Grow more food as a beginner gardener

11 Tips for the Beginner Gardener – How to Grow More Food

As a beginner gardener, it can be a challenge to know where to start and what to do to grow more food. But there are some simple steps you can take to make your garden more abundant. Here are 11 tips to get you started.

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While these 11 tips are aimed at helping a beginner gardener grow more food, even an experienced gardener can benefit from them.

These tips are focused on helping you to work with nature to grow more food.

When you implement these tips you’re starting down a journey that will let you cultivate abundance for people, plants and animals.

A journey of creating your own wild homestead.

Ready to get started and grow more food? Let’s dive into these 11 tips for the beginner gardener! But before you do, make sure you grab your free and easy-to-print cheat-sheet. This cheat-sheet lists all 11 tips in an easy format that you can print and take out into the garden with you.

1. Mulch Your Garden

As a beginner gardener make sure you mulch your garden.

I always make sure to mulch my garden beds. Mulching really is one of the best things you can do for your garden.

Mulching is my go-to soil amendment. When you apply mulch to your soil, you’re helping your garden in so many ways. You help keep it moist, you build soil, you keep weeds down, and you support beneficial soil life and other beneficial critters. (And many of these critters will eat your garden pests!).

All of this means your plants will be less stressed and more productive. And every year you use mulch, your soil will steadily improve.

All this results in growing more food.

Benefits of Mulching Your Garden

  1. Reduce Your Watering Needs.
  2. Improve Your Soil.
  3. Promote Beneficial Soil Life.
  4. Reduce Weeds.
  5. Help Control Garden Pests.
  6. Grow Healthier Plants.

2. Don’t Go Overboard with Your Veggies

As a beginner gardener wanting to grow more food, a seed catalogue can seem overwhelming. There are just so many types of wonderful vegetables!

Even experienced gardeners can get drawn into these catalogues. I know I can!

But trying to grow everything will just overwhelm you—and lead to an unproductive garden.

Plus, you won’t have the time or space to observe your different types of vegetables, and learn how to grow and harvest them.

The key is to select a small number of vegetables that you know you and your family will eat. Then make sure to grow enough of this relatively small selection of vegetables to provide a significant harvest.

Perhaps you “only” grow 2 types of tomatoes (1 cherry, 1 large slicing type), 1 or 2 types of lettuce, 1 or 2 types of chard, 1 type of green beans, 1 type of peas, and 1 type of zucchini.

This will give you tomatoes and zucchini, spring and summer greens, and peas and green beans. While this might seem small, if you’re a beginner gardener, this is a fantastic starting mix that will provide you a good supplemental harvest.

Pick a small number of vegetables so you can grow more food without getting overwhelmed.

Benefits of Not Going Overboard with Your Vegetables

  1. Easier to harvest.
  2. Easier to get started and learn.

3. Grow Your Greens and Other Easy Vegetables

As a beginner gardener, you’ll want to start with easy-to-grow vegetables. While there’s no single list of easy-to-grow vegetables that work everywhere, a good tip is to start with your greens.

Salad greens and greens that are good for cooking with tend to be easier to grow.

Lettuce, Swiss chard, arugula, orach, and kale are great greens to start with.

But there are other relatively easy-to-grow vegetables such as zucchini, green beans, and peas.

Wild Tip

Reach out to local gardening groups/clubs and ask them what the easy-to-grow vegetables are in your area. What’s easy to grow here in western Washington may be a challenge to grow in your area

As a beginner gardener, start with these easy-to-grow vegetables. Then build on your success and add 1 or 2 harder-to-grow vegetables next year.

You can grow more food by starting with easy vegetables and expanding from there.

Benefits of Growing Greens and Other Easy Vegetables

  1. Easier to get started and learn.

4. Build a Worm Bin and Practice Chop-and-Drop

As a beginner gardener wanting to grow more food, you might be thinking about building a compost pile. Compost can really help improve your soil, so I get why you’re interested in having your own compost pile.

But a compost pile can also be a challenge. People often make mistakes that end up creating a smelly pile that annoys the neighbors.

An easier option is to build a worm bin and practice chop-and-drop. Chop-and-drop essentially lets you compost in place instead of taking the material out of your garden.

Chop-and-dropping your spent plants and any cuttings is also a great way to get free mulch for your garden.

