Organic Vegetable Gardening For Beginners – 7 Tips

Vegetable Gardening For Beginners Carrot
Carrots can be direct seeded, but many vegetables are best bought as “starts”

I have a few tips I’ve really been wanting to share on organic vegetable gardening for beginners.

I’m going to lay out my 7 most important organic gardening tips for starting a vegetable garden.

  1. Full Sun. To me, full sun means at least 8 hours a day. I’m happy to have some areas that are just part sun (4 to 8 hours) where I can tuck in some lettuce, greens and certain herbs, but most of the main vegetables and fruits I want to plant need plenty of light and heat in order to photosynthesize. This is one of the more common vegetable gardening tips you’ll find, but a crucial one.
  2. Start Small. 100 square feet per person in your household is plenty to start. Even 50 square feet is okay. Many gardeners start out too big and then end up quitting, so an important tip about organic vegetable gardening for beginners is to start small. You can grow a lot of food in 100 square feet if you plant densely. Rather than planting 10 tomato plants, plant 1 or 2 indeterminate plants and treat them well, staking them up. You can get dozens of tomatoes from 1 plant if it’s happy.
  3. Good Soil. Much of the Smiling Gardener Academy goes into making great soil, but the basics of making good soil are incorporating a couple of inches of quality compost into the top few inches, maintaining a 2-4 inch layer of straw or leaf mulch (not bark, wood or stones), and providing adequate water.
  4. Buy Plants. You may eventually want to get into starting your own plants indoors, but it’s a bit finicky. For beginner vegetable gardening, I recommend buying most of your plants. You can get them for $0.25 to $3.00 per plant. Personally, I like to live a simple lifestyle without much stuff, so anymore, I don’t much bother stocking all of the things I need to start my own plants. When I have a property that allows me to set up a big food-producing garden, I’ll get back into it, but for now, I buy many plants and do a lot of direct seeding into the soil in spring, too.
  5. Fertilize. It takes years to build up good soil, so in the meantime while we’re starting a vegetable garden, liquid fertilizers are extremely beneficial. My 2 favorites are sea minerals and fish fertilizer. They provide a broad spectrum of nutrients instead of just the N-P-K of most conventional fertilizers. They are used throughout the growing season, often once a month.
  6. Microbes. I take one of the above fertilizers and mix them with a microbial inoculant such as compost tea or effective microorganisms, and a sugar source such as molasses. Microbes are just as important in our soil as organic matter and nutrients. I actually think about them before I think about fertilizing. The sugar source is important to feed the microbes. Microbes aren’t talked about as much, so this is one of the more unique tips about organic vegetable gardening for beginners.
  7. Water. Yes, it’s boring, but I always have to mention it. Water newly seeded areas daily and newly planted areas probably every 2-3 days. By late spring, water less often – 1-3 times a week – but more deeply to encourage roots to go down.

There you have it. Organic vegetable gardening for beginners. Any questions? Let me know below. And here are some of my favorite vegetable gardening articles.

38 Comments

  1. Carolyn Sommers on June 22, 2011 at 11:48 pm

    Hi I have a question. I started saving kitchen scraps for compost but how long can I do that before the smell or maggots take over? 

    • Phil on June 23, 2011 at 11:22 am

      Hi Carolyn,The smell can happen fairly quickly, but I’m not sure how long it takes formaggots. Bokashi is another useful method of dealing with kitchen scraps ifyou don’t think you’ll have enough materials for a pile soon. A worm bin isanother option.

      • Carolyn Sommers on June 23, 2011 at 2:03 pm

        What is Bokashi?  Are you saying do a worm bin instead of saving scraps. I think we would have to save kitchen scrapes at least a month before we would have enough to make a compost. Is that ok?  My friend said they had a farm and would just keep adding to the comost all I think she said summer or maybe fall for the next crop. Is that ok?

        • Phil on June 24, 2011 at 10:01 pm

          Bokashi is a substrate (such as sawdust) that has been fermented witheffective microorganisms and is then used to partially ferment food scrapsbefore burying them in the garden. I’ll go into it in more detail some day.A worm bin could be used instead of saving scraps. Otherwise, to make aconventional outdoor pile, you generally need to bring in some material likestraw and manure, because you’re right, saving food scraps takes too long.You can add food scraps to an existing pile as much as you want, althoughit’s good to eventually balance that out with some carbon (straw/hay,leaves, newspaper).

