The number of home gardeners jumped by almost 40 percent last season, but nearly half of them won't be back this year. Most probably found vegetable gardening too much work. Or, because it was a pretty poor gardening season, they didn't have much success.

So, I'm trying to get rookie vegetable gardeners off to a solid start.

"Start with what you actually eat," says Carrie Engel of Valley View Farms. "I'd love to grow everything out there, but what the average family needs is probably four to six tomato plants, a hot pepper and a couple of sweet peppers."

I would add to that list an early season crop of spinach and lettuce, which you can sow in the ground in early March. John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds has wonderful collections of both. These salad greens will bolt just in time for warm-weather crops to take their place in the garden.

Add a trellis or two to your bed, and consider growing peas, beans or cucumbers on them. The trellises make an attractive vertical feature in the garden and save room. Peas and beans are prolific and easy to grow. Check out the varieties at Landreth Seed Co.

If Engel is right, and four to six plants are plenty, mix up the varieties with a selection from Tomato Growers Supply Co.: early, mid- and late-season producers; cherry tomatoes, beefsteaks, romas or perhaps some of the heirlooms that come in golds, purples and greens.

Add a handful of pepper plants, hot, sweet and mild, from Seed Savers Exchange. And perhaps an eggplant or a squash if you cook often with those vegetables. Plant some onion sets for harvesting in the fall, too.

So, make your list of vegetables for your garden and check it twice.

Then cut it in half.

Remember, the plan is to start small so you aren't one of the new gardeners who does not come back for a second season.

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