Everyone has started a herb garden in their homes at some point, picking fresh herbs straight out of its little pot where they began as seeds. Let’s expand your horizons a little! Here are nine need-to-know tips you have to cover before starting your very own food garden table (i.e., raised garden table).
As a whole, a food garden table starts with research into a state’s hardiness zone to pick local plants that will grow in the area. Next, provide the garden table with its water, soil, light, and fertilization needs. During harvest, ensure to pick the produce as soon as it ripens to prevent rotting plants.
Read below as I elaborate on each aspect with suggestions and advice to make your new home project sail smoothly.
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Table of contents
- How Do I Start a Food Garden?
- Do Research into Your Region’s Hardiness Zone
- Choose Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs You Want to Plant
- Pick Whether To Start From Seeds or Seedlings
- Prepare Your Food Garden Table (i.e Raised Garden Table)
- Prepare The Soil and Fertilizer for Your Food Garden Table
- Provide Water and Sunlight for Your Food Garden Table
- Manage Pests and Diseases Problems in your Food Garden Table
- Do Additional Tending to Your Food Garden Table
- Harvest Produce From Your Food Garden Table
- Final Words
How Do I Start a Food Garden?
Do Research into Your Region’s Hardiness Zone
The term ‘hardiness’ refers to your plant’s endurance to grow in cold temperatures. You can look up your state’s hardiness zone by going to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map or simply googling “[State name] hardiness zone”. Each region has varying climatic conditions; this determines what plants can flourish in the area’s environment. When looking through the map, the zone range of 1 – 13 implies coldest to warmest.
By considering the zoning provided in this map, you’re one step closer to ensuring your plants will grow in your region. However, note that this is a guideline, and it does not account for abrupt weather changes such as downpours, hot spells, and frost. Luckily, these factors are not impossible to protect your plants from.
Also, as a precaution, find out if there are any local laws regarding creating edible gardens at home. These laws usually concern those who plant in their front yard, but it never hurts to check. Nobody wants to get tangled up with Plant Law & Order (it could just be your HOA).
Choose Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs You Want to Plant
Now that you know your region’s hardiness zone, look up plants that can grow in your area. Choosing your plants this way takes the guesswork out of the decision-making process. Also, ask your family members what they want to eat out of the garden and double-check whether they can be grown in your region. Picking plants you want to eat out of your garden will prevent food waste. Speaking from experience, nothing smells worse than a pile of rotting brussel sprout plants in your backyard. It might be tempting to try planting all the veggies and fruits you read up on but trust me, take it slow and do what you can manage first. There will be time to explore the other options after your first successful harvest 😀
Also, consider doing companion planting on your food garden table. This is where you plant certain vegetables and fruits together that will benefit each other’s growth, such as:
- Attract beneficial insects to manage pests and pollinate plants
- Support climbing and sprawling plants naturally like a trellis
- Prevents pests and critters due to their pungent smell
- Prevent weeds from sprouting
Grouping the right plants together will give you the best harvest possible. Unlike unwilling members in a group project at school, this at least has a chance of passing. In the same vein, there are some plants you should never pair up. This is to prevent plants from overtaking one another and competing for nutrients.
Here is a table of common plants with their respective good and bad companions to plant next to:
|Good Companion Plant
|Bad Companion Plants
|Allium family (Onion, Garlic); Peppers; Basil; Carrots; Nasturtium
|Brassica family (Broccoli, Cabbages); Corn; Fennel; Kohlrabi; Potatoes
|Radishes; Marigold; Carrots; Spinach
|Brassica family (Broccoli, Cabbages, Brussel sprouts, Cauliflower)
|Tomatoes; Legume family (Beans, Peas); Rosemary; Parsley; Lettuce
|Lettuce; Spinach; Radishes; Basil; Thyme; Corn
|Eggplants; Peppers; Tomatoes; Cucumber; Squash; Carrots; Onions
|Borage; Lettuce; Spinach; Bush Beans; Garlic; Onion; Asparagus
|Brassica family (Cabbages, Cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, Broccoli)
Pick Whether To Start From Seeds or Seedlings
Before you hog all the seed packets you can find, consider which starting point you want to begin your plants from – seeds or seedlings. The easy route is purchasing seedlings because not only does it give you an early harvest, it’s also perfect for beginners. It’s worth noting that some plants are more delicate in the transplanting process, like carrots and salad greens. This is where buying seedling versions of these plants is beneficial or sometimes critical for successful planting.
