Growing your own food garden provides a satisfying hobby that improves your eating habits and gives you access to low cost fresh vegetables. Vegetables fall into two main categories – cool season plants that thrive in the spring and fall months and warm season plants that only grow in summer and can't survive frost. A successful food garden requires planning first, followed by proper planting, to produce an abundance of food.
Prepare the soil at least two weeks before you plant. If you have time, begin soil preparation in the fall before spring planting. Test the soil with a soil testing kit to determine it's pH level. Vegetables grow best in a pH level between 6.0 and 7.0. If your pH is not in this range, add limestone in the amount directed by the test and work it into the top 6 inches of soil in the food garden.
Amend the food garden site with a 2-inch layer of compost. Till the compost into the top 6 inches of soil. Compost provides nutrients and improves the soil quality in the garden bed. Add any necessary fertilizers to the soil at this time. Generally, a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer blend is sufficient for most food garden plants.
Plant the seeds or seedlings in the garden bed at the time specified on the seed packet or plant tag. Tomatoes, peppers, melons and squash, for example, should be planted after the last expected spring frost in your area. Broccoli, lettuce, spinach and most greens can be planted two to four weeks before the last frost. Plant seedlings at the same depth they were growing at in their nursery pots and space them as directed on the plant tag. When sowing seeds directly in the garden, space them as directed on the seed packet.
Apply a 2-inch layer of straw mulch over the garden bed once you food garden plants reach 6 inches tall. The mulch prevents weed growth and helps keep moisture in the soil where the plant roots can access it. You can also use a black plastic mulch, but you will need to install drip irrigation lines under the plastic.
Water your food garden one to two times a week. Don't just sprinkle the plants with water, but place the hose near the base of the plant and saturate the soil to a inch depth. Most vegetables need 1 to 2 inches of water from either irrigation or rain each week. If the top 2 or 3 inches of soil begins to feel dry, it's time to water. Avoid over watering, since vegetables can't grow in soggy, water logged beds.
Harvest vegetables as soon as they ripen. Many food garden plants will produce more if you harvest them frequently.
Keep an eye on your plants for signs of pests or disease. Use an insecticidal soap to control most pests. Some diseases have no cure and you may need to destroy the plant to keep it from spreading. Proper care and growing disease-resistant varieties minimizes this risk.