fully develop their vegetable garden.
For the purpose of this article though we are going to stick with the basics of vegetable gardening. Below you will find our top tips for starting and maintaining a great vegetable garden.
Where Should You Start Your Vegetable Garden?
When people think about starting a garden, their thoughts almost instantly turn to where the vegetable plot will be. For years many gardeners opted for what can be described as the ugly spot, or somewhere out of sight.
We would strongly urge you never to do that as we think it is a big mistake. If you plan well, plant carefully,and thoroughly care for the plants, then your vegetable garden can really look the part.
Most home owners in the UK will have some space to the front and the rear of their homes. For many this will be a lawn or some type of yard. The bottom line is that is what most people have to work with, so space is usually limited.
That will of course vary in size, but most people will have some type of garden, that they can grow vegetables in. Almost always that will be to the rear of their home. Very few people will grow vegetables in their front garden.
So what we know is that space will usually be limited and all that you can do is make the very best of what you have.
Finding a Location for Your Vegetable Garden
Vegetables, like any other plants like the sunshine. So when picking a section for your garden make sure it gets sunshine for most of the day. Some vegetables will grow in partial sunshine, but ideally you want a location where the sun is present for most of the day.
One other weather aspect is worth considering. In the UK we can get quite strong winds. If you can find something that offers the garden some protection from winds, that also helps a lot with growth.
Anything will work really including a hedge. You can also build a small fence to surround the garden, which also stops anyone going in and out of your vegetable garden, including kids and pets. (Well most pets)
If you don't have a hedge, and don't want to make a fence, then it is worth considering growing some low-growing shrubs or evergreens, as those offer some useful protection from the winds.
Best Soil for your Vegetable Garden
We have worked on many gardens over the years to do landscaping, general maintenance and also to plant flowers, shrubs, fruits and vegetables. We have yet to find a garden where the soil is perfect.
Most home style gardens will have been made on top of old building sites, so usually those are covered by a low quality top soil. What we have found is that most gardens are clay based, with some type of basic low quality top soil.
The good news is that with most gardens it is a pretty simple task to the improve the quality of the soil i your garden. When you are considering a vegetable garden, then in all reality, you will be working with a fairly small place.
That of course makes upgrading the soil faster and cheaper.
The ideal garden soil is a "rich, sandy loam." You should try to get your soil to that condition as those are the perfect growing conditions for vegetables.
You can do that by cultivating your garden. Once you have found a location in your garden that gets sunshine, then you can mark that out. Ideally that garden should have some form of protection from a hedge or a fence.
The first thing you should do is to dig the garden over once and have a look at the quality of the soil. The chances are that it will be a mixture of clay and some type of top soil.
If you live nearer to a coastline, then the soil may be sandy. You can usually tell what type of soil you have simply by looking at it.
How to Improve Garden Soil
The easiest way is to visit your local garden centre and buy some high quality top soil. Yes that is also the most expensive solution but it is the fastest solution for sure.
After that all you need to do is add some type of manure to help feed the soil. Simple vegetables will grow on most types of soil. If you want the best yield then good top soil that has been well treated will give you fantastic yields.
You don't need to go crazy about this, as most gardens are capable of growing vegetables with the existing soil. Improving the soil and feeding it will simply give better yields from the same space.
Maintaining Your Vegetable Garden
There are a few basic things to remember when looking after your vegetable garden. We have listed those below as a quick reminder.
- Most vegetables need at least 6 hours of sunlight per day, so plant where the sunshine is going to be
- Throughout any dry periods, vegetable gardens need extra watering. Most vegetables benefit from an inch or more of water each week, especially when they are fruiting.
- Be on the lookout for pests and deal with them quickly - avoid using pesticides once the vegetables are close to being picked
- Make a compost heap if you have the room to do so
- Protect your garden from cats, dogs and birds and children by creating some kind of protection
Understanding the Basics of Cultivation
Before we advise you on which vegetables to grow it is really important to understand the basic practice of cultivation, which applies to all types of vegetables.
There are four principles to follow:
- Get rid of weeds as soon as they arrive
- Helps stimulate growth by getting air into the soil
- Retain moisture in the ground
- Crop Rotation
Never allow weeds to get a hold in your garden. Trying to weed between rows of lettuce or onions is just a pain, so remove weeds as soon as you see them
Weeds simply steal any food or nourishment in the soil that can be better used to grow your vegetables.
Getting Air Into the Soil
If you can keep the soil around your vegetables loose, it helps allow air into the soil and avoids the soil from becoming clay. This also helps a lot with reducing unwanted pests such as slugs and snails.
Plants need to be able to breathe and the roots need to get air. You can do this by using a hoe regularly to just simply loosed the soil up. Go down about 2" from the surface and just keep the soil loose and free.
When your soil is moist (not flooded) a "capillary attraction" will allow that water to get to the roots of your plants. That along with the sum and warmth will help a great deal with the growth of your vegetables.
This is not vital in smaller gardens but it is however still very good practice to do this. Avoid growing the same crops in the same part of your garden every year.
Simply mix up the different areas of your garden so as to avoid planting the same type of vegetable in the exact same section of your vegetable garden.
Here are the fundamental rules of crop rotation:
- Crops of the same vegetable, or vegetables of the same family (such as turnips and cabbage) should not follow each other
- Vegetables that feed near the surface, like corn, should follow deep-rooting crops
- Vines or leaf crops should follow root crops
- Quick-growing crops should follow those occupying the land all season.
Which Vegetables Should a Beginner Grow?
The most honest answer to this is that you should grow the vegetables that you like and are actually going to eat. Some vegetables are easier to grow than others so if you are new to vegetable gardening, we recommend starting with the basics.
We have listed below the main basic vegetables and some tips on how to grow them. You can click on an image to see a larger view.
Growing Artichokes (Globe)
This is a thistle like plant, that grows about 4 feet high. They come in 4 varieties and like a sunny sheltered location. They can be planted between mid March to late April.
Growing Artichokes (Jerusalem)
These are not that popular and are grown from tubers. They come in a couple of varieties and will grow just about anywhere. They can be planted between January to mid April.
Asparagus is a very popular choice. The soil type is not that important but they do like a lot of drainage. You can get about 20 spears per plant sown. They can be planted between mid March to mid June.
Aubergines are now a very popular vegetable but they can be difficult to grow in the UK as they need a lot of regular sunshine.
Ideally they should be grown in the greenhouse.
Growing Broad Beans
Broad beans are one of the fastest and easiest vegetables to grow, and they are ideal for the UK weather.
You get a very good yield and you can start to grow them in April, and start picking them in July.
There are many popular UK varieties, and they are also great for freezing.