    • Zindy on February 21, 2017 at 6:43 am

      I’ve been juicing a lot last few weeks
      So I have a pan of scrapes daily
      I just scatter them through out the area outside I have raised beds and a large garden it’s still cold no flys or bugs yet
      Later in the year when I throw out I’ll put in a small compost box cover with dirt

  2. Amy Pearson on September 30, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    Being an organic gardener doesn’t require ahuge amount of space. Even living in an apartment with a small patio or porchyou can accomplish container and small space gardening to grow your organicproduce. 

    • carol on January 13, 2012 at 12:45 am

      where can i find more info on container gardening?

      • Amy Pearson on January 14, 2012 at 6:02 am

        I’d recommend picking up a book, or two. Check out the recommended products at Living Organic. http://livingorganic.org/conta…

      • Phil on January 14, 2012 at 6:11 pm

        Hi Carol, at this point I don’t have a record of any good container gardening sites. I may put something together this year.

  3. DoraKitty on October 19, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    Nice post, very informative!

  4. Jamie Keifer on October 19, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    It’s true that we often forget the simplest of things that can help us make that organic vegetable garden. Knowing when to water it down has been proven to be effective in this situation.

  5. Simon @ office plants on October 28, 2011 at 9:19 am

    I’ve used a bokashi bin before, but I’ve heard the compost it produces is very highly alkaline so is unsuitable for many plants, even when it’s diluted.

    • Phil on October 28, 2011 at 11:38 am

      A bokashi bin with food scraps is acidic, not alkaline, and it doesn’t create finished compost. Once it’s done, you bury it in the garden and it gets broken down very quickly into really nice organic matter. It’s not something you add directly to plants.

  6. GiGi on January 8, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    Loving all the great info. Thanks!Tried my first organic (vegan) gardening this year in organic raised beds, using Miracle Grow (act of desperation) organic soil, and starter plants. Very open area with good sun and lots of pollinators (bees, yellow jackets, wasps). Not very scientific (i.e., soil testing).Most plants grew but didn’t really thrive or fruit much — except lima beans.  Example, I had eggplant and squash that flowered often but produced only 1, maybe 2, fruit.  I had tomato plants that were “left for dead” (insects? disease?) after the summer that exploded with fruit in November. Lima beans until Fall, also. I thanked the plants, picked them just before cold/frost hit, let them ripen on counter, and ate them.  I suspect there wasn’t much nutritional value (/brix) to them, but I showed my gratitude.Through Fall and Winter (Central Alabama), I’ve had broccolli, cabbage, swish chard, and kale planted — covering on cold nights (below 50). Got one small broccoli head off each of 2 plants, and kales plants look beautiful but still very small.  As before, things have grown seemingly very, very slowly.  So, I don’t know when to harvest.Any ideas come to mind for the slow growing and low yield?  Poor soil?

    • Phil on January 9, 2012 at 12:50 pm

      Hi GiGi, gardens often underperform in their first year while you’re learning the ropes. You’ll find it gets better each year, so keep trying. Soil is a big one. Did you add compost in there? Especially when you’re bringing in soil, it can take years for the earthworm and microbial populations to set up shop and manipulate the soil to their liking. I planted a new garden this year and had a few failures, too. It’s part of the process, but especially in a new garden. Proper watering is another big issue. Keep trying!

  7. GiGi on January 8, 2012 at 10:24 pm

    Would like to know more about when to harvest veggies (squash, beans, lettuces, etc.).  Since I am growing both organically and vegan, I suspect that my veggies will be smaller and/or lower yield because of lack/reduced fertilizer.  At least until I master fertilization. Will these veggies still be good to eat?  Meaning will they have any nutritional value?

    • Phil on January 14, 2012 at 5:56 pm

      You can produce very nutritious organic/vegan veggies. There’s compost, organic fertilizers, microbial inoculants and a whole host of things to learn about how to improve your soil, but if you just take it one season at a time, you’ll get better and better.

  8. GiGi on January 8, 2012 at 10:28 pm

    What to do with plants after their growing season? Should they be left to stabilize soil from erosion?  Is there any nutrient value to leaving them in soil?  Should they be pulled out of garden and soil left bare (if not using a cover crop)?  If removed, can they be composted, or not composted?  Should the stalks be tilled into soil somehow? Hope you will cover this topic.

    • Phil on January 14, 2012 at 5:58 pm

      If you don’t mind the aesthetic, it’s great to leave them there over winter to protect the soil, and lightly incorporate them into the top couple inches of soil in the spring if necessary. Otherwise you can compost them. But make sure to have some kind of mulch over winter.

