A Beginner’s Guide to Vegetable Gardening + A Giveaway

Starting any new project can bring on doubts and concerns.  When it comes to planting your first vegetable garden those thoughts can be double fold because at the end of the day your reward is tangible.  Fresh, juicy, sweet homegrown vegetables. Flavors not like any you tasted before.  So of course you want to succeed. And I’m going to give you some tips on how to be the most successful beginner vegetable gardener around.  I’m not going to get all detailed and scientific on you.  Just some realistic, common sense tips to help you on your way.  Only you know how much sun your location truly gets or what type of soil you have and even if you have stacked all the right cards in your hand Mother Nature will still be your ultimate judge.

So many varieties of lettuce can be planted for the best salad around.

So many varieties of lettuce can be planted for the best salad around.

1. Keep it Small

When you are first starting out don’t go digging an acreage of soil and picking 50 different varieties of plants to grow.  You may decide you don’t like gardening after all and an over ambitious idea will get you to that decision sooner.  A simple 8 x 8 is sufficient for a handful of plants.  You can always expand as you get the hang of it.  And don’t rule out using containers for vegetables.

2. Pick 3 or 4 vegetables that you actually eat.

Don’t start growing celeriac or kohlrabi if you have no intentions of actually eating it. Look at what you normally pick up at the grocery store. Try growing some of those. Lettuce, tomatoes, sweet peppers, beans and carrots are probably your safest bet the first time around.  And go to the garden center and buy already established plants.  I want you to get the hang of growing successfully before you venture into seeds.

Can't go wrong with carrots!

Can’t go wrong with carrots!

3. Know your location

Vegetables need three important things:


Compost rich and well draining is the standby.  If you have thick clay or loose sandy soil you will have to do some work to fix it.  This is also where you could consider using containers your first time around since bags of perfect vegetable growing soil can easily be purchased.


Don’t dig your garden way in the back forty of your property.  Vegetables need water to survive so make sure you can easily obtain it for your garden. And water will be very important because you need lots of hot, drying sun. They need about 1 inch of water per week but if you are in a heat wave and the plants look parched give them a drink.


Remember this equation: sun = sugar. What that means is the more sun your plants receive the sweeter and tastier they will be.  There are cooler, shadier vegetable varieties out there but the majority prefer bright sunny days.  Once again containers are movable and can help you get the amount of sun you need.


4. Accept that nothing works as planned.

Despite all our good intentions things may not go according to plan.  The summer may be abnormally dry or wet. You may go away on a last minute vacation and the garden can get forgotten. Things happens, plants die.  Yet by keeping your investment small and manageable the loss may not be so huge.  And if you end up with an abundance of delicious tasting vegetables after all bravo my friend you have done it!  Time to think about expansion.

Thanks to my friends over at Raincoast Books I want to help you have even more success in your garden.

Tomatomania is THE resource you need on growing tomatoes in your garden.  From practical growing advice to recipes and cooking tips you can’t learn enough about this perfect beginner plant. And I want to give one lucky winner there one copy to enjoy. Enter below and leave me a comment telling me what you have or want to plant in your garden this year.

Happy Gardening!



a Rafflecopter giveaway

Contest Rules:

Open to legal Canadian (excluding Quebec) and US residents.
No purchase necessary to enter.
Canadian Winner is required to answer a skill testing question. Winner will be notified by email on July 2, 2015 and will have 48 hours to respond before another winner will be selected.
Contest runs from June 22, 2015 to June 29, 2015.

*I have generously received  Tomatomania free of charge however all opinions are entirely my own.

Container Vegetables and Fruits

Planting vegetable in containers can have many benefits.  You don’t have to worry about weeds, you can control the amount of water and fertilizer each plant receives, depending on the plant you choose can completely customize the soil it is planted in and you can be super creative with container colours, sizes and shapes.  That being said unless you have tons and tons of containers your yield will be small and you have to water the plants more often.

Container Vegetable gardening from The Tasty Gardener

Here are some examples you can plant in containers based on skill level.

Plants For Beginners

Lettuce, spinach, bush beans and peppers are great plants for beginners.  They require very little work aside from sprinkle a few seeds or planting a couple of plants. Herbs are also perfect for beginners.

Lavender and Spinach from The Tasty Gardener

Lavender and Spinach

Other plants for beginners:

  • Kale
  • Rhubarb
  • Chives
  • Green Onions
  • Sunflowers

Plants for Intermediate Gardeners.

Carrots, radishes, onions and garlic all have deep roots so you have to make sure your pot is deep enough.  Tomatoes need staking and vegetables like  cucumbers and zucchini need the space to trail. Spreading peas and beans also need a trellis or pole to climb.

Container Tomatoes from The Tasty Gardener

Container Tomatoes

Other plants for Intermediate Gardener:

  • Pumpkins
  • Beets
  • Parsnips
  • Cabbage
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Potatoes
  • Squash
  • Eggplant

Plants for Advanced Gardeners.

Fruit trees and shrubs require special soil conditions and some need very specific soil condition.  Pruning of these plants are necessary to keep the plant thriving and a turn in weather conditions can prove deadly for a lot of fruit plants.

