How to Start a Vegetable Garden

Several varieties of the same vegetable meet different cultural needs and have  characteristics. See more pictures of vegetable gardens.

Most vegetables come in many varieties. After giving thought to the vegetables you want to grow, you're ready to decide which varieties to grow. Seed catalogs, for instance, offer a large number of different tomatoes that can be totally bewildering: big ones, little ones, cherry ones, green ones, canning ones. Some are disease-resistant, some are not; some are hybrids, some are not.

It's worth taking the time to consider why there are so many varieties of one vegetable. A variety is simply a botanical change in the original plant. These changes may be as obvious as a change in the color, size, or shape of the fruit. Other changes, such as improved disease resistance, better flavor, or compact growth, may be less obvious. Hybrids are bred for success. A hybrid may be the result of breeding two different pure lines. A pure line is a plant that has been selected and bred for a certain desirable characteristic, such as the size of its fruit or its ability to resist disease.

With so many varieties available, it can be difficult to choose the right one. Information on varieties may be obtained from seed catalog descriptions or from your local Cooperative Extension office. Another indication of the most reliable varieties for your area is All America Selections. This nonprofit organization develops and promotes new varieties of vegetables and flowers. If a variety is listed in your seed catalog as an All-America Selection, it has been tested by growers all over the country; you can be sure it's a good bet for your garden.

Each vegetable variety has its "days to maturity" listed in the seed catalog or on the seed packet. This number indicates the average number of days needed from germination or transplanting to harvest. Using a calendar, see how the dates fall for the crops you're thinking of growing. The days to maturity must fit comfortably into the number of frost-free days in your region. If your season is too short for a particular variety, look for one that matures in a fewer number of days. Deciding when to plant involves more than just avoiding killing frosts. It also means pacing your planting so you get the maximum yield from a limited space. This takes careful planning. Some crops can be harvested gradually, others nature all at once.

Keep reading to find out more about getting your garden started -- on the next page, you'll learn about pacing your planting, succession planting, and companion planting.

Want more information about vegetable gardens? Visit these links:

  • Starting a Vegetable Garden: Learn how to get your vegetable garden started, from planning your plot to planting seeds and sprouts.
  • Vegetable Gardens: Find out everything you wanted to know about vegetable gardening.
  • Vegetables: Pick out your favorite vegetables to plant in next year's garden.
  • Gardening: We answer all of your general gardening questions in this section.