Having a worm bin will let you turn your vegetable scraps into a great soil amendment without worrying about balancing nitrogen and carbon—and without having to turn a pile every few days and track temperature.

I have a worm bin, and it really is an easy option. Some worm bin designs are complex, but a simple design is really all you need. Watch the video above and check out these links to get started with your own worm bin:

Just don’t forget to harvest the worm castings and add them to your garden! The castings are an amazing soil amendment that will promote beneficial soil life and improve your soil.

Benefits of Chop-and-Drop and Building a Worm Bin

  1. Improve Your Soil.
  2. Promote Beneficial Soil Life.
  3. Grow Healthier Plants.
  4. Easier to get started and learn.

5. Add Flowers to Your Garden

So what do flowers have to do with growing more food? Well, one of the common issues beginner gardeners (and experienced gardeners!) have is with pests that eat their vegetables.

This is where flowers come in.

Flowers attract all sorts of beneficial critters such as lady bugs, lacewings, and parasitoid wasps. (These guys are tiny and won’t sting you).

All these beneficial critters—and many others—are actually predators (as larvae, as adults, or both.) And these predators will eat your pests.

When you plant flowers, you are creating space for these beneficial critters. And in return, they will help you keep pests under control.

Wild Tip

Flowers (especially perennial flowers) can also help build your garden soil by promoting beneficial soil life.

Don’t grab toxic chemicals—those will kill the pests and the beneficial critters! That means you will get stuck having to spray toxic chemicals on your food every year.

A much better option is to work with nature by planting flowers to bring in the predators that will eat your pests.

Plus, flowers add tremendous beauty to your garden, and many flowers are also edible! Sweet alyssum and nasturtiums are 2 great options, but there are many others.

Benefits of Adding Flowers to Your Garden

  1. Help Control Garden Pests.
  2. Add Beauty to Your Garden.
  3. Improve Your Soil.
  4. Promote Beneficial Soil Life.

6. Don’t Overwater Your Plants

Have you seen the suggestion that your garden needs an inch of water every week? I see this all over. But my garden doesn’t need anything close to that. If you keep your garden mulched and work to improve your soil each year, you can dramatically reduce how much you water your garden needs.

But every garden is different. The key is to observe your plants and your soil. You want to give your plants enough water, without over-watering.

Assuming your garden is mulched, just stick your finger down under the mulch and check to see if the soil is still damp. If the soil is still damp under the mulch, then you don’t need to water your garden.

Also, watch your plants and look for signs of heat-related stress. Often heat-stressed plants will start to wilt. If you start seeing this, you will likely need to water your plants.

But wait and see if your plants rebound in the evening. If they do, then check the soil and see if the soil is still moist. I would skip watering if the soil is still moist even if the leaves were wilting during the day.

If the wilting continues on a daily basis, try giving each plant that shows signs of wilting a deep watering. Don’t water plants that show no signs of wilting.

A deep watering is key. You want your vegetables to send their roots down as deep as possible to take in more soil moisture.

Giving your plants frequent, shallow watering encourages your plants to keep their roots near the surface, as opposed to going deep.

A larger, deeper root system will also help your plants reach more nutrients in the soil, resulting in more growth and larger harvests for you and your family.

Benefits of Not Overwatering Your Plants

  1. Reduce Your Watering Needs.
  2. Grow Healthier Plants.

7. Plant in Polycultures

Use flowers to get started with polyculture in your garden

I always try to plant my garden in polycultures--adding flowers like nasturtiums is a great and easy way to do this!

What is a polyculture? A polyculture is best understood when compared to a monoculture. A monoculture is when each garden bed only grows a single type of vegetable.

This would be 1 bed for tomatoes, 1 bed for onions, 1 bed for lettuce, etc.

In a polyculture, you might have a single garden bed with tomatoes, onions, and lettuce all mixed together.

The key as a beginner gardener is not to go overboard. If you try to mix in too many types of plants, it can get hard to harvest. Especially if you’re just learning how to harvest your vegetables!

A great way to get started is to pick 2 or 3 similar-sized vegetables and just alternate them in a single row. An example would be to start a row with 1 lettuce, then 1 chard, then 1 broccoli—then just repeat this pattern.

Wild Tip

Adding flowers to your garden beds is a great way to plant a polyculture!

So why would you do this?

