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Most of us look forward to spring with good reason: longer days and warm temperatures mean finally being able to ditch onerous winter outerwear and enjoy the outdoors again. Year in year out, we get through winter patiently (some of us more than others), cheered by the fact that we know it will end. We know our patience will be rewarded by brighter days ahead.

Unfortunately and tragically, spring 2020 has not unfolded as expected. When we were looking forward to spring just a few short months ago, who could have imagined that it would arrive concomitant with a global pandemic that would shut down much of the world as we know it?

Social distancing mandates, supply chain disruptions, and justified germophobia have suddenly changed the way we live. An obvious example of this is how we approach ‘hunting and gathering’ food to feed our family. Running to the grocery store to pick up a few necessities is suddenly not so simple. As a result, many of us are turning to an alternate food supply: one we produce ourselves.

Given the time of year, growing vegetables from seed, in particular, is an obvious way to begin. In fact, we have it on good authority that the crisis has generated legions of newly minted home vegetable gardeners. Armed with a little knowledge and a few tools, it’s not hard to grow your own family vegetable garden. Here’s what you need to know on how to grow vegetables.

Garden Design & Location

Sunlight

You don’t need a huge amount of real estate in order to grow your own veggies but you do need to have a sunny spot. With few exceptions, vegetable plants require six to eight hours of sunlight each day. Without enough sunlight each day, your plants will struggle to grow and won’t yield fruit.

water

Water

Your garden must be proximate to a source of water if you live in a hot summer climate with periodic dry spells. For many people, that means a nearby spigot hooked up to a hose. But there are other ways to collect and deliver water to your plants, such as a rain barrel; details can be found online.

Well Drained Soil

Well Drained Soil

Such as all plants, when growing veggies, you need to make sure they are watered correctly, as they won’t tolerate too much water. Plant roots need well-drained soil to grow and thrive; standing water will cause them to rot. That means you shouldn’t plant in low lying areas or in non-porous clay soil that holds water. If you do happen to live in an area with heavy, clay soil, don’t fret, as there are ways to amend it to make it amenable to vegetable growing, as we explain in our related article, ‘How to Make Well-Drained Soil for Growing Vegetables’.

Raised Garden Beds

Alternatively, you can create raised garden beds in which to grow your crops, and in this section, we’ll give you some tips on how to grow vegetables. Though this may sound like extra work up front, in the end you’ll likely find that the benefits are well worth it:

  • Enables good soil drainage
  • Facilitates a longer growing season: Garden soil heats up faster in the spring and stays warm longer in the fall
  • More efficient weed control
  • Deters pests
Container Gardening

Container Gardening

If you don’t have a lot of space and/or don’t want to bother creating raised garden beds, you can simply grow your plants in containers. The larger the container, the better, and they must have drain holes in the bottom. But, how do you grow vegetables in containers? The same guidelines outlined above apply to container gardening: fill them with soil that drains well, place them in a sunny location, and make sure your plants get enough—but not too much—water. It’s especially important to enrich container soil with nutrients via compost and apply fertilizer throughout the growing season.

Gardening Supplies

Seeds

Seeds

To get started on how to grow vegetables that are high quality, high-yield plants, you need to start with high quality seeds. And not all seeds are created equal. For best results in growing veggies—and, yes, we are partial to the Bentley Seeds brand—we recommend our non-GMO, open pollinated seeds. We source our seeds from reliable, regional American farms. They’re fresh crop seeds which boast a higher-than-average germination rate, increasing your chance of success.

What & How to Grow Guide

We know from experience that many novice gardeners are like the proverbial ‘kid in the candy store’: they want to grow everything they can possibly think of, without really knowing what they’re getting into. We get it. We’ve been there. Also, we understand, during this trying time, the impetus to grow as much as possible. But we do advise a tiny bit of caution.

Before you buy your vegetable seeds, we recommend doing a little homework to learn how to grow vegetables and what is likely to grow best in your area, what plants grow best together, and other important information. You start by consulting our Growing Guides

  • Leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach, and kale.
  • Herbs, such as chives and basil, are easy, nutritious and pleasing to the palate.
  • Root vegetables such as carrots, radishes, and beets.
  • Or, if your kids like something simple, you can’t go wrong with fresh green beans.
  • Don’t forget to plant some crowd pleasing fruit such as watermelon and tomatoes (yes, they’re a fruit.)
  • Some flowers, such as french marigolds, make particularly good companions because they ward off pests. Or consider nasturtium which is both beautiful and edible.
Enriched Soil and Compost

Enriched Soil and Compost

Normally, it’s easiest for new gardeners to buy enriched garden or potting soil at your local nursery or garden supply store to mix into your garden bed or containers. Otherwise, you can use soil from your yard and homemade compost, though if you’re starting from scratch it will take some time to produce.

If you don’t already have a compost pile, now is a good time to start one; it’s not difficult. Good, simple compost consists of a combination of green & brown food and yard waste that breaks down into rich organic material over time. You can find plenty of tips and instructions online.

Fertilizer

Fertilizer

Once established, most vegetable plants need supplemental nutrients to help them grow. Under normal circumstances, we recommend buying timed-release organic fertilizer at your local store. However, if you are able to add enough rich compost to your soil, that may work as well.

Mulch

Mulch

Mulch is an effective way to retain moisture as well as minimize seeds in your garden beds. Just about any kind of organic material, such as wood chips, straw or leaves will do the trick as will cardboard or newspaper which will break down over time. You can find additional information in our article, What is Mulch?

Gardening Tools

Veteran gardeners tend to collect a lot of gardening tools over time. If you’re just starting out, you’ll just need a few essential gardening tools:

  • Shovel
  • Trowel
  • Gardening Gloves
  • Pruners

Ultimately, you’ll want to pick up additional tools—when shopping is not such a challenge—including a rake, a wheelbarrow and more. We also recommend finding a dedicated spot in your garage, shed or house to store the tools so you always know where to find them.

Some Historical Context

Victory Garden

This moment in time, as it relates to people’s desire to be more self-sufficient by growing their own food, is not without precedent. It’s reminiscent of the Victory Garden initiative launched during World Wars I and II. The U.S. and allied governments encouraged citizens to plant vegetable gardens to supplement their food rations as well as to help their morale by staying busy during a very tumultuous and disturbing period.

Veteran gardeners will tell you that gardening is a salve for troubling times. Not only is it productive and rewarding, spending time outdoors with your hands in the dirt, communing with nature just seems to make sense—even when nothing else does.