Finding A Way Through the Weeds: A Beginner's Guide To Vegetable Gardening



Introduction & Scope

The practice of gardening has deep roots. Since ancient times, people have been cultivating gardens to provide food and medicine for themselves and their families. In modern times, people may not need to cultivate a garden to heal or feed themselves, but many still find that they are drawn to the practice. Some choose to garden as a means of relieving stress and getting exercise, some garden so that they can beautify their homes, and others do it for the sheer creative pleasure of it all. Regardless of why they start, most modern gardeners agree that few things are as fulfilling as starting and tending a garden of their own.

Though learning to garden takes time and patience, having access to helpful materials is one way for a beginning gardener to speed along the path to success. This pathfinder is intended to provide the novice gardener with a well-organized map of helpful "how-to" resources on the design, planting, care, and harvesting of a kitchen vegetable garden. Though the main focus of this pathfinder is vegetable gardening, the complex nature of the art and science of gardening requires that a broad range of information and resources be examined.

Although successful gardening requires many overlapping steps, the materials selected for this pathfinder have been arranged under broad subject categories as a set of consecutive steps. Ideally, this arrangement will help new gardeners gain a good understanding of where to start and how to proceed as they undertake their adventures in gardening. The final section of this pathfinder provides beginning gardeners with a list of books and magazines that they can turn to for inspiration, reflection, and fun.

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All of the print resources in this pathfinder can be found at the Chapel Hill Public Library. To ensure ease of access, call numbers have been included with each title. Although Chapel Hill Public served as a primary resource in the construction of this pathfinder, care was taken to select resources that are widely available in public libraries across the United States. This effort assures gardeners who live outside of the Chapel Hill Public Library service area that they will still benefit from the resources presented here.

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Library of Congress Subject Headings

Kitchen Gardens
Garden Pests
Gardening - Directories
Gardening - Handbooks, manuals, etc.
Gardening Periodicals
Gardening - Philosophy
Garden tools
Organic Gardening
Vegetable Gardening
Vegetable Gardening - Dictionaries
Gardening - Equipment and Supplies
Vegetable Gardening - Handbooks, manuals, etc.

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Internet Search Terms

The above listed Library of Congress Subject Headings work quite well as Internet search terms. Use the following terms to find gardening discussion groups:
gardening discussion forums,

garden discussion
gardening listserv
gardening listservs

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Browsing Areas


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Site Selection & Preparation

Bartholomew, Mel. Square Foot Gardening. Emmaus, Pa.: Rodale Press, 1981.
635 Bar

This well-loved book, written by the host of the PBS series of the same name, is an excellent resource for new gardeners because it provides a wealth of easy to follow information and step by step guides on how to start a successful vegetable garden. Bartholomew provides straightforward advice on site selection and the advantages of vegetable gardening in raised beds. He also provides simple garden plans and uncomplicated instructions on raised bed building, soil preparation, and garden set-up. Although the book focuses on Bartholomew's square foot method, new gardeners can easily modify the plans and suggestions to fit their personal tastes and needs.

Garden Way Publishing, eds. The Big Book of Gardening Skills. Pownal, Vt.: Storey Communications, 1993.
635 Big

This book is friendly, well indexed, and chock full of step-by-step information on garden layout, soil preparation, and the building of raised beds (According to this as well as many other sources, raised beds are a great way for gardeners to overcome soil and drainage problems. Raised beds also provide new gardeners with an easy to manage and maintain garden space.) This is a great resource for gardeners to turn to when they are ready to start digging and preparing a garden for planting.

National Gardening Association, eds. Gardening: The Complete Guide to Growing America's Favorite Fruits and Vegetables. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Publishing, 1986
635 Gar

Well organized and authoritative, this book provides excellent guidance on the various considerations, including sun exposure, soil drainage, and garden size that gardeners must take into account before beginning to dig. Step-by-step instructions are provided for site selection as well as ground and soil preparation. This work also contains a beautifully photographed alphabetically arranged list of growing hints for a number of popular vegetable varieties.

Logan, William Bryant. The Tool Book. New York: Workman Press, 1997.
635.028 Log

Although this book contains more tools than one could ever imagine needing in the home garden (according to many sources, a good spade, trowel, wheelbarrow, pruning shears, and hat are all that a new gardener really needs) it is superbly photographed, fun to read, and full of helpful information on what to look for when selecting garden tools.

University of Illinois Extension. My First Garden : A Guide to the World of Fun and Clever Gardening. 20 Sept. 2001. <>.

