Things to Consider when Starting Your Vegetable Garden

What to grow

  • Favorites of the family
  • Valuable crops (herbs)
  • Short season crops (40‐50 day crop vs. 85 day crop)

Space needs

  • Sunny location 8+ hrs of sun is crucial to plants that form fruit (tomato, cucumber, squash, eggplant, peppers, melon.) Many leafy vegetables (lettuce, spinach, etc.) need less sun
  • Choose a high spot—cold air settles in low spots and shortens the productive season. Low spots also tend to have drainage problems
  • Start small: 2'×2'×1' deep container to 10'×10'+ plots
  • A 30’×30’ garden will yield enough fresh produce for a family of 4
  • Intensive culture requires expert care but little space: bush bean (6"×6"), beet (4"×4"), carrot (2"×2"), chard (9"×9"), lettuce (6"×6"), onion (3"×3"), pea (2"×2"), radish (1"×1"), spinach (4"×4"), tomato (24"×24")

Time needs

  • Most vegetables are annual crops, so demand much attention during the growing season
  • Begin small: it’s wise to allow time for proper care of a productive, smaller garden
  • How much time do I need: OSU researcher estimates that a 10'×10' garden requires 40 minutes per week for planting and cultivation, plus an additional 30 minutes for each watering session.

Ideal calendar

  • Fall – soil test, soil amendment
  • Winter – plan, order seeds
  • Spring to fall – sow, fertilize, water, weed, and harvest

Soil preparation

  • Test for pH; your local Master Gardeners can help with this 
  • Add dolomite lime (magnesium and calcium) to balance acid soil
  • Add 2" of compost to improve soil structure & long-term source of nitrogen
  • Add fertilizer – annual crops need extra help to grow well
  • Work the ground only when soil moisture is ideal; wait if you can squeeze water out of a handful of soil
  • In containers – use potting mix, not garden soil


  • Check soil and air temperature before planting; a soil thermometer comes in handy
  • Soil and air temps for some favorites are: Pea (35°F), onion (35°F), carrot (40°F), bean (50°F), eggplant/pepper/tomato (55°F), basil (60°F)
  • Sow seeds directly for short season crops such as: Salad mix (21 days), chard (30‐ 55 days), peas (62 days)
  • Sow indoors or purchase starts for long season crops
  • If purchasing starts, select healthy plants firmly established in pot but without encircling roots.
  • Transplant after soaking roots in water to rid any air bubbles; take care not to damage roots in transplanting and water thoroughly after transplanting
  • Make raised beds by mounding soil to improve drainage and raise soil temperature in root zone


  • Know your N‐P‐K by learning to read fertilizer labels
  • Leafy greens need more nitrogen (N), fruits such as tomatoes need more phosphorus (P), and roots such as potatoes need more potassium (K)
  • Plants use only nutrients that are dissolved in soil water; most nutrients in soil are not soluble
  • Apply fertilizer at the right time: Chemical fertilizers dissolve quickly and are immediately available to plants; Organic fertilizers need to break down before becoming available to plants, work them into soil a few months before planting
  • Organic fertilizers –Nitrogen: fish emulsion (3‐5%), composted chicken manure (3%), blood meal (12‐15%); Phosphorus: bone meal (12‐24%); Potassium: kelp meal (2‐5%)
  • Fertilize according to needs:
  • Heavy feeders – beet, collard, kale, lettuce, parsley, spinach, tomato; Light feeders – carrot, garlic, onion, chard, mustard, pepper
  • Do not fertilize soil builders – bean, pea, soybean, clover


  • Water to keep the root zone evenly moist; dig down 6‐8” after watering to check soil moisture
  • Drip system delivers water to the roots to minimize loss to evaporation
  • Overhead watering dampens leaves and can foster disease
  • The most critical stage for watering varies by plants: Beans/peas during flowering and pot development; Broccoli/cabbage during head formation and enlargement; Eggplants/peppers/ tomatoes from blossom set to fruit enlargement; Lettuce and other leafy vegetables from germination to harvest; Onions during bulb formation

Was this page helpful?

Related Content from OSU Extension

Ask an Expert

Have a Question? Ask an Expert!

Ask an Expert is a way for you to get answers from the Oregon State University Extension Service. We have experts in family and health, community development, food and agriculture, coastal issues, forestry, programs for young people, and gardening.

Ask Us a Question