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How to Start a Garden for Beginners: 11 Steps
By Todd Vincent
April 25, 2023
Gardening has been shown to have a calming effect on the mind and can help reduce stress, plus it provides you with physical activity, can save you money on organic produce, and it’s good for the planet.
Whether you’re brand new to gardening or have some experience with it, starting a garden doesn't have to be expensive or overly complicated. With a little planning and resourcefulness, you can enjoy the benefits of gardening while staying on a budget.
In this article, learn how to start a garden for beginners, including tips for kicking things off at the right time, preparing the ground properly and choosing the best plants.
How do you start a garden from scratch for beginners? Begin by creating a plan and timeline which will keep you organized.
Here’s what to write down to get started with your garden:
Type of garden: First decide the type of garden you want to create, such as a vegetable garden, a flower garden or a combination of both.
Location: Pick a spot where your garden will fit, making sure it will get enough sunlight and easy access to a hose or water source.
Layout and size: Determine the layout depending on how much space you have. You can sketch a rough plan of your garden, taking into account the location of plants with different sunlight needs, plus access to water and pathways. This is when you should determine if you’ll be growing in pots, the ground, garden beds or other types of containers.
Select your plants: Choose plants that are suitable for your climate and soil type. You can determine this by doing research online or speaking with someone knowledgeable at a local nursery.
What month should you start a garden? And what month is too late to begin gardening? It all depends on your location, the plants you want to grow and which season you’re hoping to harvest in.
Your local climate determines the best time to start a garden, therefore it’s smart to do some research about planting in your specific region, as growing conditions can vary widely. For example, you can refer to the Farmer’s Almanac’s guide to planting vegetable seeds and other types of seeds.
Here are some tips regarding when to begin gardening:
Spring: Spring is usually the best time to start a garden, as it is when the soil begins to warm up and the weather becomes milder. You can start planting a variety of flowers and cool-season crops in the spring, such as peas, lettuce and spinach.
Summer: Summer is a good time to start planting annual flowers and warm-season crops, such as tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. You can also start planting herbs such as basil, rosemary and thyme.
Fall: Try planting cool-season crops as the weather begins to cool down, such as broccoli, cauliflower and carrots, as well as herbs such as parsley and cilantro.
Winter: In some regions, winter is best for planting cold-resistant crops, such as garlic and onions, as they need a long growing season and will be ready for harvest the following spring and summer.
The ideal type of garden for you to grow depends on both your local climate and the soil type.
For the best results, you’ll want to test and prepare the soil where you plan to plant seeds. You can test your soil to determine its pH level and nutrient content. By testing your soil regularly, you can ensure that your plants have the nutrients they need for healthy growth and optimal production.
Then you can amend the soil as needed to ensure it’s fertile and well-draining, such as by adding more compost or rocks.
Here are some steps to test your soil:
Gather soil samples from several different areas of your garden at different depths, then mix them together. You should collect at least 1–2 cups of soil for testing.
Remove any stones, twigs or debris from the soil sample, and let it air dry for a day or two.
Choose a testing method: There are different testing methods available, including DIY soil test kits, lab testing and online testing services. DIY soil test kits are the most affordable and convenient option for home gardeners.
Follow the instructions for your testing kit, as each testing method will have its guidelines.
The results of your soil test will indicate the pH level and nutrient levels in your soil. pH levels range from acidic to alkaline, with a neutral pH of 7.0. Most plants prefer a pH range of 6.0 to 7.5. If the nutrient levels are low, you may need to add fertilizers or organic matter to the soil to support plant growth.
"How do I start a garden with no money and little experience?" You want to make sure that you’re planting seeds or plants that will thrive in your location. This way, you don’t waste any money or effort. Planting seeds or small plants helps to keep the cost down compared to more mature plants, but it’s also a bit harder and takes some patience.
Some plants are better suited for beginner gardeners compared to others. Here are some tips for choosing the best plants:
Begin with a small garden bed or container garden, which is easier to manage than a large garden.
Choose plants that are easy to care for, such as those that are drought-tolerant or capable of handling some shade. As you gain experience, you can add more plants and experiment with different gardening techniques.
Some of the best plants and crops for beginners include: tomatoes, lettuces, herbs such as mint and parsley, marigolds, succulents, and zinnias.
Ask a local nursery worker for advice on choosing the best plants for your climate and experience level.
Read the instructions on the plants you buy. This way, you’re aware of their sunlight and water needs.
