If you’re a beginner vegetable gardener, remember this: It’s better to be proud of a small vegetable garden than to be frustrated by a big one!

A good-size beginner vegetable garden is 10×16 feet and features crops that are easy to grow. A plot this size, planted as suggested below, can feed a family of four for one summer, with a little extra for canning and freezing (or giving away).

Draw it out on paper and list the vegetables you would like to incorporate into your vegetable garden. It’s usually better to grow only the vegetables in which you enjoy and those that are easier to grow. Beets, carrots, lettuce, radishes, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, and asparagus are all good choices for beginners.

Consider planning your garden on graph paper. Use the cells on the graph paper as units of measure. Measure the area where you plan to plant your vegetables ahead of time. Plan to make the space large enough to accommodate substantial growth.  Plan to reuse space when you can. You will be able to plant some vegetables several times so you can have longer harvests or multiple harvests.

Lettuce, spinach, peas and radishes are cool weather crops. You can plan to plant them in staggered plantings so that you don’t get the entire harvest at one time that way you can extend the growing season. Radishes don’t take long at all to mature. Most varieties will mature in about a month or less. If you plant your radishes at two week intervals during the cool weather (after the danger of frost has elapsed,) you may be able to get about three times as many radishes as you would have had you only planted them once.  Once the radishes start to sprout, you will need to thin them so that there is space under the soil for them to develop.

Vegetables that may yield more than one crop per season are beans, beets, carrots, cabbage, kohlrabi, lettuce, radishes, rutabagas, spinach and turnips.  Try to orient the rows north and south to take full advantage of the sun.

For a beginner garden 10x16feet, some suggested veggies:

  • Tomatoes — 5 plants staked
  • Zucchini squash — 4 plants
  • Peppers — 6 plants
  • Cabbage
  • Bush beans
  • Lettuce, leaf and/or Bibb
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Chard
  • Radish
  • Marigolds to discourage rabbits!


Step 1 : Choosing a location for your vegetable garden.

Vegetables need at least six hours of full sun per day. Make sure it’s where you can easily water it and get to it. If the garden is too far from your house or condo, it will get neglected.

Step 2:  In the ground garden? Or raised beds? Or even containers?

In the ground

Organic matter is vital for healthy vegetable gardens. If your soil does not contain sufficient amounts of organic material, then you will have to work some into it using compost or manure. Compost helps improve texture, fertility, and drainage of the soil. Altum’s recommends Soil Amendment and Manure to add to your soil.

You must dig your soil to loosen the clumps and allow air in, which will allow the roots to breathe (yes, they need air also). The depth should be at least 12 inches.  Keep in mind that your tomato plants will extend their roots approximately 2 feet down into the soil.  Use a large digging fork or a rototiller makes short work of it.  Rakes also help in smoothing the soil out after the digging is done.  You should add about 2″ of Soil Amendment /Composted Manure at this point and mix it into the soil well. Do not add too much, 10-20% of the soil should be compost, but no more than that or you will over-fertilize your garden.

After the soil in your desired location has been properly worked, you are ready to begin planting your vegetable garden. You’ll want to set the tallest crops at the furthest point back and gradually work others towards the front. Plant rows north to south and allow approximately 2-3 feet of spacing between your rows, if possible. Place each crop into the garden at its appropriate planting time-check seed packets or other resource.

Raised beds are easy

Order or build a raised bed, fill it with soil, and plant. Raised beds are ready to go once filled with soil and are pretty low maintenance compared to in the ground gardens.  Raised beds require more water than natural beds, and you must avoid using treated wood to create your raised beds.  You control the soil that goes in them; you can mix it to your specifications, adding whatever organic materials you like and creating a precise balance of pH and soil nutrients that fit your needs.  Plants in raised beds generally get better sun and air circulation, simply because they’re situated a bit higher than plants growing in the ground.  Raised beds also warm up earlier in the spring, which means earlier planting and harvesting.

Add either 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of 1 pound per 100 sq feet or Elements at a rate of 1-2 lbs per 100 sq feet.

Plant in Containers

Still too much work? Plant vegetables in some containers and move them around to where they are happy.

Size: The size of the container is important. For larger vegetables like tomatoes and eggplants, you should use a five gallon container for each plant.

Varieties good for Container Gardening

  • Cucumbers: Salad Bush Hybrid, Spacemaster, Bush Pickle
  • Eggplant: Bambino, Slim Jim
  • Green Beans: (Pole beans give a higher yield in a small footprint) Blue Lake, Kentucky Wonder, French Dwarf
  • Leaf Lettuce: Buttercrunch, Salad Bowl, Bibb
  • Peppers: Frigitello, Cubanelle, Sweet Banana, Apple (Hot) Red Cherry, Jalapeno, Robustini
  • Radishes: Cherry Belle, Scarlet Globe, (White) Icicle
  • Squash: Ronde de Nice, Gold Rush
  • Tomatoes: Patio, Pixie, Tiny Tim, Saladette, Toy Boy, Spring Giant, Tumbling Tom, Small Fry


Step 3:  What do I plant, and when do I plant it?

Here are the Top Ten Most Popular Vegetables:

  1. Tomatoes
  2. Cucumbers
  3. Sweet Peppers
  4. Beans
  5. Carrots
  6. Summer Squash
  7. Onions
  8. Hot Peppers
  9. Lettuce
  10. Peas

It’s really up to you. Plant what you enjoy eating.  Think about planting vegetables that have different growing times, so that you have a longer period of harvesting.  Water well after planting and fertilize them.

Cool Season Vegetables

Cool season vegetables are the ones that can be planted early, and will take a light frost if necessary, as well as grow well on cool days. They do however, suffer when the heat of summer hits, so get these vegetables started early.

