How To: Plant a Vegetable Garden

CATEGORIES: Gardening, Sara, Vegetables

It’s that time of year again!  This week my family worked together and got our garden planted.  If any of you are ready to take a shot at growing your own food, this is a great place to start!  For many places around the country, this is an optimal time to plant.  Take a peek and share what you’re growing at your house.  (Also, if you entered our Epiphanie Bag Giveaway– the winner has been posted!)

Tomato Plant in HandBefore I started this cooking gig and my husband entered the medical field, we were college students studying soil compositions in chem labs, memorizing hundreds of latin terms for plant ID class, and learning how to propagate rare plant species.  We met because we were both finishing up undergraduate degrees in horticulture science and had almost all of our classes together one semester.  People who know us now, and the fields we’re in, think it’s super random that we studied plants, but I always say it must have been to meet each other, and it’s an awesome thing to have in common because now it’s a great (and useful) hobby, and one we’re teaching our 3 sons about.  I’m a huge supporter of getting kids involved in fruit and vegetable gardening in particular.  In a world of pre-packaged everything, forming a sense of partnership with the earth and a responsibility for the food we eat is educational in so many ways.  Besides that, there is something absolutely magical about witnessing the whole process of a tiny dry seed turning into a huge food-bearing plant.  Kids learn about the actual science of plant growth, but also about how to take care of something, tend it, nurture it, watch it grow, and enjoy the very real fruits of their labors.

Planting Watermelon

In most parts of the country, garden season is entering full swing and it’s the perfect time to think about planting.  I’m going to show you what my family has been up to, and even if you’re not interested or able to start a project to this scale, read on!  You can garden in super small spaces, and even without a yard!  Here’s a few tips.  Before you begin:



We have a big open canvas on the side of our house in a sunny spot so my husband and I sketched out what we wanted to do.  4 raised garden boxes, 6′ x 10′ each.  Since we need a post in the corner of each garden box for stability, we’re using the 4 center ones for an arbor.


garden Design

If you’re making a larger garden, or want to build raised beds like I am, you’ll want to actually measure things out where you’re going to put them.

measuring 2

It’s easy to estimate and eyeball, but (especially if you’re building structures) it helps to actually see it.  What you imagine in your head, and what it actually looks like can be quite different.


I like to actually paint things out, so we measured exactly how large our raised boxes would be and slapped some paint on the ground so we could walk around it and make sure we had enough room to walk in between, drive our lawnmower through, pass a wheelbarrow, etc.

measuring 3

Once that was ready, we (and by we I mean my husband) grabbed some wood from Lowe’s.  We’re using 10′ x 12″ boards so we can use one full board for the side of our boxes and just cut one board in half to use for the two smaller sizes.

wood on trailer

I’ll stop using the word “we” at this point, since it’s obvious I had nothing to do with the following steps besides snapping the occasional photo and yelling, “Good job, guys!”  My husband and little brother gave the boards a quick cut ( the brother who made it very clear during the process these photos better not end up on my blog.  ha.  Sorry bro, at least it’s only like, half of the back of your head so no one knows it’s you.  Except I just told them all.)

Cutting Wood

And then connected them with large wood screws.  Seriously, assembling these boxes took maybe 3 1/2 minutes, each.  You can see we have one smaller board running across the middle of the box- if your box is large like mine, that middle board will stabilize the box and keep it from bowing out once’s it’s filled with dirt and settled.  There are tons of tutorials online if you want to get fancy with raised beds; ours are very, very basic (and very, very easy to make!)

Staining Boxes

After the boxes were put together, we (no really, I actually helped with this part) gave them a quick coat of stain.  The stain not only adds to the aesthetic, but helps seal the wood so it will last longer.  You do want to be careful with treating wood that is used to grow food because you don’t want materials (like treated lumber) to leach things into your soil.  We used a waterproof stain, and applied it mostly to the outsides of the boxes.  With the size of our garden boxes, it shouldn’t be a problem with anything leaching into the soil.  To stabilize the boxes even more, you can put metal brackets on those corners.


Once the garden boxes are assembled, you’ll need to fill them.  We used a mix of 3 parts topsoil to 1 part compost.  If you already have dirt in your yard, you can just grab a few bags of compost or peat moss (available and garden or home improvement stores) and toss them in there.  Compost adds vital nutrients that will help your plants grow faster and stronger.  In fact once your garden is planted, grass clippings (as long as your grass hasn’t been treated with chemicals) does wonders sprinkled in around your plants.

Do you notice in the photo below how the dirt is sitting right next to the boxes?

Dirt Pile

Wouldn’t it have been awesome had we arranged with the dump truck driver to dump the dirt directly into our boxes, since they’re conveniently located just inches from our driveway?  And it wouldn’t it totally suck if he showed up 4 hours early when we weren’t home and left it in our driveway to shovel?  Yes.  Yes it would.

Once the boxes are built, placed, and filled, you’re ready for the very very best part.  The plants!

Think about what your family likes to eat, but also think out of the box.  One of the very best ways to add flavors to your palate is to grow them yourself.

A lot of people think since I’m a horticulturist, I must have an elaborate sprouting operation going on, growing my own heirloom varieties indoors in the winter.  Not so.  I never get started till about right now.  We grow some things from seed, like zucchini, squash, beans, and melons, because they sprout so quickly and grow fast.  However for most other things, I just buy small plants.


