OL 301 Learn How to Grow a Family Vegetable Garden

Fresh, healthy meals with vegetables for your family.

What? An 8-week, self-paced, hands-on vegetable garden course for you to get a vegetable garden up and running!

Learn by doing. This hands-on training course is for actually launching a vegetable garden and planning vegetable meals. You will start to grow vegetables using hands-on exercises with a live instructor and learn how to grow vegetables that are fresh and nutritious. All you will need is an area for a raised garden bed or even a patio to grow vegetables.

A hands-on approach will be used in this course:

If you’re not an experienced vegetable gardener YOU will learn how to plan a family garden and to plant vegetable seeds and to grow vegetables. You will learn about raised garden bed location, garden soil, nutrition, vegetable seeds and how to plant vegetables. Plus, we provide example vegetable meal plans for cooking nutritious, delicious, quick family meals with vegetables from your harvest: healthy food. Your instructor will walk you through each step of the family gardening process.
Who should take this course? This course is perfect for individuals and families who want to learn how to grow vegetables for healthy food with an experienced vegetable gardener.

Welcome to my course “Learn How to Grow a Family Vegetable Garden.” I’ve had a backyard vegetable garden for decades. I was even a co-founder of an urban agricultural center in the 1980s: Seattle Tilth.

I have also been teaching an online international family gardening course for the past 10 years: Community Gardens & Vegetable Gardens for Family Food & Nutrition: OL 303.

My Personal Story
So, today I am going to give you a personal overview of launching a vegetable garden—or small space vegetable garden—and then once a week over the next eight weeks I will focus in depth on these specific parts of the process so that you can do it too.

What Participants Say:

“Thanks Tim and your team for the awesome set of Week One materials and links. So much to learn and apply. Just wanted to say thanks for your highlighting the senior friendly garden a few weeks back. The senior is loving elevating container gardening – and some early items are already poking thru. Thanks for the great work you do in supporting courses with a vision to help in international development.” Bob Sutton, Light for Change. Canada, Guatemala, Honduras.

Here is a step by step summary of the vegetable gardening process that I’ve experienced.
Week 1. Choosing space for your new garden. Where: A balcony, rooftop, a small plot?

Garden Location
Choosing a space for your vegetable garden.
Lettuce growing in garden containers.
In this first week we will analyze where the best location for your garden could be. Depending on your living situation it might be a patio with containers—or perhaps you have a backyard which will give you a greater amount of space. There’s also the option of joining a community garden program in your neighborhood where you can get your own gardening plot. Ideally we are looking for a location that gets sun and has access to water.

Week 2. Selecting Seeds.

Nutrition, Planning and Selecting Seeds for Your Vegetable Garden.
Packets of Seeds for Vegetable.I evaluated what vegetables would be nutritious and that I like to eat. Some vegetables need special things like trellises. This would have required additional time in my first year of learning about a vegetable garden—so I decided to stay with simple crops in the beginning. Some vegetables were things that I could buy at the local farmers market very inexpensively and so I decided to postpone planting those in the beginning too.

That got me down to a selection of vegetables that I could grow easily and enjoy by simply going into my vegetable patch before making a nutritious dinner and picking them fresh, on the spot. Plus, I could grow vegetables that I couldn’t get where I was living like English parsnips and Asian greens and herbs. And then there are novelty vegetables like red and purple carrots, striped Italian beets—and fiery hot peppers from places like North Africa and Vietnam.

I have learned to be cautious about how much I plant at once. Suddenly having 30 lettuces ready to harvest isn’t terribly efficient. Carrots and beets are a bit more forgiving because they can be harvested slowly over a number of weeks. Herbs and spices, fruit trees, and peppers are also forgiving because they have an extended window for harvesting.

I had to discipline myself to plant a fewer number of seeds for each individual crop—but plant more frequently—say only 10 or 12 lettuce seeds, but every month or so.

