Starter Vegetable Gardens: 24 No-Fail Plans for Small Organic Gardens

Starter Vegetable Gardens: 24 No-Fail Plans for Small Organic Gardens

by Barbara Pleasant

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“Pleasant takes the fear out of food gardening in a must-have resource that will appeal to both neophytes and experienced gardeners” (Booklist).

Develop your green thumb as you learn to grow your own food. In this introductory guide to growing vegetables, Barbara Pleasant addresses common problems that first-time gardeners encounter. Using simple language and illustrated garden layouts, Pleasant shows you how to start, maintain, and eventually expand an organic vegetable garden in even the tiniest backyard. With handy tips on enriching soil, planting schedules, watering, fighting pests, and more, you’ll quickly discover how easy it is to enjoy your own homegrown vegetables.

“If you’re nervous about planning your first garden, this book offers 24 detailed three year plans that will help you start small and simple and work your way up to larger and more advanced gardens, while teaching the basics of good garden design and planning along the way.” —Suggest Me Some

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781603423670
Publisher: Workman Publishing Company, Inc.
Publication date: 05/18/2010
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 180
Sales rank: 266,468
File size: 11 MB
Note: This product may take a few minutes to download.

About the Author

Barbara Pleasant has been covering organic gardening and self-sufficient living for more than 30 years. A contributing editor to Mother Earth News, Pleasant has garnered multiple awards from the Garden Writers Association and the American Nursery and Landscape Association. She has written books on topics ranging from compost to weeds, including Homegrown Pantry, Starter Vegetable Gardens, The Complete Compost Gardening Guide (with Deborah L. Martin), The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual, The Gardener’s Bug Book, The Gardener’s Weed Book, The Gardener’s Guide to Plant Diseases, and Garden Stone. Her columns and articles appear regularly in Mother Earth Living magazine and at and on other informational websites. Pleasant lives in Virginia, where she grows vegetables, herbs, and fruits along with a few chickens, who all have names. 

Read an Excerpt



* Year One

* Year Two

* Year Three

Designed to bring good things to eat to a city backyard or an oversized suburban lawn, this easy-to-install garden requires no prior experience. You can set up the first-year rendition in a single weekend, and even after you expand the garden in year two and year three, it remains a doable project for a gardener working alone who also has a full-time job or takes care of young children. This garden is big enough to keep you in fresh food all summer but not so big that it will take over your life.

Bag gardening couldn't be easier. You simply set out purchased bags of topsoil, cut open the bags, and plant seeds and seedlings right in the topsoil. The Easy-Care Bag Garden is a one- person garden, and in year one, it will take one person only a few hours each week to keep up with watering, weeding, planting, and picking.

By the second year, the garden is fully functional as a food garden for a single person, with 15 vegetables and 5 herbs producing steadily from early summer to late fall. If you want more vegetables, you can expand the garden when you're ready. You're in charge, because this is intended to remain a one-person garden.

As the garden grows, you'll see how well your site and soil support popular garden plants like tomatoes and snap beans. You will also learn the preferred growing season for broccoli and its close cabbage-family relatives, which tend to prefer fall over spring in most (but not all!) climates. You will discover whether harvesting and eating garden-fresh potatoes and rutabagas rates as super-special or just so-so in your book, and your experiences will help you customize your crop list for seasons to come.

When you're ready for new adventures, experiment by fitting planting plans from Part 2 such as Strictly from Seed and the Good-for-You Garden into the footprint of your Easy-Care Bag Garden. Browse the variety descriptions in Part 3 as well, and choose a few to try. This will make your garden more interesting with every passing season.


Year One

Large bags of planting mix define space for three permanent beds. Bags laid end to end create a narrow bed just right for a trellis. In the other beds, the bags create beds 3 feet wide (a good width for stepping over). The 2-foot-wide pathways between beds are easy to maintain with a mower.

Year One Yield

Spring Crops

* lettuce: 2–3 lb.

* snap peas: 3–4 lb.

Summer Crops

* snap beans: 4 lb.

* tomatoes: 16–20 lb.

Fall Crops

* arugula and bok choy: 3 lb. each

* kale: 4 lb.

* spinach: 1 lb.


* basil and parsley: about 12 bunches each

* oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme: a year's supply


The circular bed is a natural focal point, so have fun with it! eventually, you might decide to use it as a permanent home for your collection of kitchen herbs or put up a trellis for heavy-bearing pole beans.

