Every year we love planting a backyard vegetable garden, and have come up with a process of getting the vegetable garden ready for planting that seems to work well for us. With everything going on the world right now, it seems like smart planning to plant vegetables we can grow at home. Since Spring is in full bloom and warmer weather on its way, we’re happy to share with you some tips we’ve discovered in our efforts.

Backyard vegetable farmer

We built raised redwood planting beds to make things easier on our backs.

After all, wouldn’t you rather stroll out into your backyard to pick tomatoes for a nice salad? It sure beats the hassle at the grocery store. Who would have thought we’d find ourselves dealing with food shortages at the supermarket at this time in our lives? But here we are.

Planting a backyard vegetable garden is way easier than you think. You just need a patch of dirt in a sunny part of your yard, a little bit of muscle and some patience. You’ll be reaping the rewards in no time!

Growing Up With Vegetable Gardens

Planting backyard vegetables seems so much more complicated than when I was a kid. Growing up in Northern California, the summers were hot and the fog kept at bay. We’d clear a patch of garden and my tiny little Italian mother would struggle with an automatic rototiller, pitching and lurching her way around as the dirt was tilled and prepared for planting. We’d sit on the sidelines and laugh at her until our bellies hurt. Good thing she had a great sense of humor!

woman rototilling her garden in 1969

My mom in 1969, rototilling our vegetable garden to prepare it for planting.

Now I try and teach our kids where vegetables actually come from. (No honey, they do not grow in the supermarket.) Getting them involved is fun, and letting them get their hands dirty with you is good for their souls. Sunshine, rewarding work and some laughter thrown in? Yes please!

Dad and daughter picking plants at nursery

Letting the kids help pick vegetables to grow in the garden.

We hit up the local nursery for some plants and seeds, being careful to maintain our social distance from other folks. Letting the kids help pick what we will grow also made them feel more part of the process.

You may not have done this before, but don’t worry – we’ve got you. To make it easier, here’s our suggestions on getting the vegetable garden ready for planting.

Romaine lettuce plants

Rows of Romaine lettuce plants are showing a variety of colors, and all taste delicious in salads.

Planting a Backyard Vegetable Garden

First, you’ve got to get your backyard ready for planting a vegetable garden:

1   Choose the proper location – Maximum sunlight is everything for a veggie garden, so scout out a place in the backyard unencumbered by trees or buildings that block sun at any time of day. Shade is not your friend.

2.  Consider installing raised beds – We made two 10′ x 3′ redwood beds, and each are two feet deep. This is great because it discourages crawling things from getting into the mix, plus makes it easier to bend down and work in the garden.

Amend the soil – Depending on what type of dirt you have, you may need to add soil amendments to create a healthy growing environment. If too sandy, the soil will drain too quickly and the plant roots won’t have maximum opportunity to absorb water. If too dense or clay-based, the water will sit for too long and not drain away from the plants’ roots.

vegetable garden soil amendments

Adding amendments to the soil of your vegetable garden will help make for healthy plants.

4.  Fertilize the shit out of it – Excuse the pun but that is quite literally what you must add. Manure is rich with minerals that enrich the soil and encourage the plants to grow healthy and large.

5.  Add worm castings – Gross, but just do it. Worms are great for the soil because their poops add important elements that help plants grow. Plus if you buy moist castings there will be worm cocoons included, which will hatch worms to help aerate the soil.

vegetable gardens benefit from worm castings

Worm castings help the garden soil continue to fertilize itself with the help of good old earthworms.

6. Choose vegetables that grow at different rates – I’m impatient, and I want to harvest vegetables sooner rather than later. I plant radishes and lettuces early, knowing they grow quickly. Right behind them I plant slower growing plants, that by the time I harvest, the fast plants will be growing into the space left behind.

vegetable garden radish seeds

Choosing fun seeds to plant is part of the adventure when planting a vegetable garden.

7.  Space plants carefully – Some vegetable plants need an enormous amount of room. We learned this the hard way by planting corn and watermelon, both of which overgrew their areas and crowded out other plants.

8.  Potatoes spread – like a lot. Unless you have tons of room, consider planting potatoes in pots. Their root systems can spread quickly and you’ll be finding mystery potatoes in the ground for months.

9.   Plant marigolds – Intersperse marigold plants among the vegetable plants. They are natural bug repellents and may help keep pests away, plus they’re purty.

Poppy is the Calilfornia State Flower

OK, these are not marigolds – they are California Poppies. But they sure are pretty!

10. Don’t over water – A very common mistake that will kill the plants. Tomatoes only need water when the soil becomes dry and the plant wilts slightly. Other vegetables may need more, but check to see if the soil is moist below the surface before watering again. Yellow leaves on tomatoes are a sure sign of overwatering.

organic tomato plant

Tomatoes are tricky to grow, especially where we live. Choose carefully for your climate.

And when in doubt, you can always consult the experts and read the Sunset Western Garden Book for more details.

Involve the kids in this endeavor. It’s important for them to understand how things grow, where vegetables come from, how to care for and nurture something and the ever-popular lesson of patience. Besides, it’s a fun and healthy way to spend quality time together outdoors.

tomatoes picked fresh from the back yard vegatable garden

Fresh tomatoes grown in our own vegetable garden provide endless meal options.

And boom! Before you know it, you’ll be harvesting up a storm of delicious fresh veggies.

Looking for more activities to do with your kids during this “downtime”? Check out some of our recommendations here, including more about gardening.

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