So over several years I was able to add a little to my garden area each year and expand upon my list of vegetables. During this time I have regularly grown:

Carrots – 2/3 kinds
Beets – 2/3 kinds
Radishes – 2/3 kinds
Chilis – 8/10 kinds
Sweet Pepper Plants -2/3 kinds
Beans – 2/3 kinds
Peas – 2/3 kinds
Lettuce Plants – 5/6 kinds
Bok Choy
Asian Greens
Summer Squash
Tomatoe Plants 2/3 kinds
Green Onions
Mixed Flowers
Fruit Trees & Exotic Spices:
Lemons – Meyer, Eureka
Persian Limes & Key Limes
Kaffir Limes (Thai)
Midknight Valencia
(Oranges from Africa)
Cara-Caras – Venezuela
Kumquats – Nagami
Galangal (Thai)
Krachai (Thai)
Curry Leaf Tree (India)
Basil – 2/3 kinds

The majority of these vegetables have done very well. However, some don’t where I live, because of the humidity: For example I don’t have much luck with tomatoes. They get a mildew or a fungus and just don’t do well. But I do get a first flush of cherry tomatoes on each plant which are absolutely delicious. So I try and replant every 3 months.

This assortment of vegetables allows me to go to my garden at 6 o’clock in the evening and pick most everything that I need for a salad, or a soup or a side dish. I have enough unusual vegetables, spices, peppers and fruit trees that I can cook international recipes that I enjoy.

Week 3. Soil Part 1.

Soft open texture, nutrients—and the importance of worms for making compost!
Kitchen scraps for compost bin.
Over many years, my vegetable gardens have been strictly organic. No synthetic fertilizers, no chemical pesticides. This week we will evaluate which soil amendments you have available for your planting beds. Having a compost pile is a great benefit. Other amendments that are easily available for me are chicken manure and worm compost.

I really didn’t have a measuring stick for fertilizing my crops. So a friend suggested that I buy an inexpensive soil testing kit just to get a bench mark about where I was. I then was able to do some research to find out what types of organic soil amendments might balance out my soil health.

So, this week we will be learning how to provided nutrition for your plants and explore how you can have healthy, plant friendly soil too.

Week 4. Soil Part 2.

Planting Beds
Double digging to fluff up the soil
Man with Shovel Double Digging a garden bed.
This week we will actually dig and form our first planting bed. Since this may be the first time a bed has been made in your garden, it may require some extra work. So start small. Each month you can form additional beds.

Week 5. Planting.

Planting Plugs
Planning and Planting Seeds and Seedlings.
Plant seedlings for Vegetable Garden.
After I prepare my soil—I can do one of two things:

1. Plant seeds directly in my garden beds. I can plant rows of root crops (beets, carrots and radishes) and green onions and mesclun directly into the soil in the planters. No need to start these kinds of seeds in a seed tray and then transplant them.
2. Transplant seedlings from seed starting trays or from a nursery into my garden beds. But my other seeds are all started in plastic seed trays with individual cells (my favorite size has 51 cells—each about 3 inches deep) filled with peat moss. I simply plant the seeds the depth recommended on the seed packet. Typically, 4 to 6 weeks after germination, the ‘plugs’ are ready to transplant directly into the containers.

Week 6. Sun & Water

Learning how to gauge sun and water.
Watering raised garden bed in vegetable garden.
Watering is a constant. Sometimes, if it’s hot, dry and sunny, I have to water every day. Compost mixed into the soil absorbs water and also creates air pockets in the soil which allows moisture to accumulate. So this can reduce the frequency of watering. Simple mulch on the soil surface also helps to reduce evaporation.

Week 7. Insect Vigilance.

Practice insect vigilance-organically.
Symbol for eliminating insects in vegetable garden.
I haven’t really had that many problems with insects. We have an insect that we call a roly-poly (pill bug or armadillidium vulgare). It’s a small oval shaped insect with about 100 legs and when you disturb them, they curl up into a perfect sphere. They like to chew on new growth so they’re very hard on new seed sprouts. I simply have to keep an eye out for them and pick them out of the containers by hand. I’ll tell you about several other ‘secret’ tricks I use in Week 7.

Aphids can occasionally be a problem—you just need to keep your eye out for them so you can nip them in the bud.