Year Two Yield

Spring Crops

* lettuce: 7 lb.

* snow peas: 3 lb.

* kale: 5 lb.

* kohlrabi: 6 bulbs

* potatoes: 4 lb.

* onions: about 50

Summer Crops

* pole snap beans: 20 lb.

* bush snap beans: 15 lb.

* tomatoes: 30–40 lb.

* peppers: 5–6 lb.

* summer squash: 20 lb.

Fall Crops

* arugula: 6 lb.

* salad greens: 10 lb.

* carrots: 12 lb.

* Chinese cabbage: 12 lb.

* rutabagas: 5 roots

* garlic: 20 bulbs (harvested the following season)


* basil: about 25 bunches

* oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme: a year's supply


The garden triples in size over three years, from 64 to 168 square feet of bed space. But even at its maximum, this garden remains a manageable project for a food-minded gardener working alone.

Year Three Yield

Spring Crops

* lettuce: 3–4 lb.

* snap peas: 3–4 lb.

* potatoes: 20 lb.

* onions: about 25

* beets: 8 lb.

* chard: 12 lb.

Summer Crops

* snap beans: 16 lb.

* tomatoes: 30–40 lb.

* peppers: 4–6 lb.

* squash: 35 lb.

Fall Crops

* salad greens: 7 lb.

* broccoli: 6 lb.

* mizuna or mustard: 20 lb.

* carrots: 4 lb.

* turnips: 10 lb.

* garlic: about 45 bulbs (harvested the following season)


* basil: about 50 bunches

* cilantro: about 10 bunches

* dill, oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme: a year's supply


Turning a patch of sun-drenched lawn into an edible garden may be one of the best things you will ever do in your life, and here we begin in the easiest way imaginable — by arranging bags of topsoil over the new garden site and planting right into them.

Growing vegetables in bags of topsoil is almost too easy to believe, but it really works! Many new gardeners who have tried it have been so amazed with the results that they use the bag method over and over. Whether you use bags for one season or three, gardening in bags offers several benefits to first-time gardeners.

* No need to dig up and remove the grass. In the course of a season, the bags will smother the grass beneath them. This can be a huge savings in time and labor!

* No aggravation from seedling-killing cutworms, which are actually caterpillars commonly found in soil where lawn grass is growing. The bags serve as barriers to keep them out.

* Few (if any) weeds, because bagged soils and planting mixes are steam-sterilized to kill weed seeds.

* In late fall, you can gather up the fragile bags and dig the contents into your new permanent beds.


For the Beds

* Eleven 40-pound bags of organic topsoil or tree and shrub planting mix

* Cardboard or newspaper to smother grass between bags

* One 2-pound box of organic vegetable garden fertilizer

* Stone or small board

* Organic mulch such as shredded leaves (see chapter 10 on page 112)

For the Pea Trellis

* Two 6-foot-long wood or metal posts

* Cotton string, jute or hemp twine, or polyester garden netting

For the Tomatoes

* Two 5-foot-tall tomato cages

For the Compost Area

* One stationary composter, or a pen made from plastic fencing attached to stakes


* Wheelbarrow, cart, or wagon for moving bags of soil

* Spade or shovel

* Digging fork

* Sledgehammer or hammer

* Utility knife

* Hand trowel

* Long-bladed knife or screwdriver

* Scissors or pruning shears


Bed 1

* Baby bok choy, 1 packet seeds

* Nasturtium, 1 packet seeds

* Scarlet runner bean, 1 packet seeds

* Snap pea, 1 packet seeds

* Spinach, 1 packet seeds

Bed 2

* Basil, 1 packet seeds or 3 seedlings

* Parsley, 1 packet seeds or 3 seedlings

* Tomato, 2 seedlings

Bed 3

* Arugula, 1 packet seeds

* Kale, 1 packet seeds

* Mixed lettuce, 2 packets seeds

* Oregano, 1 plant

* Rosemary, 1 plant

* Sage, 1 plant

* Snap bean (bush variety), 1 packet seeds

* Thyme, 1 plant

Year One Planting and Care

Early Spring

1. Prepare your site. Select a site and arrange bags as shown in the garden plan on page 19. Before positioning the bags in Bed 2, cover the ground between the tomato and herb bags with 4 to 6 sheets of damp newspaper or a single thickness of well- dampened cardboard to deter weeds. The bags will hold the covering in place. Set up your composter or assemble your composting enclosure.

