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Are You Ready to Grow Your Own Vegetable Garden?

Updated: Jan 17

Have you been dreaming of growing food in your very own garden? Well, I’m here to tell you – this is the year to make it happen! Many people want to grow their own vegetables to use in their recipes but aren’t sure where to begin.  With spring just around the corner, there’s still  time to plan and prepare for a bountiful harvest, even if you’re new to gardening! 

Let me give you some important things to consider about ‘where’, ‘what’, and ‘how’ so you can get growing this year.

Choosing the Perfect Growing Spot

First things first; you’ll need to decide the ideal location for your plants.. Start by exploring your backyard, side yard, and even your front yard. Take note of the sunlight –are there any homes, trees, fences, or structures casting a shadow that could hinder the sun from reaching that prime location? 

You will want to aim for an area that gets 6-8 hours of sun per day. Use a compass or the map app on your phone to determine which part of your yard is facing south, as it generally enjoys the longest duration of sunlight. Once you have a spot in mind, take note of the size, ensuring it aligns with your gardening goals.  Make note of how big that potential space is.

Choosing the Right Growing Bed

Now that you’ve found that sweet spot, the next step is to decide how large you want your garden to be. A good size for a starter garden is 3’x6’, giving you 18 square feet of garden. This size bed allows you to reach into the bed rather than stepping into it, preventing  soil compaction which can hinder growing conditions. And you have the option of designing your bed to keep out pets, children, or deer. If you happen to have a lot of deer visitors, you will likely have to take a more involved approach to protecting your veggies. 

If you decide to build a raised bed, it’s advisable to use untreated wood because research has shown that small amounts of chemicals can leach into the soil, which can be absorbed by the plants. Cedar is one of the best woods you can use because it doesn’t rot as quickly as other woods. Or you can also repurpose a pallet into a 4’x6’ bed (as seen below) but again, untreated wood is best for vegetable gardens.

Understanding Your Growing Zone

Don’t skip this section!  I personally live North of Philadelphia in zone 7a/6b and can’t stress enough how valuable it is to know your growing zone. You can use the Farmer’s Almanac to identify your zone. 

Once you’ve pinpointed your zone, you’ll gain insights into the  optimal times to plant your garden, guided by the expected last frost date. In zone 7a/6b, our estimated last frost date is April 15th of each year. But to stay on the safe side, I typically start a week or two later depending on the weather forecast. For example, in 2020 a late frost surprised us on May 8th, and sadly, many gardeners in my area lost vegetable plants.

Note: As a precaution it is wise to place a sheet or cloth covering your plants should you have a surprise frost after planting.

Getting to Know Your Growing Calendar

If you’re starting to feel overwhelmed by what and when to plant based on zoning, don’t fret! The Urban Farmer created a user-friendly scheduling guide to help gardener’s like you and me.Their insightful charts are a valuable tool to help you decide whether to start your planting indoors, when to transition outdoors, and the ideal times for direct seeding.

As an example, here is the Urban Farmer’s guide for Zone 7:

Growing Outdoors or Indoors

Next you’ll have some important decisions to make about the best planting method for your unique garden. Will you be planting from seed or opt for nursery plants? Will you plant the seeds directly into the soil or begin indoors? Or maybe you're considering a combination of all three methods?

Kickstart this decision-making process by listing out the plants you envision growing in your garden. Root vegetables like beets, carrots, radishes, and potatoes thrive when planted directly in the outside soil. Other plants for direct seeding are melons, peas, spinach, squashes, cucumbers, and corn. On the flip side, lettuces, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, peppers, celery, cabbage, and eggplant tend to flourish when started indoors.

If you struggle with the seed process or have a specific plant in mind that you cannot find seed for, you can always purchase from a nursery. Whether you start indoors or outdoors, be sure to research how much space each mature plant will require. This information will guide you in knowing how many seeds to buy and how many you will plant. 

Hint: It’s a good idea to grow more than you think you will need. Extra veggies make great gifts for friends and neighbors!

Choosing a Growing Container for Indoor Seeding

While planting seeds directly in the soil is an option, starting them indoors, especially for certain plants, can give your garden a head start (refer to specific plant suggestions above.) For example, you can kick off your tomato plants inside 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost date. By the time it’s ready to transplant them outside, you’ll already have a healthy, established plant. 