If you do want to start with seeds, don’t buy too many seeds packets. They will expire after some time; buy only what you need and will plant immediately. Seed packets usually come with instructions on germinating the seeds, which will vary for different vegetables, fruits, and herbs.
Once you’re clear on the planning stage and what seeds/seedlings to use, it’s time to start setting your food garden table up.
Prepare Your Food Garden Table (i.e Raised Garden Table)
There are many names for a food garden table – table garden, salad table, elevated garden, garden table, but it is mainly known as a raised garden table. It’s a great alternative to traditional in-bed gardening because you don’t have to bend, stoop, kneel, or squat to do your gardening. You can even bring your gardening indoors!
You can either make your own food garden table or purchase one that you can put together. This Wooden Raised Planter Box with Legs on Amazon is a particularly good one to start with. Ideally, the perfect height for your food garden table depends on a comfortable height for you. Most would have it at hip or waist level, which is about 36 inches above the ground. Those with limited mobility, like the elderly or handicapped people, around 28-34 inches above the ground should be a balanced height suited to their needs. You can also adjust the ample space underneath to fit a chair or wheelchair, allowing a comfortable gardening experience.
For better drainage in your food garden table, do the following before adding in the soil:
- Put a bottom layer of wire mesh to prevent critters from digging upwards into your garden.
- Next, put a layer of newspaper or permeable cloth to prevent soil from escaping in your food garden table.
- Optional: if the food garden table is made of wood, use a garden bed liner to keep the wood from rotting out quickly. This acts as a barrier between the wooden walls and the moist soil.
Prepare The Soil and Fertilizer for Your Food Garden Table
Start with fresh, optimal soil suited for your vegetable and fruits needs. This is handy, mainly if your garden soil is not suitable for planting food. There are readily available home gardening soil for raised food garden tables you can get online or at a garden center. Make sure to check if it’s organic, is OMRI-listed (Organic Materials Review Institution), and contains natural, biodegradable ingredients in its label like this Burpee Organic Premium Potting Mix on Amazon.
Alternatively, you can make your own mix. A good soil mix base for raised bed gardening needs to have 4:4:2 parts of soil, compost, and aeration, respectively. Aeration refers to soil additives like vermiculite, perlite, coarse sand (be cautious of using river sand, horticultural sand is the safest bet), or gravel that provide drainage and helps aerate the soil. Take now that you’ll have to purchase each of the three items rather than a readily available soil mix. I recommend getting these Vermiculite, Perlite, Coarse Silica Sand, or Gravel on Amazon to improve your soil’s drainage.
In applying fertilizers, it’s highly dependent on the type and the growth stage of the plant. For example, a tomato plant requires an all-purpose granular fertilizer at the beginning of its growth; when it starts to flower, a high Phosphorus fertilizer will coax more fruits and flowers to grow. Make sure to always read the instruction labels and follow according to the product’s directions. Optionally, you can follow up the regular fertilizer treatment with a monthly water-based fertilizer to perk up your plants and minimize pests and diseases issues. I’d recommend starting your seeds and seedlings with Raised Bed Plant Nutrition Granules on Amazon for your first planting.