2. Do a little digging. Use the spade or shovel and digging fork to remove grass and weeds from the ends of Bed 1; toss all plant debris in the compost. The same tools work well for breaking up the stripped soil, loosening it at least 8 inches deep. Mix two handfuls of organic fertilizer into each end of the bed.

3. Prepare bags for planting. In the same bed, install the posts for the pea trellis by pounding them into the ground at the ends of the bags (see How to Pound a Post on page 102). Use the utility knife to cut out a large rectangular window on the upper surface of each bag, leaving the sides and 2 inches of each top edge intact, like a picture frame. Lightly dust the surface of the soil inside the bags with organic fertilizer and mix in with trowel. (Skip this if the bag's label says that fertilizer has been added.) Stab each bag about a dozen times with a knife or screwdriver to pierce drainage holes in the bottoms. Plant roots will also use these holes to grow down into the soil below the bags.

4. Weave the trellis. Install the trellis netting or string between the posts. If using string, start by tying a horizontal line between the posts, no more than 6 inches above the soil's surface. Then tie more horizontal lines at least 6 inches apart (so there's room to reach through the trellis when harvesting) until the top string is 4 feet from the ground. Create a trellis grid by weaving more string vertically in and out through the horizontal strings.


5. Sow peas. One month before your last spring frost date, plant pea seeds in the soil in the bags, sowing one row on either side of the trellis. Poke seeds into the soil 1 inch deep and 2 to 3 inches apart.

6. Sow parsley. In Bed 2, cut away the upper surface on three sides of the bag to be planted with parsley, leaving the plastic attached along one short edge. Apply fertilizer and make drainage holes as you did in Step 3. Plant about 25 parsley seeds ¼ inch deep and ½ inch apart (fewer than half will germinate). Pat lightly to firm the soil over the seeds, then spritz with a light spray of water until thoroughly moist. Fold out the plastic flap over the seeded area, and hold it in place with a stone or small board. The plastic flap will help keep the soil moist until the parsley seeds germinate, which usually takes one to two weeks. After a week or so, check daily to see whether parsley has sprouted. As soon as seeds germinate, you'll need to lift and cut away the plastic flap. (If you buy seedlings, see Step 8.)

7. Sow lettuce. In Bed 3, prepare the center bag (lettuce) as in Step 3. Lettuce seeds sprout faster than parsley, so they don't need to be covered with a plastic flap. After applying fertilizer and making drainage holes, scatter the lettuce seeds over the soil's surface so that they are about 1 inch apart. Pat them into place with your hand, barely covering them with soil. Keep the soil moist until the seeds germinate. Two to three weeks later, fill any gaps in the planting with small pinches of seeds.

8. Plant herbs. As soon as they're available at garden centers, buy rosemary, thyme, sage, and oregano plants for Bed 3. Prepare the end bags in the bed as in Step 3. Keep the plants watered until you're ready to set them out. Plant them at even spacing, with each plant about 10 inches in from the edge of the bag. Position each herb in its planting hole so that the base of the main stem is no deeper than it grew in the container. After filling in the hole, water well and use scissors or pruning shears to snip off any broken branches. (Note: If you purchased parsley plants for Bed 2, plant them now too.)

Late Spring

9. Sow beans and more. After the last frost passes, cut away the tops of the remaining bags, sprinkle on fertilizer, and make drainage holes. In Bed 3, poke 10 to 15 bush bean seeds into each of the two bags, 1 inch deep and 6 inches apart. Sow pinches of basil seeds ? inch deep and 10 inches apart in Bed 2 or plant the basil seedlings. In Bed 1, plant five or so nasturtium seeds 1 inch deep and 2 inches apart at one end of the trellis; plant five scarlet runner bean seeds 1 inch deep and 2 inches apart at the other end.

10. Plant tomatoes. Water tomato seedlings, and try to handle them by the roots rather than the stem as you transplant them into Bed 2. Set the plants deep, as shown above. Water well. Install tomato cages soon after you set out the plants (see How to Cage a Tomato on page 103).