To get started on indoor seed starting, you’ll need 2 containers; one with drainage holes and another solid tray without holes to collect excess water. You can  buy growing trays (see photos below) from your local nursery/hardware store or you can DIY your own containers. I personally prefer to use plug trays and re-use them every season:

Left to Right: Plug Tray (with drainage holes), Bottom Tray (no drainage), Dome (until seeds germinate, then remove), Seed labels (re-usable, just wipe with nail polish remover), Label Marker

Choosing the Ideal Growing Medium for Starting Seeds Indoors

Selecting the right soil is crucial to foster the growth of your seeds. Here are some ideas to get you started. For new plants, the optimal soil is a sterile seed starting mix which minimizes the risk of introducing a virus or foreign invader that could potentially harm your seeds. While  seeds do germinate and grow naturally outdoors, , using the soil from your garden comes with variable risks and potentially hungry critters. 

In addition, a seed starting mixture provides finer textures than outdoor soil, providing a lightweight composition that ensures ideal oxygen and moisture levels to support germination. It also helps the early life of a sapling (baby plant). 

Here are my top soil recommendations:

Choosing Your Growing Seeds

There are so many seed options out there! Whether you find them locally at a nearby nursery or hardware store, or opt to order seeds online, the choices are endless. Online suppliers offer some seeds in bulk as well as unique varieties. Keep in mind that they can be more expensive and have additional shipping costs, so I would suggest partnering with some fellow gardeners for joint orders. It can be fun to see your friends’ plants growing at the same time! 

It’s worth noting that online seed shopping is a popular choice among many gardeners,  so demand is high and suppliers are always working to keep up. So, if you plan on ordering online for this upcoming spring, don’t wait.

Here are my recommendations for online shopping:

Fruition Seeds is a great source for organic seeds. They are located in New York and specialize in providing seeds for growers in shorter seasons. The owner, Petra, has a wealth of knowledge on her website.

Renee’s Garden offers only non-GMO varieties and lots of organic seed options. Their seed packets are also gorgeous!

Johnny’s Selected Seeds has many seeds as well as garden supplies. Due to their demand they are limiting orders from home gardeners. Check out their website to learn more.

Botanical Interests just celebrated 25 years of offering high quality seeds. They are a great source for online seed purchases.

Note: Make sure to plant only 1 to 3 seeds per a cell in a plug tray because not all seeds will germinate. If more than one plant does come up, sacrifice the excess plants. You do not want more than 1 plant fighting for space in each cell. I do this after a plant has 2 sets of leaves. My trays pictured above show some that still need to be sacrificed.

Choosing a Growing Light & Pad

If you’re considering starting your plants indoors, relying solely on a window location may not be the ideal solution because seedlings tend to get leggy, reaching toward the sunlight.  While a heated greenhouse remains a dream for many, (it’s on my wishlist!) it’s not the only option.

You can use a combination of a grow light and heating mat, both of which you can buy online:

This Grow Light from Amazon is very similar to the first one I ever purchased and is still one of my favorites. As far as how to place your light over your plants, here is a graphic that shows the distance based on whether the bulbs are LED or fluorescent:

When you use a heat mat you will create an environment that speeds seed germination, supports a healthier plant and prevents the plant from staying too wet. I would recommend this Heating Mat:

Learning to Grow in your Home

If you’ve chosen to start growing inside, remember the crucial step of hardening off your plants prior to transplanting into your garden. This ‘hardening off’ process involves gradually exposing your plants to the outdoor environment a little bit at a time. Begin by placing them in a sheltered and shaded area, then gradually move them into a sunnier location. 

This gradual acclimation helps your plants adjust to the outdoor climate without overwhelming them. Over the course of 1-2 weeks, gradually increase the time they spend outside each day. If you move them out too quickly, you risk compromising your strong and happy seedlings. 

For most plants, I recommend starting this process about 1 week before the final frost date in your zone. L avoid leaving them out at night until after the final frost date to ensure their well-being. Refer to your seed packet for further guidance.

Here’s a glimpse of last year’s plants ‘hardening off’ before finding their place in the garden:

You’re now closer to turning your dream garden into a reality than ever before! I hope you feel more confident in your knowledge and ready to dive in.

After gardening for over a decade, I can assure you that the learning never stops. If you find yourself overwhelmed by the amount of information, don’t be discouraged – gardening is an ongoing journey of discovery.  New techniques and methods are being unveiled  every day, making being a gardener challenging but also fun and rewarding. Remember: Always remember –to be a gardener is to be a learner

As you gear up to start your garden, I hope you’re filled with confidence. But if you find yourself desiring more guidance or conversation, I’d be happy to schedule a 30 minute Zoom consultation with you for $35.  We can dive into your personal garden goals and address any questions you might have. Email me at to schedule a time to chat. I’m excited to witness the flourishing of your garden!

If you loved this guide and are looking for more tips and tricks for your gardening adventure, sign up for our free newsletter and get the Hello Green Thumb Free Watering Guide on us!

Happy Gardening!

Lori Lovelady

Owner & Founder of Hello Green Thumb

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