Gardening isn’t necessarily expensive, but there is some equipment you’ll need to make your garden a success. To start your garden, you’ll have to source:
Seeds or small plants
Soil and mulch if needed, depending on your location’s current conditions
A hose or watering can
Pots, which there are a variety of, such as clay or biodegradable types
A few basic shovels
Shop for discounted or second-hand supplies to save money, such as from garage sales, flea markets and thrift stores. You can also check online marketplaces for used gardening equipment like tools, pots and even plants.
You can also use materials you already have around the house to create a garden. For example, you can use old buckets or containers as planters, or make your own compost using food scraps.
Using natural pest control methods also saves money and is better for the environment. Instead of buying expensive pesticides, try using natural pest control methods like companion planting, handpicking pests, or making your own organic insect spray using essential oils or coffee grounds.
The best garden spaces get plenty of sunlight and are easily accessible for watering and maintenance. You’ll also want to consider the soil type and drainage in the area you’re planting in.
Look for an area in your yard that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight per day and has good drainage. While some plants do well in the shade, most need regular sunlight, so avoid planting somewhere too dark or covered up, such as under bigger trees.
"How do I prepare the ground for my garden?" Make sure that you’ve cleared the ground first before planting. To prepare the soil, remove any grass, big roots or weeds from the area where you plan to garden. Dig up the soil and take out any big rocks or debris, then gently rake the soil to make it even. Add compost or other organic matter to improve soil fertility.
Follow the instructions on your seed packets or plant labels to determine the proper spacing and depth for planting. Then plant your seeds or plants and water them regularly. You may also need to fertilize or prune them, depending on the kind.
Plants vary in terms of how much water they need. However, a general rule is that it’s better to water deeply and infrequently than to water shallowly and frequently since this encourages roots to spread and grow better. That said, seeds and young plants need frequent watering, more so than mature and big plants, which can go longer between watering sessions.
Read plants’ labels to determine how often you should be watering them. Most plants need to be watered at least several times per week, although certain types such as succulents and cactuses, are drought-tolerant.
Before watering your plants, check the soil moisture level by sticking your finger about an inch deep into the soil. If it feels dry, it's time to water. Plants grown in containers or hanging baskets tend to dry out more quickly than plants grown in the ground, as the soil volume is smaller, therefore they need more watering.
Compost is a mixture of decomposed organic matter that is used to improve soil quality and provide nutrients to plants. It is created by combining various organic materials such as kitchen scraps, yard waste and animal manure in a pile or bin and allowing them to decompose over time.
Home composting is smart and eco-friendly because it recycles and utilizes waste to provide soil with valuable nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Plus, compost helps retain moisture and allows plants to absorb nutrients more effectively.
You can make your own compost at home using scraps, or join a local gardening group that trades compost. To make compost, collect organic materials such as fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells, leaves, grass clippings and small twigs. You can then layer these materials in a compost bin or pile, keeping it moist and aerated.
To maintain your garden, remove weeds and dead foliage regularly to keep your garden looking its best. Weeding your garden regularly will also prevent weeds from competing with your plants for water and nutrients.
You can help prevent weeds from growing by adding mulch around plants (but don’t cover them up) and hand-picking out weeds. However, it’s not recommended to spray pesticides near your home, especially on crops you plan to eat.
Mulch has other benefits, too, such as helping to regulate soil temperature, maintaining moisture in soil, and contributing to soil health by adding nutrients.
Harvesting plants at the right time ensures the best flavor, texture and nutritional value, and also prevents spoilage and waste. The ideal timing of harvesting plants depends on the type of plant and the part of the plant that you want to harvest.
Here are some general guidelines to help:
Vegetables should be harvested when they are fully mature and brightly colored but before they become overripe or spoiled.
Fruits should be harvested when they are fully ripe and have a rich color and sweet aroma.
Herbs should be harvested when they have reached full maturity, have a strong aroma and are at their peak flavor.
Flowers should be harvested when they are fully open and have a bright color. Look for petals that are fully open and have a rich color.
Todd Vincent, aka The Fermented Farmer, is the Farm Director of the Ancient Nutrition Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Sustainability in middle Tennessee. He has practiced regenerative agriculture for more than 16 years. He and his family have run successful Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) in Illinois and Tennessee, bringing Todd’s passion for fresh, nutritious foods to the masses. He has practiced managed grazing herd of grass-fed jersey cows, large scale pastured egg production, large scale meat bird production, and managed acres of organic vegetable production. Todd is a natural communicator and teacher. He loves taking time to tour people through the property and teach them about what we are doing as well as helping them get a vision for doing what they can on their own properties, whether that be a windowsill garden or thousands of acres.