Throughout Summer

11. Water when needed. Since plastic helps retain moisture, your bag garden may not need as much watering as plants growing in the ground would. But even so, be sure to water your plants during periods of warm, dry weather. See chapter 9 to learn about wise watering practices.

12. Enjoy the harvest often. Visit your garden at least every other day to harvest what's ready for your table. Be sure to gather peas every other day, because they quickly go from perfect to starchy. See chapter 14 for more tips on harvesting your vegetables and herbs at their peak.

Late Summer

13. Sow fall crops. Pull up and compost tattered peas, bush beans, and lettuce. Scatter a dusting of organic fertilizer over the soil's surface, and lightly mix it in with a hand trowel. Sow bok choy and spinach in Bed 1, kale and arugula in Bed 3. Plant the seeds ? inch deep and 3 to 4 inches apart, in rows at least 8 inches apart. Keep the soil moist until the seeds germinate.


14. Start garden cleanup. A heavy frost will end the season for the runner beans, tomatoes, basil, and nasturtiums, but cold nights actually improve the flavor of leafy greens. As exposure to cold damages more and more crops, pull up old plant debris and throw it into the compost. Once a bag is vacant, gather up the plastic and dispose of it in the garbage, leaving the topsoil or planting mix in place. Don't try to remove bags where perennial herbs are growing, though! Leave them in place through the winter.

Early Winter

15. Put the garden to bed. As time and weather permit, dig the topsoil into the beds, cultivating the soil at least 12 inches deep. Then mulch over the beds with any organic mulch you can get your hands on, from shredded leaves to dry grass clippings. Spread the mulch 3 to 4 inches deep; leave it in place until the soil begins to warm in spring.


Picking up where you left off last fall, your easy-care Bag garden will double in size as you set up more bags and turn the compost area into a circular planting bed for peas and salad greens. Expect a faster pace, because you will have twice as many veggies to tend, including peppers and super-productive summer squash.

Learning to grow new crops is part of what makes gardening fun. This growing season, you'll be introduced to the cabbage family — an incredibly diverse clan of related cool-season crops. You'll start with the easiest to grow of all the cabbage-family cousins, kale and kohlrabi. Planting and tending them will be excellent preparation for future crops of more challenging broccoli or cauliflower.

There are also secrets afoot below ground in this garden, where soil that has benefited from a full year of improvement is used to support bulb onions — your first root crop. Like other root crops, onions require the improved drainage and fertility of organically enriched soil, and they need more root space than is available in bags. Long-bearing pole beans and tomatoes benefit from the bag-to-bed transition, too. With the bigger and better root space available to them in an actual bed, expect your tomatoes to grow stronger and produce longer than they did in your first-year garden.

This year's garden plan is intended to make the most of the growing season by keeping every bed busy until late fall, putting fresh food on your table for five months or more. All of the 22 veggies and herbs are easy to grow, and you can keep on top of routine watering, weeding, and other tasks by working in your garden for an hour or so three times a week.


Excerpted from "Starter Vegetable Gardens"
by .
Copyright © 2010 Barbara Pleasant.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Digging In,
How to Use This Book,
Part I: Developing Your Garden Plan,
Chapter 1: The Easy-Care Bag Garden,
Chapter 2: A Bountiful Border,
Chapter 3: The Front-Yard Food Supply,
Chapter 4: Family Food Factory Gardens,
Part 2: Essential Techniques and More Planting Plans,
Chapter 5: Deciding What to Grow,
Chapter 6: Designing Beautiful, Big-Flavor Gardens,
Chapter 7: Working with Seeds and Seedling,
Chapter 8: Supporting Your Plants,
Chapter 9: Water: Make Every Drop Count,
Chapter 10: The Magic of Mulch,
Chapter 11: Fertilizing Your Garden,
Chapter 12: Your Insect Friends and Foes,
Chapter 13: Preventing Dastardly Diseases,
Chapter 14: Smart Harvesting,
Chapter 15: Stretching the Seasons,
Part 3: Pick-of-the-Crop Veggie Varieties,
Making Good Choices,
What Is a Variety?,
Varieties for Your Garden, Crop by Crop,
Gardener's Basic Lingo,
Which Planting Plans Are Right for You?,
Sources for Seeds and Plants,
USDA Hardiness Zone Map,
Metric Conversions,
Share Your Experience!,

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