Vegetable Garden Beginner

raised garden with plantsMarch 19, 2015 – Kenosha News


Question: I’m planning on putting in a new 20 x 40 foot vegetable garden this spring. I’ve never gardened so don’t know very much about what I’m doing. I have nice large spot in my backyard with full sunlight, on a gentle slope. I’m planning on getting compost from the municipal compost site and tilling it in this spring. If the gardening goes well this year, I plan to put a raised bed garden on the same spot in a couple of years. Are there good books or websites you recommend? Any help or advice would be greatly appreciated. F.M.

Answer: It is great that you’ve decided to vegetable garden. It sounds like you have a perfect location in your yard.

I’m concerned about the size of your garden. Over the years I’ve found the main problem for new gardeners is starting too big. The garden becomes an overwhelming weed patch instead of a fun, productive family activity.

I think raised beds are make gardening easier so I suggest you start with raised beds instead of waiting a few years. Raised beds are simple and inexpensive to construct. Two or three 4 x 8 foot raised beds will provide enough fresh vegetables for a family of four. Plain pine boards screwed together to form a box are inexpensive and last five to seven years. Fill them with compost or a 50/50 mix of compost and top soil and you are ready to go. You don’t even need boards. You can mound soil and compost into raised beds.

If you decide not to use raised beds, 10 x 10 or 10 x 20 is a good size for a novice gardener.  Start by having a soil test done. University of Wisconsin Soil Testing Lab at  will analyze your soil and give you written recommendations for $15.

After you have your soil test results, begin preparing your garden by spreading a 2 to 4 inch layer of compost on top of the soil – the more compost the better. Mix the compost and whatever is recommended by the Soil Lab into the underlying 6 to 8 inches of soil by digging or tilling. If you use a motorized tiller be careful not to over till which pulverizes the soil and destroys its structure.

My favorite vegetable gardening books are “Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest” by Charles Voigt, University of Illinois Extension publication, and “Square Foot Gardening” by Mel Bartholomew. University Extension horticulture and gardening websites from Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota also provide good reliable information appropriate for southern Wisconsin gardens.

Barb Larson is horticulture educator for Kenosha County University of Wisconsin Extension. Barb has a Master’s of Science in horticulture from UW. If you have a plant or gardening question, contact Larson at  or 262-857-1942.