Experts and BHG readers answer.
Starting To Garden
"Good for you on starting a garden! I've been doing a vegetable garden for about 8-9 years now, and it's always a wonderful thing each year. I know you will enjoy yours.
For pests: I suggest taking time on the front end to put up a fence. I just stapled roughly 3-foot-high chicken wire to large wooden stakes to keep the rabbits out. It worked until this year; apparently there's a breach in the fence...So I am going to shift mine to a buried wire. It's hard work, but once it's done, you're set. Even gophers won't get through! To keep out rabbits AND gophers, bury it up to 3 feet deep (yes, that is a job). For rabbits only, bury it about 6-8 inches, preferably bending out.
Chipmunks still invade my garden. They take bites out of tomatoes. I don't know how to keep them out altogether. Last year I did start wrapping small pieces of this black netting I bought (it comes in a big lump; I just cut it down) around ripening tomatoes. No more bites!
Spend time improving your soil this year. Healthy soil grows the best veggies. Plant what your family likes to eat--plus a few fun things just to try. For instance, I got a friend who hates broccoli to try some fresh, and it tastes way different. So now she grows it every year. I grow purple green beans (they're purple pods that turn green when you cook them). That's how we got my neighbor's kids to eat green beans!
Don't spend lots of money on fancy trellises and supports for things; make your own. Tomatoes need staking; buy a roll of fencing and a pair of bolt cutters and cut it to size. I did that to create bean fences and tomato cages. I anchor that to the ground with small pieces of rebar/rerod. People who grow vegetables locally will LOVE to share their advice. If you spot a garden, stop and meet the gardener. It's worth the time.
For your first year or so, you can try rows or raised beds. I did both, then eventually settled on a combination of both due to my garden's shape/size. But now my beds are permanent (just raised soil, no fancy wood edges) and I don't till them year to year. (I found when I tilled every year that I had few earthworms, compared to my flower beds that have gobs of worms.) With the established beds, I can also plant broccoli, brussel sprouts, and peas early in the season--the soil is ready to go.
I have 2 favorite veggie growing books: The Vegetable Gardener's Bible by Edward C. Smith and The Essential Kitchen Gardener by Frieda Arkin. The bible one is better for basic techniques; the 2nd one has great cooking/prep ideas. If you buy only one, get the first. It will inspire you.
When to plant...Your local extension service will have free publications including a vegetable sowing chart for your area. I have one from our local extension service (I searched for it online and printed it) and I use it faithfully. Last year I put all my important papers like that in a binder. I have used that binder all year long! I keep my garden plans in it, the sowing charts, labels from certain tomatoes I liked, etc. I use it to hold all sorts of garden info that used to be scattered everywhere through the house.
Online, www.gardeners.com/bhg has lots of good vegetable-growing products and information. So does www.gardensalive.com -- they're 100% organic.
Last but not least: After you plant this year, draw a plan. Next year, you need to shift everything around, and you may not remember where it all was. Have fun!!"