Designed for children by the University of Illinois Extension in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, this site offers a great deal of useful information. Its Show Me the Basics pages ( explains, in exceptionally easy terms, how to select and setup a garden site. A unique and highly useful page on the site ( explains how a gardener should go about determining the amount of sunlight a potential garden spot receives. Information is also provided on what to grow if a gardener discovers that they have more shade than sunlight in their gardening space.

Stell, Elizabeth. Secrets to Great Soil: A Grower's Guide to Composting, Mulching, and Creating Healthy Fertile Soil for Your Garden and Lawn.
635 Ste

This well reviewed resource is full of easy to understand information about the rather complex life and needs of garden soil. Step-by-step guides direct gardeners through the process of determining their soil type and drainage patterns. Clear charts assist gardeners in improving soil to meet the various nutritional needs of garden plants. A monthly soil care calendar ensures that gardeners keep their soil in tip-top shape throughout the year.

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Vegetable Selection, Planting & Harvesting

Heritean, Jacqueline. Ortho's Complete Guide to Vegetables. Des Moines: Ortho Books, 1997.
635 Her

The strength of this particular work comes in its helpful definitions of gardening jargon. Terms like "early", "midseason" and "late" cultivars (which have to do with how well a plant can withstand cold weather in the spring or fall) are explained in clear and helpful language. The book's definitions, suggestions for a core garden, and harvest timetable will help any new gardener make the best possible choices when they're selecting plants.

Huxley, Anthony, ed. The New Royal Horticultural Society Dictionary of Gardening. New York: Stockton Press, 1992.
R635.03 Dic

This well reviewed four volume resource lives up to all of its accolades. Excellently organized and indexed, the new gardener will find helpful information on the history, selection, planting, and care of virtually any plant that they might be interested in growing. A hardiness zone map is provided, which is useful in determining what plants will thrive in a particular area. The four-volume set also provides an index of popular names as well as a glossary of botanical epithets so that new gardeners can throw around fancy Latin plant names and descriptions with the best of them.

Mackey, Betty, et al. The Gardener's Home Companion. New York: Macmillan, 1991.
635 Gar

Although The Gardener's Home Companion does not list the number of vegetables that Ortho's Complete Guide to Vegetables or The New Royal Horticultural Society Dictionary of Gardening do, its step by step method section, which provides clear instructions on how to start many popular vegetables from seed, will prove to be an invaluable resource for most new gardeners. The method section also provides clear and easy to follow instructions on how to plant, thin, fertilize, and harvest popular garden vegetables.

Marinelli, Janet, ed. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden Gardener's Desk Reference. New York: Henry Holt, 1998.
635.9 Bro

This well organized, friendly, succinct, and authoritative one volume book is an excellent general reference source for anyone that wants to know and grow plants. Sections on botany for gardeners, ecology, and plant conservation provide unique information and an interesting scientific perspective.

Weekend Gardener. Weekend Gardener: Practical Horticulture for Busy People. 5 Oct. 2001. <>.

This easy to use and friendly site is loaded with all kinds of gardening related information. Maintained by a group of individuals committed to using the web to help people garden, the site is free of distracting advertisements. Although it is not extensive, the Vegetable Seeds page ( provides gardeners with useful charts that clearly delineate the best time to sow seeds in and out of doors. Another unique aspect of this site is its Grow Guide ( which attempts to help gardeners by providing information on what can be sown, hardened off, and transplanted during any given week of the year.

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Care & Pest Control

Greenwood, Pippa, et al. American Horticultural Society Pests & Diseases. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 2000.
635.049 Gre

Authoritative and thoughtfully organized, this work's particular strength is its "gallery of symptoms" which allows gardeners to flip through various color pictures of pest and disease related troubles to identify what's going wrong with their plants. The book also provides sections that allow users to look up problems by plant or symptom. Once the disease or pest issue has been identified, the book provides gardeners with concise information on the problem solving process.

OG: Organic Gardening. Emmaus, Penn.: Rodale Press, 1942 - . Bimonthly.

Colorful, friendly and easy to browse, this is the magazine for gardeners that are interested n growing their vegetable organically. OG strives to provide gardeners with useful information for creating a beautiful, healthy, and pesticide free garden. The companion website (, is easy to navigate and full of helpful tips. The OG Solutions Online ( pages enable gardeners to search for garden problems by plant, pest, or symptom. Once a problem has been identified, the gardener is provided with helpful organically oriented suggestions for control.

Harmonious Technologies. Backyard Composting: Your Complete Guide to Recycling Yard Clippings. Ojai, Cal.: Harmonious Press, 1992.
631.875 Bac

Don't let the term "yard clippings" on this popular book's front cover fool you. This little book covers all manner of composting materials including newspaper and kitchen scraps. Written by an organization dedicated to promoting home composting, this highly motivating book provides great information on why and how to compost. Excellent, uncomplicated directions are provided for selecting a composting site, building and maintaining a composting pile, and developing an effective composting "recipe".

Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Urban Composting. 10 Oct. 2001. <>.

This authoritative and easy to navigate set of pages on the Brooklyn Botanic Garden's Index site ( provides the home gardener with a great deal of useful composting information. The Garden's Composting Basics page ( provides an excellent list of what should and should not go into a compost pile. Between the information provided by the Botanic Garden itself in its Basics pages and the links it provides to other sites off of its main composting page, gardeners should have little trouble finding answers to almost all of their compost related questions.

Ortho. Ortho's All About Sprinklers and Drip Systems. Des Moines: Meredith Books, 1998.
635.0478 Ort

Well photographed and full of clear instructions on how to plan, setup, install, use, and repair a drip system. The book provides helpful information on how to make a drip system work with various soil and garden types. Specific instructions for installing a drip system in a vegetable garden are provided.

Smith, Cheryl, ed. The Ortho Home Gardener's Problem Solver. Des Moines: Ortho Books, 1993.
635.049 Ort

This slimmed down version of The Ortho Problem Solver provides gardeners with excellent color pictures of plant problems and is organized and indexed in a way that makes identifying pest and disease related problems a snap. Although the use of Ortho products solves most of the problems listed in this book, it is considered an indispensable resource by many gardeners. Those interested in organic gardening practices are still likely to make good use out of the clear problem identification assistance that this work provides.

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A Shopping Source

Barton, Barbara J. Gardening By Mail: A Sourcebook: Everything for the Garden and Gardener. 5th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
R635.0294 Bar

This respected and well-reviewed source provides excellent guidance on where to buy most everything a new gardener needs to start and grow a successful garden. Chatty and easily browsed, this is a fun book to look though on a rainy day. It also has an excellent index that provides rapid access to buying information. This is truly the only shopping resource that gardeners need.

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Help from Your Friends

Orange County Extension Horticulture Office

306-E Revere Road
PO Box 8181
Hillsborough, NC 27278
Phone: 919-245-2050
Fax: 919-644-3067
These are the folks to contact with general gardening questions as well as those that are specific to gardening in Orange County, North Carolina.

NC State University. Consumer Horticulture. 8 Oct. 2001. <>.

The North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service maintains this fantastic site. With the wealth of easy to access information that it provides, it should be one of the first stops on any North Carolina gardening adventure. Through text and links, the site provides gardeners with a vast array of garden related information. The Consumer Hort Leaflets link ( provides clear information on growing many popular garden vegetables. The Extension Master Gardener information pages ( provide information on the master gardener program as well as contact information for the master gardeners assigned to counties throughout the state. The Public Gardens pages ( provide information on public gardens throughout North Carolina, and the Hort on the Internet pages ( link gardeners to a list of 5,000 gardening sites.

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Gardening Fun & Inspiration

Ackerman, Diane. Cultivating Delight: A Natural History of My Garden. New York: Harper Collins, 2001.
508 Ack

From the author of A Natural History of the Senses comes an excellent book on the joy and beauty found in nature. Ackerman's lush approach to garden writing will provide hours of pleasant reading as well as inspiration.

Better Homes and Gardens. Des Moines: Meredith, 1924 - . Monthly.
Better Homes and Gardens

Although Better Homes and Gardens magazine has a very broad focus, its attractive design, well written articles, and nice photos make it a useful and fun to read magazine for gardeners. The companion website ( is clearly organized and easy to browse. The Garden pages ( have a handy plant guide as well as a number of tips on soil health and garden landscaping. A unique and useful feature on this site is its search option. This feature allows gardeners to look for information on how to plant and cook garden vegetables. (A search on "tomatoes" yielded 92 results including a recipe for tomato sauce and a canning guide.)

Pollan, Michael. The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World. New York: Random House, 2001.
306.45 Pol

This popular and highly acclaimed book examines whether or not plants guide human behavior as much as humans guide plant behavior. Its engaging style and interesting approach make it a must for any gardener's reading list.

Pollan, Michael. Second Nature: A Gardener's Education. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1991.
635 Pol

This well-reviewed and funny book focuses on Michael Pollan's attempt to plant and tend a Connecticut garden. Its humorous and engaging style makes it a most agreeable read.

Stewart, Amy From the Ground Up: The Story of A First Garden. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Press, 2001.
635.0979 Ste

Not only a memoir, this enjoyable book is an excellent examination of the trials, tribulations, and successes of a novice gardener. At the end of each chapter, the author provides readers with recipes and helpful gardening hints.


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By: Leslie Sult

Last updated Dec. 3rd 2001

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