These are the best tips for beginners.

Christian Douglas Design Raised Beds
Sasha Gulish

Say you’ve jumped into gardening full throttle, planted your raised beds, and then you have… problems. Who you gonna call? May I suggest the Backyard Farm Company? The brainchild of Marin, California, landscape architect Christian Douglas, this coalition of designers and farmers has all the resources you’ll need, from their “Phone a Farmer” service to e-books to a downloadable course for newbies. “The company sprung out of a desire to create a live platform for people to build knowledge,” Douglas says. “We want people to have confidence when it comes to growing their own food.”

Christian Douglas Portrait
Christian Douglas

Sasha Gulish

1. Choose Easier Plants

“We want people to build on their successes,” Douglas says, “so starting with easy plants are best.” He recommends radishes, leafy greens, summer squash, and cherry tomatoes.

2. Go Vertical

“Typically, an eight-by-four-foot vegetable planter box can grow a lot of food if you use arches and trellises to maximize your vertical growing space,” Douglas says. But before you go sky-high, consider how much time you have on a week-to-week basis to tend to your plants.

3. Seed for Success

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Some plants do better if you start them as seeds; others grow better if you start them as seedlings. Douglas recommends direct sowing root vegetables like beets, carrots, turnips, and legumes. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and cucumber benefit from being started as seedlings first.

4. Spoil Your Soil

“We often say we feed the soil; we don’t feed the plants.” says Douglas. “It’s a bit like our immune system—weak soil makes plants more susceptible to disease and predators.” To amend the soil, add organic matter like compost, worm castings, and compost tea.

5. Think About Aesthetics

Douglas is a big proponent of making a vegetable garden stylized as opposed to treating it like a second-class citizen. He recommends investing in obelisks, trellises, plant labels, and pretty pots. Says Douglas, “Elevate your materials to make your garden important. The key is to celebrate it.”

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