When Anel and I were 25 and dating in Manhattan, we used to paint a picture of our fantasy life one day in the future. We wanted a house outside of the city with lots of land, two kids (still working on that one!), a dog, jobs that we loved… and a vegetable garden.
He grew up on a farm and has talked about building this since the day I met him. When he’s stressed or overwhelmed, working outside on the land calms him down immediately. He has already put so much love into our garden and I can’t wait to see what it brings us over the next few months.
I can already picture Amalia and I going out to cut basil leaves to make pesto and eating baby tomatoes right off the vine as an afternoon snack.
My personal favorite part of having this garden is having a piece of my grandfather in it. He was an avid gardener and kept all kinds of statues and knick-knacks around his various gardens. When he passed away, Anel was the only one in the family interested in having a garden of his own so he took all of the figurines and statues and has them hanging out around the space. I think about my grandfather a lot and like to think that he is looking down on us in that garden.
I sat Anel down last night and asked him to help me put this post together because I know literally nothing about planting and everything that I do know, I’ve learned from him.
10 steps to plant your raised bed vegetable garden
1. Find the perfect location: I originally wanted to put the vegetable garden in a tucked-away corner of our yard so it wouldn’t be so front and center but Anel explained that we had to put it where it is because the veggies need a ton of sunlight and this spot is the sunniest in the backyard.
You need a minimum of 5 hours of full sun/day for optimal growth.
2. Build your garden: When we put aside a budget for outdoor projects in our new home, we had to prioritize either our lawn or our garden for this summer. It was a no-brainer… we went with the garden. While our grass looks a hot mess, we both agreed that eating from the land all summer and fall would be a better thing to focus on for now. The grass will have to wait!
Anel did a bunch of research and ultimately decided to hire a local company, Back to Nature, to help build the structure to set us up for years of success. Anel and the guys from their team designed it all based on what we discussed wanting to plant. I didn’t realize it was going to be so huge (16′ x 24′)!
Our beds are 24″ deep so that you can reach to the back without crushing the plants in the front. They’re 8″ high but height is just a personal preference. Just remember the higher you go, the more soil it will require.
Fencing it in is important if you live in a place that has deer as we do. Our fence is 6′ high because the deer can jump, apparently.
3. Figure out when to plant: Use The Old Farmer’s Almanac planting calendar to pick a plant date based on your location. It depends on the climate where you live and when the last frost is.
4. Pick your veggies: As Anel likes to say, don’t pick your vegetables for Instagram… plant things that you’ll actually eat which is the whole point of this. If you don’t like kale, don’t plant kale!
Pick what will grow in the climate where you live and he recommends buying directly from a nursery so that you can get higher-quality seeds at a better price.
You can see everything that we planted in the chart below.
5. Arranging your vegetables:
Some veggies don’t play well with others. For example, garlic steals nutrients from other plants so you have to be careful about where and how you plant it. For now, we decided to keep it out. We’ve also learned that mint grows like a weed so you want to section it off. Anel planted the mint in its own pot buried in the bed and then created a physical barrier around it so it doesn’t spread too much. We’ll see what happens but in his words, if we have too much, we’ll just have to drink a lot of mint juleps!
Be sure not to crowd your plants. You can use this spacing chart to check how much room different types of veggies need.
We arranged our garden based on the chart below made by our guys and Anel. The root veggies are all together, the leafy greens are in another section, and the herbs share a bed.
6. Choose your soil wisely: We decided to use organic composted soil which is very rich in nutrients, so we won’t need to fertilize our garden any further. We’re going to learn how to compost over the summer and we’ll use whatever we get from that to plant next year’s garden.
7. Plant seeds/seedlings: Planting takes longer than you might think. In our garden, it took Anel 6 full hours of work to get it done. Be sure to set aside time for planting!
Most of the leafy greens harvest firsts so if you have leafy seedlings, they’ll come up in 1-2 months. So we planted seeds in between the seedlings so that we get another harvest later in the season.
Seedlings: To plant seedlings, dig a hole the size of the pot that they come in then pull them out of the pot and plant them in the hole. Don’t press down on the roots but when it’s planted, gently press down on the surface surrounding the plant to keep it stable. We also put some hay around the seedlings (not seeds because they’ll have a hard time coming up through the hay!) to prevent weeds and to lock in moisture in the soil.
Seeds: After your seedlings are planted, plant seeds no more than 1/4 inch deep between the seedlings.
Marigolds: He planted marigold flowers on the edge of each bed because they repel insects and pests.
8. Water your garden: After you initially plant it, wait until the evening or the next morning to water it for the first time. Never water on a hot sunny day because the sun and heat will evaporate the water too quickly.
How often you water your garden depends on how hot/dry it is where you are. Right now, we are doing every other day at 5:30 am for 5 minutes. This will increase in the summer to every day for 8 minutes.
We put in an irrigation system so that this happens automatically, but that is not necessary.
To test if you’re watering enough, touch the soil with your finger after watering the plants, and if it’s not moist, you need more water.
9. Plant pollinators: One of the most important steps that often gets overlooked is attracting bees to your garden to pollinate the plants. Anel planted wildflowers to attract bees all around the outside of the structure which will be both beautiful and practical. He put in 200K perennial seeds. I cannot wait to see what they look like when they come up. It’s going to be so colorful and happy.
10. Enjoy!! Harvest your veggies when they are young but big enough to eat. Enjoy the fruits of your labor!
If you have any more tips for us, let me know! I’m so excited to share more as we go. I have literally no idea what I’m talking about when it comes to gardening but I’m very excited to learn about it all summer long.
Garden Tools for your vegetable garden
Garden tools- This set has everything you need.
Basket– for harvesting.
Wheelbarrow– It’s not 100% necessary but it’s helpful for moving around seedlings and soil. Home Depot has a bunch.
Photos by Julia Dags.