While you’re waiting for warm temperatures to start gardening, you could be missing out on pre-season delicacies from your organic garden. Cool season vegetables require temperatures in the 40s or 50s to germinate, and they thrive in the moist soil that spring rains deliver.

The following list can be direct seed grown into the vegetable garden

Beets-  Fast-maturing varieties for the early spring garden are sweeter than summer varieties; plant ‘Early Wonder’ as soon as you can work the soil. Each seed capsule can produce multiple plants, so thin them as soon as the plants are several inches tall.

Carrots-  Mix the tiny seeds with sand for even dispersion into the soil. If your soil is rocky, plant the dwarf ‘Thumbelina’ variety.

Lettuce-  Slugs are notorious pests, deter them with diatomaceous earth or beer traps. Provide consistent moisture and ample compost.

Peas-  A must-grow crop for home gardeners.  Soak seeds in water overnight to hasten germination. Treat seeds with bacterial inoculants to help them fix nitrogen from the air. 

Potatoes-  Buy seed potatoes certified to be disease-free. Don’t follow a planting of tomatoes with potatoes in the same area of the garden, as they share the some diseases.

Radishes-  This fast and easy crop is fun for children to grow, even if the grownups do all the eating. Harvest them within the month to avoid pithy roots.

Spinach-  You can plant successive crops of spinach every two weeks to ensure tender young leaves for salads.

The following are planted from vegetable starts

Broccoli-Cabbage –Cauliflower-  Practice good crop rotation practices by moving broccoli to a different part of the garden each year, and don’t follow with a planting of cabbage. Moisture is paramount to a successful crop; mulch heavily to increase yields.

Onions-  Choose transplants instead of seeds and sets for the widest selection and fastest maturing plants. Plant onions in the early spring when the ground is 45 degrees. harvest in summer when the tops turn brown.

Growing from seed

If you want to grow your own tomatoes from seed, and you live in a northern climate, plant seeds in February and expect to bring them outside in May.  You need to allow at least ten weeks from the time you start tomato seeds until you will be able to plant the tomatoes in the ground.  After the danger of frost has elapsed, bring them outside during the day – provided temperatures are warm enough, and bring them back inside at night. This is known as hardening off. This is done with all vegetables that are planted from seed indoors.

Lettuce, radishes, spinach and peas are cool weather crops.  These crops are best grown in early spring and late summer or early fall.  All of these are crops can be direct sowed.  Plant them directly in the ground.

Warm Season Plants

Direct seed these vegetables after soil is warm and frost free date

Beans- pole/bush & Corn–  Plant from Starts or grown from your own seed

Cantaloupe – Cucumbers – Melons – Eggplant –Peppers –Tomatoes

Vegetables that are Perennials

Asparagus – Rhubarb – Strawberries

When to Plant:
 Asparagus (1)  Mar 20-Apr 15  Lettuce, leaf  Apr 1-June 1
 Bean, Lima  May 15-June 15  Muskmelon  May 15-June 15
 Bean, Snap  May 10-June 30  Mustard  Apr 1-May 10
 Beet  Apr 1-June 15  Okra  May 10-June 1
 Broccoli, sprouting(1)  Apr 1-May 1  Onion (1)  Apr 1-May 1
 Brussels sprout (1)  Apr 1-May 1  Onion, seed  Mar 15-Apr 15
 Cabbage (1)  Mar 15-Apr 10  Onion, sets  Mar 10-Apr 10
 Cabbage, Chinese  (2)  Parsley  Apr 1-May 1
 Carrot  Apr 10-June 1  Parsnip  Apr 1-May 1
 Cauliflower  Mar 1-Mar 20  Pea, black-eye  May 15-June 1
 Celery and celeriac  Apr 15-May 1  Pea, garden  Mar 20-May 1
 Chard  Apr 15-June 15  Peanut  May 15-June 1
 Chervil and chives  Mar 20-Apr 20  Pepper (1)  May 15-June 10
 Chicory, witloof  June 15-July 1  Potato  Mar 20-May 10
 Collard (1)  Apr 1-June 1  Pumpkin  May 1-May 30
 Corn, sweet  May 10-June 15  Radish  Mar 20-May 10
 Cornsalad  Mar 1-May 1  Rhubarb (1)  Mar 20-Apr 15
 Cress, upland  Apr 10-May 10  Rutabaga  May 1-June 1
 Cucumber  May 15-June 15  Salsify  Apr 1-May 15
 Eggplant (1)  May 15-June 10  Shallot  Apr 1-May 1
 Endive  Apr 1-May 1  Sorrel  Apr 1-May 15
 Fennel, Florence  Apr 1-May 1  Soybean  May 15-June 15
 Garlic  Mar 15-Apr 15  Spinach Spinach, New  Mar 20-Apr 20
 Horseradish (1)  Apr 1-Apr 30 Zealand  May 1-June 15
 Kale  Apr 1-Apr 20  Squash, May 1-May 30
 Kohlrabi  Apr 1-May 10  Sweet potato  May 20-June 10
 Leek  Apr 1-May 1  Tomato  May 10-June 15
 Lettuce, head (1)  Apr 1-May 1  Turnip  Mar 20-May 1
 Watermelon  May 15-June 15
(1) Plants (transplant instead of direct seeding on indicated dates)
(2) Generally fall-planted

Maintenance for your Vegetable Garden

Vegetable gardens will need enough water to keep the soil moist to a depth of roughly two inches. The best way to accomplish this is by watering for a longer period of time but less often. Two or three times a week should be sufficient as long as it is not extraordinarily hot and as long as you get some rain during the course of the season.