Polycultures can reduce pest issues, because a pest that loves broccoli may not like lettuce or chard. If you plant a row with a single type of vegetable, then pests can easily move from 1 to the next. But in a polyculture the pests can’t easily move beyond the plant they’re on.

Polycultures also promote soil life. Each of your plants releases what’s called exudates into the soil to encourage the bacteria and fungi that benefit that plant. A mix of plants means a mix of exudates, which means an increase in the diversity of supported soil life.

The result is that your soil will improve more quickly because of this increase in soil life.

As a beginner gardener, just don’t go overboard. Start with a simple polyculture and then expand it as you get more comfortable.

Benefits of Planting in a Polyculture

  1. Help Control Garden Pests.
  2. Improve Your Soil.
  3. Promote Beneficial Soil Life.
  4. Grow Healthier Plants.

8. Plant Vegetable Starts Instead of Seeds

Grow more food with vegetable starts

I like to grow vegetables from seed, but often starts have a number of advantages and are easier to get started with.

One big question for any gardener is, do you plant seeds or starts? Starts are plants that are “started” from seed in small pots and then later transplanted out into the garden.

The other option is to just direct-sow the seeds in the garden and skip the transplanting.

But as a beginner gardener, it will be easier to get the spacing right if you plant starts instead of seeds. This is especially true for plants with small seeds, like lettuce.

Wild Tip

Not all vegetables can be transplanted—these will need to be direct-seeded. Some of these are carrots, corn, beans, and peas. You may still find these being sold as starts in the store, but don’t buy them. They’re likely going to struggle and they may not produce a harvest

Direct-seeding does have a number of advantages but when you’re just starting out it can be a challenge. You will need to learn how to direct-seed each vegetable (including depth and timing), you’ll need to keep the seeds moist but not too wet, and then thin the resulting plants.

Buying vegetable starts will be the easiest way. And while this is costs money, it’s generally cheaper than if you bought the final harvested vegetable from the store.

Plus, depending on where you live, you may have a hard time growing many sun-loving plants like tomatoes unless you use starts.

Growing your own starts is another option, but that may be more than you want to do as a beginner gardener. (Though it’s a great option if you have the space and knowledge to do so.)

The reason to buy starts is that you can get your garden going quickly and easily. To this day, I still buy starts each year, despite growing many of my vegetables from seed. The ease of it sometimes just makes the most sense.

Benefits of Planting Vegetable Starts

  1. Easier to get started and learn.

9. Direct-Seed Vegetables with Large Seeds

Yup, now I’m going to tell you to direct-seed your vegetables! Just not all of them—at least as a beginner gardener.

Some vegetables have large seeds. Vegetables like corn, peas, beans, and squash. This makes them really easy to direct sow.

You likely won’t need to thin them, and they’re easy to direct seed at the proper depth.

With the exception of some plants like melons that need long growing seasons, (starting them indoors and transplanting later can extend the growing season for these plants), I don’t see any reason not to direct seed these plants.

Peas and beans are especially easy to direct-seed, and they’re generally very forgiving.

So with these large-seeded vegetables, skip the starts and just direct-seed them into your garden. This is a great way for you as a beginner gardener to get experience with direct-seeding your vegetables.

Benefits of Direct-Seeding Large-Seeded Vegetables

  1. Easier to get started and learn.

10. Don’t Forget About the Sun

As a gardener, it’s easy to be focused down on the ground—at your plants and your soil. But don’t forget to think about the sun, too.

You know your garden needs sun. And as a beginner gardener, you may be worried that your garden won’t get enough of it. Don’t let that stop you.

Not all vegetables need full sun (6+ hours). And many actually produce longer if they get some shade.

If your garden doesn’t get full sun, then long-season vegetables like some peppers, large tomatoes, melons and corn may not be a good choice for you.

But others, like lettuce, spinach, kale and many other greens, are happy in partial shade.

Even cherry tomatoes can be grown in less than full sun.

You can even use taller plants like climbing green beans and tomatoes to cast shade behind them (on the north side in the northern hemisphere and south side in the southern hemisphere) to keep greens like lettuce and spinach going longer into the summer without bolting (going to seed).

I even have kale growing under a cherry tree where it only gets a few hours of sunlight each day.

Wild Tip

Not sure how much sun your garden gets? The easiest way to get a rough estimate is to watch your garden on a sunny day and note the time your garden first gets sunlight, and when it gets covered by shadow, and then calculate the hours of sunlight.


