Vegetable Gardening for Beginners: 8 Mistakes to Avoid, According to the Mocha Gardener

Our expert helps make vegetable gardening for beginners a success. Learn about some of the most common gardening mistakes, plus tips for fixing them.

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The Mocha Gardener
Courtesy @the.mocha.gardener/instagram

This is the year to grow your own vegetables! And we have the perfect source of inspiration for you. Ashlie Thomas, AKA @TheMochaGardener is sharing her gardening adventures and wisdom with us.

She and her husband Tyler began growing veggies at home in North Carolina in 2019, in hand-built, octagonal raised beds that they named “Octogarden.” Since then, they’ve added more beds and crops, a stunning She Shed designed by Tyler and a greenhouse. Ashlie’s gardens have grown to over 2,000 square feet!

Ashlie has learned a lot about gardening in the last few years. She talked with Taste of Home about the mistakes that vegetable gardeners often make when first starting, and offered her ideas to fix them.

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Baskets Of Veggies vegetable gardening for beginners
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Mistake #1: Not Knowing Your Hardiness Zone

A basic mistake that Ashlie says beginning gardeners make is not checking what growing zone they live in. Check out this map created by the USDA to find the zone number for where you live. Then check vegetable plants or seeds before you buy, to be sure they can thrive in your growing zone.

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vegetable gardening for beginners Nutrients Soil Meter. Measure Soil For Nitrogen Content With Digital Device. Woman Farmer In A Garden.
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Mistake #2: Forgetting to Test Your Soil

All soil is not the same! Your soil could be acidic or alkaline, sandy or, as Ashlie found in her own backyard, heavy clay. Purchase a soil test kit or talk with your local extension service to learn how well vegetables will grow in your soil. You can learn ways to improve your soil with organic material, or for the most control, plant in raised beds (like those beautiful octagonal beds Ashlie’s husband built) instead of planting in the ground.

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Bok Choy vegetable gardening for beginners
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Mistake #3: Beginning without a Plan

This is another way that Ashlie says beginning vegetable gardeners struggle: They don’t have a gardening plan based on the best growing times for their plants. And it happened to her, too! She mistakenly planted a crop of bok choy too late in the season, only to have it bolt in the summer heat. Read the growing guidelines for your vegetables. Some, like bok choy and greens, grow best when planted in spring, while others like peppers and tomatoes prefer the summer heat.

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vegetable gardening for beginners The Mocha Gardener Forest Garden Space
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Mistake #4: Not Understanding Your Space

What’s going on in your yard? Where is the shade? Where are the full-sun areas that your veggies will love? Do you know where your septic system is? (Don’t plant there!) Do your homework before choosing and planting your vegetables. And you don’t need acres to have a garden. Ashlie recommends taking advantage of small spaces alongside your house and garage, and to use raised beds and planters.

You can also maximize your garden space with this technique.

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vegetable gardening for beginners Cucumbers Garden The Mocha Gardener
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Mistake #5: Thinking That Vegetables Are Hard to Grow

While there are a few things you must have (sunlight, good soil, the right climate), there’s no reason to feel intimidated about growing your first vegetables. Begin like Ashlie did: with a few plants, adding more each year as your confidence grows. Using raised beds and planters can make physical access to your garden easier.

Want some forgiving veggies to start with? Ashlie suggests cucumbers, which are prolific growers, peppers, and any variety of kale. “Kale does well in drought or frost. It’s very loyal and resilient,” she says. It’s also satisfying to plant fast-growing vegetables.

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Fenugreek vegetable gardening for beginners
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Mistake #6: Letting Your Garden Go Unattended

Your plants may be in the ground, but your job isn’t done! Ashlie likes to remind beginning gardeners that their vegetables need monitoring “like a baby.” Consistent watering is important, but she says to also look deep: check undersides of leaves and ripening vegetables for pests and diseases, and check for weeds. You want to catch problems early before they hurt your whole crop.

Here are tips for dealing with the worst garden pests.

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vegetable gardening for beginners Squash vine borer killed squash after burrowing into the stem in garden
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Mistake #7: When Something Goes Wrong, Not Asking Why

Ashlie notices that beginning gardeners often blame themselves when their veggies don’t grow the way they should. She says it’s important in those moments to not get frustrated with gardening, but to get curious: learn what went wrong and how to fix it for next season.

Ashlie shared one of her own gardening setbacks when squash vine borers decimated her squash plants. She decided, “Am I going to stop growing squash? No I am not!” Instead, she learned ways to protect her plants from pests with products like diatomaceous earth and neem oil.

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The Mocha Gardener vegetable gardening for beginners
Courtesy @the.mocha.gardener/instagram

Mistake #8: Giving Up!

Ashlie’s gardening success and beautiful crops of veggies haven’t happened by accident. Her gardens thrive thanks to respect for the environment, persistence and resilience. “Gardening forces us to face many challenges,” she says. “Fear that we’re not going to be good enough, fear that it won’t look like what’s on Instagram. We all fail. Take it as a learning experience.” Ashlie’s last piece of advice? “Keep going, keep growing!” We think that’s the best gardening motto we’ve ever heard!

Next: Start your garden with perennial vegetables.

Nancy Mock
Discovering restaurants, tasting bakery treats, finding inspiration in new flavors and regional specialties—no wonder Nancy loves being a Taste of Home Community Cook and a food and travel writer. She and her family live in Vermont and enjoy all things food, as well as the beautiful outdoors, game nights, Avengers movies and plenty of maple syrup. Find Nancy’s writing and recipes at her website: Hungry Enough To Eat Six.