How to start a vegetable garden: guide for beginners

vegetable patch

RACV Staff

Posted March 15, 2022


Become a green thumb in no time by using our guide to starting a vegetable garden in your own home. 

A study by The Australia Institute found that 52 per cent of Australian homes like to grow some of their own food. For many, the motivation is to eat more healthily. For around 60 per cent of people, it’s about saving money and producing tastier food.

The sheer enjoyment of making your own food from scratch and seeing gardening as being ‘good for the mind and the soul’ can be a motivating factor to starting a vegetable garden from scratch. 

So, if you've never had a veggie patch but like the idea of harvesting fresh vegetables from your own backyard - how do you start a vegetable garden? 

 

Jump to: Seasonal Calendar - when to grow and harvest vegetables


Vegetable gardening for beginners  

 

What to plant in your vegetable garden and when

First things first. What kind of foods are you going to have in your veggie garden – and when is the best time to start?

You may wish to think of the purpose of your vegetable garden, and how much space you have to grow your patch. Great vegetables that can grow year-round include tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, kale, and certain onions.

Take the the time to choose vegtables that work best for when you get started - from gardens to start in autumn to the best herbs to grow in winter. 

For those wanting to start a vegetable garden in an apartment or smaller dwelling, consider potted vegetable plants such as rocket, spring onion, beans, peas, or radishes. You could also consider growing a vegetable garden from food scraps.

Herbs are also a great way to start off small, while providing your household with a myriad of homegrown flavours to choose from, such as parsley, mint, chives, and oregano.

For a monthly, year-round guide, see our handy table below. 

Where to grow a vegetable garden at home

The best place for a vegetable garden is on level ground, or slightly elevated. You also will want to think about exposure to natural water sources like rain, as well as sunlight. It is best to avoid spaces next to large landmarks or fencing areas that have the ability to block out the sunlight.

“The best veggie patches have good sun exposure – so have a northerly or westerly aspect,” says Richard Rowe, Training and Learning Coordinator at Sustainable Gardening Australia.

“Fruiting vegetables, like tomatoes, cucumbers and summer crops, need at least eight hours of sunlight a day. If you have a smaller courtyard and not as much sun, you can still have a veggie garden, but you’ll do better with root vegetables and leafy vegetables like lettuce, silverbeet, spinach, peas, carrots, parsnips, and radishes. They won’t grow as quickly but you will have a reasonable crop.”

Doing the groundwork

Just as important as your vegetable patch location is the soil you choose to grow your new produce in. Whether your soil is clay, sandy or loamy, add animal manure or compost before planting.

“It’s the key to start bringing your veggie garden to life – it feeds the life within the soil,” says Rowe. Organic materials like manure should be mixed in gently with the soil to releases nutrients and retain moisture, helping your vegetables grow.

If your soil contains clay, Rowe recommends adding some gypsum (available at local hardware stores and nurseries) to break down the heavy clay structure.

 

assortment of root vegetables

Root vegetables are easy to manage (and grow) and you don't have to worry about the summer heat.


Managing the weather

Most veggies love sun, advises Rowe, but you’ll need to take extra care of your vegetable garden during harsh periods of prolonged heat. On days of 40 degrees-plus, you need to shade your vegetables and plants from the sun.

“Use a shade cloth or buy a couple of white cotton sheets from an op shop and use those to shield your veggies from the sun,” Rowe advises. Remove the cloth or sheets when the intensely hot days pass. Keep lettuce and herbs out of the sun, as they don’t take the heat well – they prefer to be planted in a cooler, shaded spot.

In colder months, put a cloth over potato plants if the weather is likely to drop to zero degrees or below at night. Frost burns the leaves of potato plants and will ruin your crop. If you are growing plants up a trellis, secure it firmly against winds. 

How to deal with pests in your vegetable garden

Besides weather, pests can be one of the factors to send your newly curated vegetable garden from being delicious to deflating.

If pests are a concern, try to use natural rather than chemical methods to control them, because chemicals don’t only kill bugs, they affect life in the soil, too.

To get started, have barriers in place, such as netting and snail traps, and remove any bugs and snails you see by hand. 

For families with young kids, Rowe suggests to “get a magnifying glass, because kids love to look at bugs. Give them five cents for every snail they find to help with pest management.”

He also advises leaving items around your vegetable patch. “Don’t leave rubbish around the garden bed, like piles of wood, because rubbish becomes a hotel for pests to live in. And bring good bugs into the garden to fight off the bad bugs.” 

The most common mistakes

Short bursts of enthusiasm

You might be enthusiastic when you build and plant your veggie patch, but that dedication has to be maintained for results. “It requires regular attention. If you plant and then don’t look at your vegetable garden for a week or two, the snails and pests will have wiped out your seedlings,” says Rowe.

Not watering pants enough

Water thoroughly and regularly. Consider making it a ritual for the plants that require regular watering – perhaps a child can have fun doing it with a watering can, or take it for a time to chill out with a podcast.

Alternatively, consider a drip irrigation system, as it applies water directly to the soil. There is less water around the leaves so your plants are less likely to get fungal diseases. 

Picking vegetables too soon

Only pick when vegetables are ripe. “At the supermarket, veggies are picked early and ripen as they travel to stores, so don’t have as much flavour,” says Rowe.

When to grow and harvest vegetables: yearly calendar

Vegetable

Vegetable

When to grow

When to harvest

Asparagus

Aug-Nov

Apr-May

Beetroot

Oct-Jan

Dec- April

Broad beans

Aug-Sep

Dec-Feb

Broccoli

Nov-Dec

Jul-Aug

Cabbage

Jul-Oct

Jan-May

Cauliflower

Mar-May

Aug-Sep

Carrots

Sep-Jan

Dec-May

Climbing beans

Oct-Feb

Jan-Apr

Cucumbers

Aug-Nov

Jan-Mar

Eggplant

Jul-Sep

Jan-Mar

Garlic

Sep-Oct

Feb-Apr

Leek

Sep-Oct

Mar-Aug

Lettuce

Sep-Feb

Feb-May

Onions

Sep-Oct

Feb-Apr

Parsnips

Sep-Oct

Feb-Apr

Peas

Oct-Jan

Dec-Apr

Potatoes

Sep-Oct

Dec-Mar

Radishes

Sep-Mar

Nov-May

Spinach

Sep-Dec

Dec-Apr

Squash

Sep-Nov

Jan-Apr

Sweet corn

Oct-Dec

Feb-Mar

Tomatoes

Oct-Nov

Feb-Apr

Zucchinis

Sep-Nov

Jan-Apr