    • Bill_G on June 13, 2012 at 1:25 pm

      Gigi – as the garden whithers in the fall, remove your stakes and trellis, and just lay the plants down on the ground to compost in place. Then bury the rows in several inches of fallen leaves from the trees. As you neighbors bag them and throw them out, go gather them up to make a nice winter blanket for your garden. In spring, you pull back the leaves and last years plants into the paths to reveal the rows again. Let the leaves finish composting in the paths turning them into reservoirs of soil when you need some.

  9. Caitlin Clauss on April 6, 2012 at 5:39 am

    I am new to gardening, and I was wondering about composting, I’m considering keeping kitchen scraps for this. What is the best way to do this without offending my neighbors or smelling up my back porch? Can I add the scraps into my garden, weekly? or should I bury them in some soil in a bucket and aerate/water it? I have no clue what I’m doing 🙂 Have any good references I can check out?

    • Phil on April 8, 2012 at 2:30 pm

      You could do some research on using bokashi in your food pail and then burying that waste in the garden, or you could try your hand at worm composting, or you could just bury the food scraps 12 inches deep in the garden, but it may take awhile to break down that way. I also have a comprehensive video product on composting, but it’s mostly about how to create a full size compost pile outside: http://www.smilinggardener.com

    • Bill_G on June 13, 2012 at 1:47 pm

      Catlin – Keep a one gallon plastic or stainless steel pail in the kitchen to gather scraps. Don’t use a coffee can because it will rust in no time. Empty it once a day into your compost pile, and cover it in wet shredded paper or straw (not hay).  As you work in the garden, mow the lawn, etc, put those trimmings on the pile as well.On the first weekend of the next month, start a new pile right next to the first one, and add all of the next months scraps and garden debris to that pile. After several months you will have a windrow of compost in various stages. By the end of the season, and certainly by the following spring you should have some finished compost that you can use next year.Compost needs to sit on earth. Do not use one of those silly plastic barrels with latching doors and turning handles. All they make is a putrid mess. Give the soil herd easy access to the decomp, and they will do the rest. Over time the soil under the compost pile will become the valuable thing you want for your garden.

  10. Gene Read on June 12, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    I just read a cool eBook on Kindle “Starting a New Garden” by Nick Brennan  http://www.amazon.com/Starting…Check it out lots of great tips enjoy

  11. GardenKim on September 27, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    Could you please elaborate on your tip #6:> Microbes. I take one of the above fertilizers and mix them with a microbial inoculant such as compost tea or effective microorganisms, and a sugar source such as molasses. Microbes are just as important in our soil as organic matter and nutrients. I actually think about them before I think about fertilizing. The sugar source is important to feed the microbes. Microbes aren’t talked about as much, so this is one of the more unique tips about organic vegetable gardening for beginners.<-What is compost tea?-What are the ratios for this and the sugar source?-Do you mix these outside of the garden, or apply directly and combine?I used a hearty dose of year-old horse manure when establishing my organic raised bed last year, then topped with decomposed leaf mulch for the summer.  Other than that, I did not add any organic material throughout the summer, but think I would have vastly improved my results if I had.  Thoughts?Thanks!

    • Phil on October 1, 2012 at 4:40 pm

      Hi Kim,-Compost tea is difficult to explain in detail here, but I covered it more here: http://www.smilinggardener.com… Microorganisms is a different thing, which I covered more here: http://www.smilinggardener.com…-I mix them together in a backpack or hose-end sprayer.It sounds like you did a good job building the raised bed. It can take a few years for that organic matter to be manipulated by microbes/insects/earthworms and turned into a better soil environment, but it should get better for you every year. I don’t add organic matter throughout the summer – just spring and fall.

  12. Lauren on March 27, 2013 at 3:00 pm

    Thank you for the great tips! This is our first year planting a full veggie garden and I felt like a bit of a “cheat” buying pre-started plants because so many of our friends start their own. It seemed like the only way I could ensure we would see real veggies sprouting up and my kids wouldn’t get bored or discouraged. Your tip list reassures me that I’m not cheating, but I was thinking along the right path. Next year we’ll plan ahead a little more and do a bit of both self-starting and buying plants… Also, I just made a note to look into the 2 fertilizer types you mentioned. Thank you again.

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  23. Zindy on February 21, 2017 at 7:00 am

    Phil I have 3 acres and I have ordered seed not sure if I ordered the right kinds but they are non gmo and organic

    I need a plan on wear to plant what
    The land hasn’t been planted on in over 20 years
    I have had a horse and over 10 yrs I had cows. Do I need to add anything or have the ph tested
    Back in the 70’s I watched my grandfather work the garden
    But I have little experience.
    This will be my first time growing from seeds

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