How to Design, Build, and Grow a Vegetable Garden

The simplest answer is plant a few seeds in the ground and wait to see what happens, but, you’ll probably get results that equal the amount of work you put in.  In Oklahoma we have various weather patterns that seem almost random, yet there is enough consistency to make wise decisions regarding what time of year to plant certain vegetables.  We are building a new garden, which we are starting in July, and it will consist of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, green beans (bush), lettuce (head), pumpkin, red pepper, spinach, tomatoes (cherry), tomatoes (yellow), summer squash (yellow), and zucchini.  Vegetables are usually divided into two classes depending upon which season they tend to grow best:  warm season (70 degrees F or above) and cool season (70 degrees F and below).  However, you’ll find that some vegetables can be grown in either.

The best place to have a garden is an area that has a high exposure to sunlight, drains well, and does not have a thin layer of soil.  If, for whatever reason, you don’t have an area that drains well or does not have soil depth, you can create raised beds to build your garden using such things as wood pallets, large tires, etc.  Some common MISTAKES you’ll want to avoid with your garden are:

  • Overwatering to the point that your garden stays soggy.
  • Using pesticides or chemicals without following the instructions.
  • Placing plants to close together causing them to fight over the same water and nutrients.
  • Adding to much fertilizer, or worse yet, allowing the plant roots to only be in contact with it.
  • Allowing weeds to grow which ultimately fight against your plants as they steal moisture and nutrients.
  • Working in your garden when it is wet thus potentially damaging your plants and causing areas for water to pool instead of drain.

We have to remember, plants are a living organism, which means they react differently to different levels of sunlight, fertilizers, depth planted, spacing, pesticides, amounts of water, soil content, chemicals, etc.  For me, it helps to think of how plants stay healthy and grow in relation to how we take care of our bodies.  If we don’t give them the correct amount and type of food, water, and vitamins they are less likely to stay healthy and grow like they should.  And, if we expose them to harmful things, they will react accordingly.  Without going into too much depth, a few plant symptoms to look out for are:

  • Holes in plant leaves with possibly yellowish, drooping, or distortion in shape – most likely insect damage which their are a number of organic remedies or insecticides to combat this.
  • Plant leaves have spots, dead areas, dried patches, or powdery or rusty looking areas – most likely some form of plant disease which can be treated using recommended treatments, a plant variety resistant to the disease, and by removing the affected plants from the garden.
  • Plants stunted during growth – possibly poor soil (lack of nutrients and the best way to know is by having a soil sample tested at your local agricultural extension office), the soil is too compacted for root growth,  or the temperature (time of year planted) is not right for the plant to grow.

So let’s get started!  The garden we are creating will be a little bigger than 16′ x 34′.  We started by measuring off the dimensions on the ground, and then mowing the area with the mower on the lowest height setting.  Next, we tilled the soil lengthwise (raking off the excess grass/weeds) and then tilled the soil widthwise (once again raking off the leftover grass/weeds).   I would strongly suggest using a gas powered tiller, but, if you enjoy A LOT of manual labor then a garden hoe or hand-powered tiller is usable also.










Once down to dirt, it’s time to add fertilizer.  Plants need fertilizer because either the soil does not have the required nutrients for optimal plant growth, or over time, the plants remove the nutrients in the soil as they grow.  BUT which one to choose?  Start with the label.  A fertilizer label will have 3 numbers on it separated by a dash between each:  1st # gives the percentage of nitrogen, 2nd # gives the percentage of phosphate (phosphorous), and 3rd # gives the percentage of potash (potassium).  So, a 5-5-5 label indicates that for a 100lb. bag of fertilizer, there is 5 lbs. of nitrogen, 5 lbs. of phosphate, and 5 lbs. of potash with the remaining 85 lbs. being filler.  Most all-purpose fertilizers with a 5-5-5 label are adequate for gardening.  There are chemical and organic fertilizers, each with there pros and cons.

Chemical or synthetic fertilizers:

  • Come in powder, liquid, granular, and pellet form.
  • They are fast acting (similar to getting a shot), but have no long term benefits for the soil.
  • Usually have a higher percentage of the 3 main nutrients needed for plant growth than organic due.
  • Contribute no organic matter to the soil nor help with soil structure.

Organic fertilizers:

  • Compost, animal and plant manure.
  • Contribute organic matter and improve soil structure.
  • Slow release of nutrients into the soil over months, and sometimes even years.

If we’re tilling in fertilizer during the winter getting ready for a Spring garden, then we’d lean toward organic fertilizer.  However, there are pros and cons to both.  We will add fertilizer during the winter in preparation for the Spring season.

After we finished tilling the garden area twice, we went back and removed the remaining weeds which there were quite a few.  We then placed wood stakes in the ground about 2′ apart at both ends of the garden which we wrapped with easy to see thin rope to give us guides for planting.









Based on the vegetables we are planting, here are the basic requirements for planting them.  However, facts/opinions slightly vary about spacing as well as more gardeners are using tomato cages with various vegetables that allow for less space requirement – as we are doing also.  We put the seeds in the ground mid July.

Vegetable Plant Spacing Spacing Between Rows # Planted
Broccoli 3″ 24-36″ 5
Brussels Sprouts 24″ 24-36″ 6
Carrots 2-4″ 12-24″ 25
Green Beans (bush) 2-3″ 18-24″ 12
Lettuce (head) 12″ 12″ 4
Pumpkin 60-72″ 120-180″ 4
Red Pepper 14-18″ 18-24″ 8
Spinach 2-4″ 12-24″ 7
Tomatoes (cherry) 18-36″ 24-48″ 5
Tomatoes (yellow) 18-36″ 24-48″ 5
Yellow Squash 18-28″ 24-48″ 11
Zucchini 18-28″ 24-48″ 8

Next, we added tongue depressors with the names of each vegetable being planted in a particular row.  Then, we simply followed the directions for seed depth and added planting soil in every hole as we planted the seeds – usually adding 2-3 seeds per hole as some will not germinate.









We began watering the freshly planted seeds just after finishing the fun of planting them.  Since then, we’ve watered the garden once a day and within a week we began to see sprouts of zucchini, yellow squash, and pumpkin.






With the growth of the plants, we fenced off the garden to keep out rabbits, raccoons, armadillos, etc., from eating the plants.  We simply used 6′ t-posts wrapped with 2′ tall chicken wire fencing, and placed metal, tent stakes to hold down the bottom of the fence in between the t-posts.














Within 2 weeks.






As long as you do weed removal every 3-4 days, it really doesn’t take very long to keep weeds out.  Within about 4 weeks the squash and zucchini plants were flourishing.  Shortly after, we began to pick more of each than we knew what to do with – there are so many that we just took a couple pictures with a dollar bill to give a size comparison.






After about a month and a half we are getting ready to begin picking Brussels sprouts, carrots, green beans,  red peppers, and lettuce.  The spinach and broccoli has not begun to grow at all above the soil; which are both more cooler weather plants but we thought we’d try them just to see.  The pumpkins are beginning to take shape, and are trying to take over as much garden square footage as we’ll let them.  So far, so good…