Pink Lemonade Blueberry from The Tasty Gardener

Blueberry Bush

Other Plants for Advanced Gardeners

  • Cauliflower
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Blackberries
  • Asparagus
  • Blueberries
  • Most fruit trees

As with all plants make sure you do your research before you plant anything.

A Gardeners Adjustment to Life’s Obstacles

So this was my vegetable garden last year.
Veggie Garden (3)

This is my vegetable garden this year.


Why such a change? Aging and life threw me for a loop and this is how I cope.

I have been gardening since I was a confused teenager deciding what to do with my life after high school. One summer I decided to plant my first ever garden in my parents backyard. My mom took me to a small garden center a woman ran from the side of her property. She had a couple greenhouses and some land and plenty of knowledge on all things botanical. An hour later with her help our car was full of perennials and I was chomping at the bit to get digging. I broke many gardening rules that day and almost my back slogging away at extremely healthy sod to create a large kidney shape graden bed. I piled it with fresh dirt and carefully planted each of my purchases. When I was picking out the plants I went by looks and probably got one of everything she owned. Problem number one and two, not knowing what I was really getting and planting in singles.

Here is a photo I dug up of my first ever garden.

First Garden from The Tasty GardenerBy the end of the year it was looking like this.  Not too bad for my first try.

Garden by the end of the summer from The Tasty GardenerFrom that year on my winters consisted of pouring over seed and plant catalogs and gardening books.  And in my final year at high school I realized I enjoyed this so much that I would pursue it further in college.  Several months later and many degrees colder I was enrolled in the Horticulture program at Cambrian College in Sudbury.  Why so far up north?  Reason one: if you can grow things that far North you should be able to grow things anywhere. Reason Two: It’s the only college both my best friend and I got into and oddly Reason Three: We had this thing for hockey….and hockey boys. Enough said.

I was fortunate enough to thrive in my course becoming the greenhouse supervisor when there was cut backs the second year of my program and teaching Botany to the first years.

Here we getting the final crop of poinsettias ready for sale.

College GreenhouseBetween first and second year of school I got a job at a cut and dried flower farm. How many people can say they had a job interview that involved walking up and down rows of plants identify what each was?

Cut and Dried Flower Farm from the Tasty GardenerI spent several years after I had graduated working for this and another landscaping company before several factors in my life led to a career burnout.  It’s hard for any company or employee to stay successful in an seasonal industry or in an industry that at that time looked down on woman working  on a landscaping crew.

I went through many career changes, several more courses at school and lots of soul searching before I came to be in the field I’m in now but nothing has really kept me out of the garden.  My skills obviously improved as you can see by this pond I built in my parents backyard.

Pond from The Tasty GardenerWhen I moved into my first apartment in Toronto and subsequent Condos with DH I still tried to keep my thumb green. It usually was a couple container plantings but it still required a trip to the garden center. It wasn’t until we moved into our current location,  a rental house with free reign in the yard that I got to go head long into a gardening project again.  And that produced the above vegetable garden from last year and a revamp of the front shrubbery.

Before and After.

House-Front yard before and After from the Tasty Gardener House-Front yard before and After from the Tasty Gardener

Events this past winter have put a damper on my horticultural enthusiasm.

For the last three years I’ve had shoulder pain that would come and go depending on what I had been doing.  My work is extremely repetitive and can take it’s toll and I do spend a huge amount of time on the computer.  In the last year however the pain has been constant.  Even my monthly massage therapy sessions only gave me respite for a couple days before the pain would return.  And I seemed to get migraines more frequently. I finally caved and went to my doctor who in turn sent my for a CAT scan and ultrasound.

To be completely honest I thought that maybe I had pulled something or maybe it was a bout of bursitis.  Unfortunately it’s not that simple.  The diagnosis I received was mild arthritis and moderate disc degenerative disease in my spine.  What I thought was shoulder pain turns out to originate from my spinal column and radiates through the nerves in my shoulder and arm.  I’m 37 years old.  I’m too young for this.  There is no way to fix this, only pain management.  Knowing the pain I’m in now I am terrified what ten years will bring.  I can take drugs, go for physio and massage and try to strengthen certain muscles to help reduce the pain but ultimately this is not going away.

Which is why my vegetable garden looks like this now.

Container Vegetable gardening from The Tasty Gardener

Digging through the dirt and slugging tools out to the backyard garden is something I feel I need to sacrifice to help with my pain.  And on the flip side I have this awesome little garden space right out my backdoor that I don’t have to weed, I can add and subtract colorful containers depending on my wants and needs and I can totally have fun with the plants I choose.

Here I have planted lavender and spinach.

Lavender and Spinach from The Tasty Gardener


And I have plenty of fresh herbs for my cooking.

Herbs from The Tasty Gardener

And i’m really excited about this one.  A Pink Lemonade Blueberry bush.

Pink Lemonade Blueberry from The Tasty GardenerI’ve also planted some tomatoes (surrounded by marigolds to control the bugs), hot and sweet peppers, mustard greens, cucumber and lots of different lettuces.

I had big plans for my yard when we moved here.  I had dreams of massive perennial gardens and creating an outdoor dining oasis.  Like all things in life some need to be adjusted.  Nothing can ever be written in stone.  I’m resilient. I can adapt.  I will make the changes I need to allow myself many more years of small space gardening.  I have been enjoying my life as a gardener for 20 years.  I’m not ready to stop yet.