Answer: For beginning gardeners, the temptation always seems to be to make the first garden too big. This results in too much work and not enough fun. For example, unless you plan on canning tomatoes, just a handful of plants will keep you well supplied. You can always make it bigger the next year!
So plant a small garden full of things you like to eat. In other words, if nobody likes radishes, skip them. Use graph paper to estimate the area each "crop" will need and allow for a minimum of three growing areas. The three areas are needed so that you can rotate your tomatoes (and others) from spot to spot each year. Rotation helps cut down on disease problems. To help keep track of this (and other things -- like which varieties do best for you), start a garden journal.
Soil preparation is very important -- probably the most important thing you can do to ensure success. You will need to start with a soil test and add amendments as indicated by the results. Your County Extension (tel.328-4800) can help you with this. Fall is an excellent time to start on this aspect of the garden.
You will probably feel more comfortable with a good basic vegetable gardening book at hand -- most libraries have a good selection. I tend to follow many of the "square foot gardening" methods at home, and so a book I particularly like is Mel Bartholomew's "Square Foot Gardening". It includes planting plans and timetables and quantities of other helpful information whether or not you are following that system of gardening. The NGA Q&A search feature is also very helpful. Your County Extension may also offer a number of helpful publications.
Finally, I like to grow cutting flowers in the vegetable garden, because they're cheerful, along with a few annual herbs such as parsley, dill and basil, because they're handy. Enjoy!
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