How to start a vegetable garden from scratch | Ideas and gardening hacks [Full guide]

Updated: Jun 16

A guide showing you how to make a vegetable garden as a beginner. Whether it's an indoor garden in the window of your apartment, a small raised bed in your garden or a full on permaculture design - this guide will show you how. Learn how to pick the right type of garden for your needs, how to plan your vegetable garden layout, how to pick which vegetables to sow and when to start planting.

Why plant a vegetable garden?

  • Growing your own food is better for the environment. Food accounts for 20-25% of the average consumers co2-emmisions. By growing your own food you save the fuel otherwise spend on transportation from the field to the supermarket, you will eat more food that's in season, create less food waste, help increase biodiversity and you will eat healthier organic food.

  • Having a vegetable garden will make you more disaster resilient. In case of disasters, economical crisis or a global pandemic (like the one we are experiencing right now) you are not as dependent on going to the grocery store because you are growing your own food. You will also save money on food, which will make you more resilient in case of a economical crisis.

  • Gardening is Therapeutic. Gardening can improve your mental health in multiple ways. The combination of being outside and doing meditative tasks like weeding and planting can help fight anxiety and depression. When I was depressed back in 2018 and 2019 gardening gave me something to look forward to everyday. To be honest gardening is also a lifesaver right now after I had to end my travels in Asia prematurely because of the corona virus - it gives me something to get out of bed for everyday and a reason to go outside, which really improves my mood. Gardening is also a natural stress reliever - gardening for just 30 minutes lowered cortisol levels in this study.

  • Gardening is good for your health! Studies have shown that gardening is good for the heart. Gardening will also help you sleep better - I often have trouble sleeping, but after a hole day in the garden I'm actually tired earlier in the evening.

  • Gardening will make you stronger! Gardening will make you stronger naturally by digging, building and planting all of the time. My body is so sore after working hard in the garden all week, but it's a free workout + it's more productive than going to the gym.

  • Spend more time outside. Spending more time outside is amazing for your body and mind.

  • Save money on vegetables. Organic vegetables can be expensive to buy in the supermarket and by regrowing and saving seeds you can grow them for free at home!

Different types of vegetable gardens + Vegetable garden ideas and hacks: Picking the right one for your needs

The indoor garden - window-still gardening & regrowing food scraps

If you live in an apartment and don't have a garden or if you are a beginner and just wants to start small - a window-still garden is perfect for you. All you need is containers, soil and seeds to start growing - or you can try regrowing your food scraps for free.

Balcony vegetable gardening

If you live in and apartment but are lucky enough to have a balcony you can actually grow a lot of food on that! Maximize the space by hanging containers on the wall, putting up balcony flower boxes and filling every possible free space with pots. You can even buy (or make) a mini greenhouse! Pinterest has a lot of ideas for balcony gardening too.

Container Gardening

If you just want a few plants - container gardening is great! Its easy and practical - just plant your vegetables in a pot and put it in a sunny spot in your garden or terrace.

Raised bed vegetable garden

Raised bed vegetable gardens are great wether you are a beginner or q gardening pro. It makes your garden look neat and raises your garden to a better working height. I started of a couple of years ago with one pre-made raised bed from a hardware store and now I have 8 big raised beds in my vegetable garden that I build myself. I made so many mistakes in my first vegetable garden but that's okay! Starting small and failing your way trough it will teach you a lot!

How to make a basic raised bed:

In-ground vegetable garden

You don't need to build raised beds to start your garden - another option is to just remove the grass in a spot on your lawn and start planting.

Green house gardening

If you are lucky enough to have a green house then the growing possibilities are endless - and I envy you! You are no longer limited to plants suitable for the cold Scandinavian weather - fill it with tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, aubergines and more! My parents doesn't want a greenhouse right now, but I am considering buying a temporary greenhouse for one of the raised beds instead. You can also build your own DIY greenhouse and once again Pinterest has got you covered with endless inspiration.

The permaculture garden

I'm a big permaculture enthusiast! I have read books about it and watched countless youtube videos - I also try to implement the principles in my own garden. Here is a simplified explanation of what permaculture is: "Permaculture gardening means "permanent agriculture" and it is defined as working with natural forces - the wind, the sun, and water to provide food, shelter, water, and everything else your garden needs besides plants and seeds. Simply put, Permaculture gardening is a holistic approach to gardening." - The spruce.

If you have your own house and garden you can redo the entire garden and make a permaculture food forest! This is a much bigger project but so worth it! When I get my own house one day I am definitely doing this.

When to start a vegetable garden & when to start planting

Timing is key in a vegetable garden! Every year I have started too late and missed a lot of the growing season, but this year I am starting much earlier. I started to plan and build my garden from the middle of march and will start planting in April. I am already sprouting potatoes in the basement and will start more plants inside soon, so they are ready to go in the ground in the middle of April when the night frost is hopefully gone. Each climate is different, so when to plant will vary, but this guide is good if you are danish. Pro-tip: If you use the site GrowVeg it will tell you when to plant what based on your climate, so I suggest using that!

A general idea of then to start:

March: Planning, preparing the garden and sprouting inside.

April: Plant when the night frost is gone.

Planning a vegetable garden

Planning a vegetable garden can be tricky. You have to keep in mind which spots that get enough sun and what kind of soil is under the grass - I had the pleasant surprise of a few beds filled with stones when I started digging my vegetable garden. I used the site GrowVeg to plan my garden - It is easy to use and even gives you a nice overview of what to buy and when to plant the vegetables that you choose. If you are making a bigger garden the vegetable garden layout is really important, as it will be difficult to change. You can make all kinds of shapes and sizes - I love the permaculture gardens where everything is circular and with small paths everywhere! My parents wanted square shaped raised beds so we compromised and I put the circle with the rose in the middle to break the stiff design.

Building a vegetable garden

Building your vegetable garden is the hardest part - after that having a vegetable garden is pure joy. It took me 2 days and a very sore back to dig my 8 beds by myself and 3 more days to build the frames, so be prepared for that when you plan a big garden.

My vegetable garden this year

I started to build my vegetable garden in the middle of march and in about a week I managed to plan, dig and build 8 raised beds. I'm ready for April to come along so I can start planting!

A video of the progress:

Choosing plants for a vegetable garden

My first year I tried to grow cucumber, aubergine and tomatoes outside of a greenhouse - don't do this. It was the hottest summer of my lifetime but still I only managed to grow one tiny aubergine and not a single cucumber my first year. It's important to research what vegetables can grow in your climate - don't make the same mistake as me. Stick to stuff like lettuce, spinach, beans, peas, carrots, squash(easy to grow and amaaaazing!) and potatoes if you are a beginner and don't have a greenhouse. It's a good idea to buy tomatoes, squash and bigger plants like that from a garden center and then plant them in your garden the first years - growing plants from seed can be hit or miss, especially if you are not experienced. Peas, lettuce, spinach and leafy greens like that is easy to grow from seed so knock yourself out! This year (year 3 of having a vegetable garden) my vegetable garden is much bigger and I will try to grow new types of vegetables like cabbage, kale, garlic, unions, corn and artichoke.

Here is the full list(From the Growveg site) of what I'm planning to grow this year:

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