But the sun changes location throughout the year, so the shadows will change as the growing season rolls on. You can use a free tool like ShadowCalculator to figure out how much sun your garden will get throughout the season.

As a beginner gardener, the key is to understand how much sun your garden gets and then plant vegetables that will thrive with that amount of sunlight. If your garden gets less than 8 hours of sunlight, then grow shade-tolerant vegetables and skip the sun-loving ones.

This will save you a lot of frustration and help make sure you actually get a good harvest.

Benefits of Accounting for the Sun

  1. Easier to get started and learn.
  2. Grow Healthier Plants.

11. You Can Grow Vegetables Outside Your Garden

Grow more food outside your garden

During the first couple years on our land, my wife and I didn’t have a formal garden. But we still grew food. We just mixed vegetables into our other growing areas, such as our hedgerows.

The final tip is to look at other growing areas you might have outside of your garden and mix in vegetables.

Perhaps you have an ornamental bed with some flowers, shrubs and a small tree.

You could easily plant edible flowers like nasturtiums and sweet alyssum in these areas, but traditional vegetables like chard could also be added.

Self-seeding vegetables like lettuce and arugula are also great options since they’ll pop up on their own in the future.

Other vegetables like red orach and vegetable amaranth can also add a lot of beauty to these areas.

 Your neighbors probably won’t even realize your growing food there!

Wild Tip

Think about adding perennial vegetables to these areas. This can greatly expand your harvests while also saving you time and energy.

As a beginner gardener, you’re probably starting with a small garden. Using these other growing areas is a great way to grow more food without having to build a larger garden.

Benefits of Growing Vegetables Outside Your Garden

  1. Increase your food growing area.

Growing More Food as a Beginner Gardener

Don't wait to grow more food as a beginner gardener

Even a new garden with less-than-ideal soil can produce quite a lot of food. The key is to get started and use simple techniques to work with nature.

As a beginner gardener, the key to growing more food is to get started and follow basic steps to work with nature instead of against it.

When you implement the 11 tips listed here, then over time, your soil will improve, you’ll have less battles with pests, you’ll water less, and you’ll enjoy much better harvests.

You’ll be well on your way to cultivating abundance for people, plants and animals.

But you don’t have to implement all 11 of these tips at once. Pick the ones that you know you can do and start there.

Then come back to this list and add some more. And eventually, you’ll go beyond this list. This list of tips is a starting point for you as a beginner gardener. Ultimately, you’ll want to move past these 11 tips and go even further to work with nature and enjoy better harvests.

But don’t rush into it.

Though if you’re feeling ready for the next step then I recommend checking out these 3 blog posts:

  1. 3 Ways to Work with Nature to Boost Your Wild Homestead
  2. Plant Once With Perennial Vegetables
  3. What is a Food Forest? (And How to Get Started)

My final tip is, don’t get discouraged if your garden doesn’t do as well as you want at first. When you work with nature, your garden will steadily improve. But it takes time. You can’t build soil overnight, but you can take the steps that will improve your soil every year.

Start small and just keep at it. You can grow your own food!

So which of these tips are you going to get started with in your garden? Leave a comment below with your answer!

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Daron

Daron is a restoration ecologist, a lifelong gardener, and the founder of Wild Homesteading. He manages the restoration program for a local non-profit, and he applies restoration and sustainable gardening techniques on his family’s own wild homestead. He loves sharing the joy of growing food with his two beautiful children. In addition, to running this site Daron manages the restoration program for a local non-profit and is a husband to an amazing wife who makes this site and the homestead possible and daddy to 2 perfect kids.

  • KC Simmons says:

    Great information for new gardeners, Daron! I especially like the points about growing flowers in the vegetable garden, and growing vegetables outside of the garden. Every year I find lots of volunteer marigolds, alyssum, cosmos, sunflowers, and more in the garden. I always leave the ones that are not competing directly with the food crops, which the bees & other pollinators seem to love.

    Also, I often stick extra veggie starts in the ornamental beds, which makes the beds more attractive, while also “hiding” the crop from pests. It’s a great way to save space, increase yields, as well as making the landscape more attractive.

    • Daron says:

      Thank you KC! And great comment about adding flowers and adding extra veggie starts in your ornamental beds. I really like adding vegetables to ornamental areas–especially veggies that like to self-seed and volunteer. Free food! Thanks again for the comment!

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