1. Know your climate Finding out what USDA Climate Zone you live in will help you know what plants are appropriate for your part of the country as well as when the seeds can be sown. “Different plants have different needs, so be sure to take that into consideration when planning your garden,” says Diane Ott Whealy, co-founder of Seed Savers Exchange, a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds. Review climate maps (and learn what they mean!) at the United States National Arboretum website.
2. Find the spot Where will your garden grow? Consider your location’s soil type (is it clay, silt, sand, or a combination? Find out with a soil test, available at gardening stores), plus the amount of sun or shade the area gets. “Vegetables need a lot of sunlight, so it’s important to make sure the spot you pick gets a minimum of six hours a day,” says Ethne Clarke, Editor in Chief of Organic Gardening. Container gardens are ideal for small spaces, and can accommodate a variety of plants including basil, tomatoes, peppers, and pansies.
3. Space out—but not too much It might be tempting to try to fill your entire yard with veggies that’ll feed your family all summer long, but Clarke urges beginner gardeners to start small. (Plus, you’ll still want some room for your kids to be able to run around and play!) First timers will do well with a plot that’s about 8 feet by 4 feet or smaller, Clarke says.
4. Pick your plants Talk with your kids about their favorite veggies to help decide what to plant. Clarke’s a fan of easy-to-grow beans, corn, pumpkin, and squash; their large seeds are easy for little hands to work with. If possible, choose organic or heirloom varieties, like ones from Seed Savers Exchange; they tend to yield plants that often look more interesting than standard supermarket offerings, and might even taste better!
5. Get started! After you’ve determined your space and your seeds are ready, you can enrich the soil with organic compost—from your kitchen, if you’ve got it, or from a local gardening store—and start digging! (Need a little more direction? Organicgardening.com has how-to videos on all the basics—and beyond.) Above all, don’t worry too much—plants are pretty strong, Clarke says. “All they need is sunlight, water, and maybe a little attention if there’s pests or bugs. But plants are a lot tougher than you might think!”