Seeds are obviously much less expensive than plants, and you get quite a few seeds in a single packet, but I usually just spend the 2 bucks and buy a little plant for the head start it gives me in the middle of May.  If they come in a little bio-degradable pot, I recommend tearing off at least the top and bottom of the pot (or the entire thing).  Even though it says you can put it right in the ground, they often don’t biodegrade until after the growing season, so they can end up sucking water away from your plant and trapping the little roots in there.


Recently, someone left a comment on one of our blog posts complimenting me on always being dressed and accessorized with my hair done and asked if I ever wore yoga pants.  I spit a little water on my keyboard.  Remember our recent post about keepin’ it real?  Here’s a little real for ya.  Still in my workout clothes about 9 hours after working out.  No make-up, nasty sweaty hair, dirt-rubbed face and all.  Super glam.  And super norm.

Planting Tomatoes

Back to the garden.  We’ve experimented with a lot of different plants over the years and now we grow a lot of what we know we like, and then a few wild-cards just for fun.  One of my favorites is the herb section.  If you grow nothing else, grow a pot of basil.  Your pasta will thank you.


And if you have kids, involve them!  I’ve never seen my kids so excited about vegetables than when we were looking at the hundreds of little sprouts and seed packets at the store and they could look at the photos and pick what they wanted to grow.

Seed Prep

Magical, I tell ya.

Planting Seeds

And they will absolutely be more interested in eating something they helped pick out and take care of.

Planting Melon

These little guys have already been hard at work and I can’t wait for them to see the fruits of their labors!

Kids in garden
Even if you don’t take on something this size, think about planting a tomato plant in a pot on your porch, or a little container of basil and oregano.  You’ll be happy on a warm summer night when you’ve got a bowl of pasta in front of you!

So where are all of my gardeners?  What are you guys planting this year?  Any requests for recipes using things you know you’ll have tons of this summer??




  1. Your post couldn’t have come at a better time. I was just thinking to myself this morning that I wanted to grow a little garden at our new house. I am thinking of an Italian garden. (Tomatoes, basil, oregano. rosemary & italian parsley). Thanks for the helpful hints…I am going to leave your website up & have my husband “stumble” upon it.

  2. My husband is in the military so we move around every couple of years, so a large garden isn’t in the cards for us. (Not until we retire. *shrugs*) But I have 3 large containers that I plant every year. Right now we have strawberries, corn and lettuces growing really well. (the corn is a first year just to see if it works kind of thing) I have 3 varieties of tomatoes and a bell pepper waiting to be planted!

    There is truly nothing like growing some of your own food!

  3. I planned on having a garden this year and then cancer hit our household. My husband had brain surgery almost 3 months ago and is in the middle of daily radiation treatment. We have 5 acres and there is so much we wanted to do this year but now all of our plans are on hold. I have done container gardening at our old house with tomatoes and had mixed results, but would you have any recommendations on what I could plant in a container with limited time? Our back yard faces the south and the ground is so uneven I don’t know even where I would put a container!

  4. Sweet boxes. Your yard is huge! My fave things for our garden are tomatoes, green beans, corn, zucchini and squash. We also love beets but last year planted WAY too many (it was our first year doing a garden and planted too much of most things. Live and learn). Do you grow basil from seed or just buy a plant? I had some seeds so planted a pot but haven’t seen anything yet. I’ll give it some more time And see how that goes.

  5. I’d like to start small this summer…really small! Any tips for just herbs? I’ve heard bits and pieces, like herbs spread and pick from the sides, etc., but I’d love some starter information for someone without a green thumb 🙂

    Someday I’d love to move on to raised beds like you have. So cool!

  6. Loved this post, Sara! I had to give up the backyard garden for this year, after my epic fail last year, due to an overzealous golden retriever puppy who laughed at my lame attempt to keep him out of the raised bed with a 3 ft. chiken wire fence. He’s just not ready for the responsibility of staying out of the garden while I work full time. So my answer this year? I read about straw bale gardening and bought myself a straw bale that I’ve placed in the FRONT yard and planted with some herbs. It’s an experiment this year, and hopefully will expand to more veggies next year. Maybe by then the retriever will be out of the puppy phase and allow me to plant the bales in the backyard instead!

  7. I really appreciated your post as i have been wanting to learn how to garden. Right now i live in a small apartment and won’t be able to for a few years. I love herbs and use them weekly in cooking so i am trying to grow basil and maybe some others. What would you suggest is the best way to grow them? They would have to be in pots on my balcony.

  8. LOVE your garden post! I wish more people could get on board with this. I get so grouchy when summer is over and I actually have to BUY my vegetables and herbs. We have a very similar setup to yours. We actually filled the walkways with really pretty gravel to keep the weeds and mud down when we walk in between. We also have an arbor that we planet clematis underneath so the beautiful flowers fill the space and make it look more ‘flower gardeny’ than ‘vegetable gardeny’. I think I will be doing my herbs on my front porch this year though so it’s right outside the kitchen. Great idea!

  9. Can’t say how much I love this post – I mean, I love all your posts, but this one in particular! For many years we had a place for a garden but didn’t put one in (too much work?) but finally my boys talked me into one. My wonderful husband dug our 12X12 plot out of our yard (we have VERY thick grass, so his is super wonderful!) and after a great deal of amending, we have a decent garden. I used the things we grew last year to make/jar 2 types of salsa, sweet pickle relish, hot pepper jelly, and watermelon jelly. We also had fresh bruschetta and salsa all summer long.

    We just finished planting it for this year – zucchini, pie pumpkin, walla walla onions, beets, 3 types of tomatoes and 5 types of peppers. We also have some herbs in pots – sweet mint, thyme, oregano, and basil.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.