When you are planning your garden, budget is likely to be a factor. You will want to have some money put aside but you can easily keep the expenses budget friendly by sticking to my list:
First, consider the size of the garden. Your costs will go up incrementally with every square foot you add. I would recommend starting out with 1 4×4 raised bed and between 6 to 8 containers for your first year. This is a manageable size & will give you a lot of fresh herbs and vegetables.
The first consideration with building a raised bed is what materials you are going to use to build it. There are lot of options, but here are a few:
Kit: Since at home gardening has experienced such a resurgence, there are many kits out there that you can set up in just about an hour. This one will run you about $40 and is actually the one my mom bought last year. It has held up well over the winter so I have no issue recommending it. If you are not handy and/or do not have the time or space to build your own bed, this is the way to go.
Pressure treated lumber (cost = $2.75/sq ft🙂 is what we used on our garden. Eric built ours four years ago and we have had no issue with it at all (we used railroad ties to attach the pieces together.) There is some controversy about whether pressure treated lumber should be used for edible gardening, but we read the research and weren’t concerned. Total cost would be about $50 and it’s definitely going to last.
Non-traditional materials: I’ve seen raised beds grown in old tires, barrels, and straw bales. I actually really like the straw bale idea because the straw itself will decompose and add to the soil. Here’s a great example of this.
When starting a raised bed, you will need to fill it with soil. Assuming you are building a 4×4 bed that will be 1 foot off the ground (we’ve found a one foot height is perfect for keeping out rabbits and small pests,) you will need about 12 cubic feet of soil. There’s a great calculator here: Soil Calculator
You can buy soil at any garden center or home improvement store. If you buy bagged, it will be more expensive,but it is also more convenient. Budget between $2-$3 per cubic foot for soil.
Lets say you really want to garden but don’t have a yard available. Maybe you live in an apartment or condo, or dorm room, or on the sidewalk. Regardless, you can still garden. Just hit up your local garden store or hardware store and pick up the following:
4-6 window boxes
4 large round patio containers (12” diameter)
3 medium round patio containers (8” diameter)
These can be terra cotta or plastic. You can also repurpose what you have- old milk jugs, soda bottles and juice boxes cut in half are all great planters. I’ve also seen raised beds grown in old kiddie pools. Be creative- all you need is a place to put dirt that’s about 6-12 inches deep.
You will need soil- see above for that info. You’ll probably need about 10 bags of soil to fill the containers.
This is just the basics- you can go crazy but don’t think you need everything they are selling at the garden store!
Watering can or hose (buy the sprayer nozzle for $3 if you can)
Trowel or small hand shovel
Tomato cages and twine
Okay, on to the fun stuff!
If you are growing your first garden, you will want to buy seedlings or small plants. Seed starting is a challenge & is best left to the professionals. The best time in zone 6a to buy and plant seedlings is Memorial Day weekend. Clear your calendar Saturday morning & head out to your local nursery, plant sale (lots of school and church groups do these as fundraisers & their prices are great!) or home improvement store.
Yes, you will pay more for seedlings. You will also save yourself a world of aggravation. You can start seeds next year, after the tip of your thumb is a greenish hue.
You should only grow what you like. For a small garden, you won’t have enough room for corn or plants that require a lot of space, like melons. For the first year, I recommend keeping it very simple.
If you are going the 4×4 bed route, then I recommend you start with:
Two cherry tomato plants
Two regular tomato plants (like Roma, paste, or the larger sandwich type)
Two more tomato plants that are suited to patio containers (your nursery can advise you.) These will go in the largest of the containers you purchased.
Two summer squash plants
Two zucchini plants
Two pepper plants (hot or bell, depending on your preference)
I would also recommend that you buy some potted herbs while you are buying plants. Our first year, I grew:
Two basil plants (but you can really never have enough basil…)
One dill plant
One cilantro plant
One parsley plant
One rosemary plant
One pot of chives
These you will pot in containers. We keep them on the back steps, where they get about a half days worth of sun and this works perfectly. Plus they are close to the kitchen!
In the next post I will go over the planting placement and initial watering plan.
If you are sitting here in March or April and feeling impatient for vegetables, you can prepare the bed or containers and plant some cooler weather crops in early April, like lettuce. These you can direct sow, which means you plant seeds directly into the ground outside.
I hope this is helpful and you are getting excited about your first vegetable garden!