Cabbage moths are another problem. You can suddenly have caterpillars on all of your cabbage plant leaves that begin eating them very rapidly. They can denude a cabbage plant in a few days. So likewise, you need to keep a vigilant eye out for them and clean the eggs off of the leaves before they can become caterpillars. You can also put netting over susceptible plants to keep the cabbage moths from laying eggs in the first place.

Week 8. Making Nutritious, Delicious Meals from the Garden.

Nutrition, Meal Planning, Harvesting and Succession Planting.
Harvest of sweet peppers from Vegetable Garden.
I’m a pretty busy guy—but I also like to cook. It’s a way for me to relax and unwind in the evening after a long day. Cooking is also healthier than eating out at restaurants! However, with my limited spare time I find that sometimes I become guilty of not paying attention to what’s available in the garden. So I might prepare several evening meals—only to discover that I haven’t been using (for example) lettuce—and all of my lettuce is beginning to go to seed.
Garden produce list vegetable garden on refrigerator.I will share resources that I use for planning nutritious meals using recipes keyed to plants that are ready to harvest. After cooking with your kitchen garden for a year, you will have a much better sense of seeds to buy next year—and the timing/quantities of what to plant.


So a personal goal of mine for this year is to develop a super simple system so I am aware of what vegetables I need to be incorporating into evenings meals. White board on the fridge maybe?

Tim Magee will facilitate this vegetable garden course.
The training program will be led by Tim Magee, CSDi’s Executive Director, who has over 40 years experience vegetable gardens. Mr. Magee is the author of A Field Guide to Community Based Adaptation published by Routledge, Oxford, England, A Solar Greenhouse Guide to Food Production, Ecotope, and is a Co-Founder of Seattle Tilth. An Urban Agricultural Center.

Mr. Magee also leads a sister, international course: Community Gardens & Vegetable Gardens for Family Food & Nutrition designed for students from around the world.


“This course inspired me to set up my own home garden where I could experiment before transferring the knowledge to the community. I have been able to test different brands of seeds, try sack gardens, and research methods of rain water harvesting.” Ivy D’Costa.

“You can’t imagine how much the course has helped the group over the years. In fact, many of our households have permanent kitchen gardens now.” Martha Muthoni.
“Genevieve, Martha and I were just reminiscing about our course, and the partnership that has continued to today. Martha has been helping the guardians, some quite elderly, improve their families’ nutrition for years now. We benefited so much from doing the course together!” Kathy Tate-Bradish

What you can look forward to in this vegetable gardening course:
In hindsight, I’ve had a lot of fun with vegetable gardens. It’s been alternately relaxing and rejuvenating. I’ve eaten a lot of very good healthy fruits and vegetables—and have been able to expand the number of recipes that I make because of some of the unusual things that I grow.

So, over the next few weeks, I plan on sharing with you the challenges that I found myself facing at various stages of developing my first gardens—and what I did to solve the challenges. I will also be providing resources that you can refer to that might be more relevant to what you eat and where you live.

So my hope is that with the experiences that I’ve had and the learning process that I’ve gone through, that I can help you to get a productive vegetable garden up and running fairly quickly so you can enjoy the same kinds of things that I enjoy. I will show you how you can be eating your first vegetables in 8 weeks.

Sunday morning harvest for a Sunday luncheon from Vegetable Garden.This photo shows a Sunday morning harvest for a Sunday luncheon with friends. Pictured (clockwise from top) are baby romaine lettuce, spring onions, parsnips, daikon radishes, cherry tomatoes, galangal (Thai ginger), krachai (finger ginger), curry tree leaves, cayenne peppers, jalapenos, kaffir lime leaves, thyme, rosemary, cilantro, parsley, red baby carrots, green and red Swiss chard, and Meyer lemons.

Bear in mind, also, that this information doesn’t strictly apply only to one type of vegetable garden. Maybe you have only a small terrace or balcony. Maybe you have a very small backyard. Maybe you have a plot at a community garden. These gardening techniques that I will share with you can help you in those situations as well.

I look forward to your comments! Please don’t hesitate to contact us with questions.

Take the challenge now! Take this course as part of an 8 week challenge to get people growing food!


Tim Magee