Here’s a table of common vegetables, fruits, and herbs and their fertilizing needs at different growth stages:
|Type of Fertilizer
|During leafy growth
|During leafy growth
|During leafy growth
|High in Phosphorus
|During leafy growth & flower and fruit production
|High in Phosphorus
During flower & fruit production
High in Phosphorus
|Dwarf apple tree
|From initial planting
|All-purpose(Note: Fertilizer can vary depending on soil conditions)
|During initial planting
During flower & fruit production
High in Potassium
|During leafy growth
|During leafy growth
Provide Water and Sunlight for Your Food Garden Table
Always check the moisture level in the soil by dipping your fingers 1-2 inches deep to determine whether the soil is damp or dry. If it’s dry, it’s time to water; if it’s damp, hold off watering until the next day. You can also choose to water by hand or use the convenient option of getting a drip irrigation kit for your food garden. The latter is much more helpful when you have more than one food garden table to maintain.
Somewhat similar to fertilizing, your food garden needs to be watered according to each plants’ growth stages. Seedlings require daily watering, just enough to keep the soil moist but not soaked. Once the plants start flowering and fruiting, water the soil deeply on an every other day basis.
A raised food garden table requires a daily dose of full sun. So you may ask: what is the best place for a food garden? A food garden table’s ideal place is a sunny area where it can receive 6-8 hours of sunlight. Alternatively, use quality LED grow lights if direct sunlight is not possible if gardening indoors. Shine grow lights close to the garden to increase the light intensity and leave it on for 14-20 hours.
Manage Pests and Diseases Problems in your Food Garden Table
When it comes to insects, be sure to identify them first before treating them as pests. Many of these bugs are more helpful than you think to your food garden, such as ladybug larvae and spiders, which like to eat aphids. For small critters, there are a few ways to prevent them from plucking the fruits of your labor, such as installing chicken wire cages, using motion sensor sprinklers, plant strong-smelling flowers, and setting high fences. Just remember to please be humane with the methods used to keep them at bay.
However, with diseases, you’ll have to act quickly to recognize the symptoms to prevent them from spreading to the rest of your plants, so make sure to get familiar with the common diseases your plants are bound to have. Remove any damaged foliage and fruits, and keep an eye out for any further infections in your food garden once taking care of the initial infected plant.
Do Additional Tending to Your Food Garden Table
For sprawling and climbing plants like strawberries and tomatoes, use cages, stakes, or trellises to support their vertical growth to keep your garden neat and manageable. I recommend using this Plant Trellis Netting on Amazon. It’s worth noting that these vertical supports should be inserted in the food garden table before the planting. This is to prevent accidental damage to the plants’ roots. I’ve discussed this particular topic extensively in another article. Click here to read on trellis planting for climbing plants!
For cold air, use row covers to prevent the frost from killing off your plants. You can also add a cold frame to the food garden table, turning it into a mini greenhouse to insulate your plants and even continue planting throughout winter. If this setup proves too challenging to construct, I suggest using a fabric frost blanket instead.
On another note, remember to rotate your crops (i.e., shift your plant’s position from one spot to another in the soil) every year. This is to prevent depletion of soil nutrients and predictability for pests and diseases to settle on your plants.
Harvest Produce From Your Food Garden Table
Depending on your planted vegetable and fruit types, the best time to collect your food bounty is just before or at its peak ripeness, looking ready to eat and just in time for lunch. Make sure to check your food garden every day because once it starts to ripen, it happens very quickly, and you don’t want overripe produce to rot and attract pests and diseases.
Always be gentle when picking your fruit and vegetables as they easily bruise when handled roughly, which will reduce their storage life after you harvest them. And finally, be sure to thoroughly rinse your produce of dirt and any clinging insects before consuming them.
By starting a food garden table, you’re not only creating a source of healthy produce for your family and yourself but also reaping the benefits of learning a new skill in edible home gardening. It may not be an easy mountain to conquer in one climb, but you can only get better at it with time, so don’t be discouraged if your broccoli looks nothing like the ones in the supermarket on your first try. You grew that, and that’s a mighty fine achievement on its own.