University of Maryland Extension

Best Practices - Food Gardening

                    basket full of fresh vegetables

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The Basics of Vegetable Gardening

  • Planning your garden – Having a plan is essential for the success of your garden. Decide on the size – in-ground, a small space garden, raised beds, or containers. Plant vegetables that you and your family like to eat, but try expanding your family's palate by growing vegetables they aren't so familiar with too.
  • Location - Level sites that receive a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight are best. 
  • Site - Ideal vegetable garden soil should be loose, deep and crumbly. It should drain well (water should not stand on top after rain) and contain plenty of organic matter. Good garden soil will deliver the right mixture of air, water, and nutrients to grow a large root system and strong, productive plants.

Preparing and Amending Soil for a Vegetable Garden

  • Test your soil to determine soil pH, soil nutrients, and the lead level.
  • Add organic matter, such as compost, leaves, grass clippings, kitchen scraps, and cover crops, to garden soil yearly to feed soil organisms and provide slow-release nutrients for plant growth.
  • Follow the 3 Rs when applying fertilizers- right type, right amount, and right time (PDF HG 42 Soil Amendments and Fertilizers).
  • Protect soil from erosion and nutrient run-off by covering garden soil with plants and mulch during the growing season, and with mulch, leaves, or cover crops during fall and winter.
  • Start or improve a compost system (pile to compost garden and yard waste, or a (PDF) worm bin to compost kitchen scraps) to recycle nutrients.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

  • Scout (monitor) vegetable crops at least once each week for plant problems. Identify the cause of major problems.
  • Tolerate minor insect feeding and other plant injury. 
  • Pick-off and dispose of insect pests by hand. 
  • Remove and dispose of dead, diseased, and infested plant parts.   
  • Use fencing and row covers to exclude pests.
  • Control weeds with mulches, hand-pulling, hoes and other cultivating tools.
  • Add diversity and beauty in and around your garden with plants that provide pollen and nectar for pollinators and natural enemies.


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