An attractive vegetable garden is a source of pride and can provide a bountiful supply of fresh, wholesome produce. However, a successful vegetable garden requires hard work and good planning.
Successful vegetable gardening may be more of an art than a precise science, but failure to carefully plan out a new garden can lead to a disappointing harvest. Although ideal conditions for vegetable growing may not exist in your yard, selecting a garden site that takes into consideration factors such as sunlight, soil, and climate is the first - and perhaps most critical -step to success.
Find a Sunny Location
Begin your search for the ideal site by locating the sunniest areas of your yard. Watch the sun's path during the day and note shady areas that result from shadows cast by buildings, trees, or walls. Most vegetables thrive on full sun. Without adequate solar exposure, heat-loving crops, such as melons, are difficult to raise. If your garden is partially shaded, a site with morning to midday sun is preferable to one with afternoon sun.
Good garden soil is deep and drains well, contains the right mixture of clay, silt, and sand particles, and has a high content of organic matter. Most new garden sites should be rejuvenated with a thorough program of soil preparation and fertilization. But unless you've picked a spot where the topsoil has been completely removed, don't abandon a sunny, level site for a more shady one just because the soil seems inferior.
One or two centrally located garden faucets and hoses can service a large garden area. A supply of water is needed for irrigating crops, sprinkling seedflats, cleaning tools, and wetting down a compost pile. A water barrel in the garden is a handy source for filling a watering can.
Developing a Garden Plan
Once a site has been selected, measure the garden area to compute the number of square feet available. Factor in space for extras such as a compost bin, cold frame, greenhouse, water barrel, and storage shed. Situate these items where they won't infringe on your prime planting ground.
Draw the proposed garden plot to scale and lay out your garden beds and pathways. Garden beds or rows usually run north-south and are three to four feet wide. Make pathways about one foot wide. Don't despair if your garden looks small when mapped out on paper; a 500-square-foot space can go a long way toward supplying a family of four with fresh produce.
Which Vegetables Are Best?
Compile a list of vegetables you'd like to grow. Find out which ones perform well in your region, and when the growing season begins. For each type of vegetable you plan to raise, learn its space requirements, expected yields, fertilizer needs, and days to maturity.
Vegetables generally fall into two categories: cool season or warm season. Warm-season varieties include many popular vegetables such as corn, tomatoes, melons, cucumbers, and squash. They are grown during the warmest months. Cool-season vegetables include most of the root crops, leafy greens, and cabbage family; they are raised in the spring and fall, and, where climate permits, during winter.
Unless you are planning to produce a surplus for canning or freezing, two or three plants of common warm-season vegetables will probably be enough. For some crops, including bush beans, radishes, and many leafy greens, the best strategy for a steady, manageable harvest, is to sow a small amount of seed about every 10 days throughout the growing season.
Use your list of vegetables, organized by growing season, and your garden map, to make a year-round plan for crop succession and rotation. By carefully selecting the new garden site and following your plan, a rewarding gardening season lies ahead.
Include herbs and flowers along with vegetables when planning a garden. They add color and vitality to the scene and attract beneficial insects.
TIPS: CHOOSE A LEVEL SITE
When possible, locate a vegetable garden on flat ground. A level garden site is easier to dig, cultivate, harvest, or water than one on a hillside. A steep, sloping site should be terraced with planting beds or rows along the slope's contour.
STEPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL VEGETABLE GARDEN
· Consider sunlight, soil, and climate when locating your garden. Cold air drains downhill and tends to collect in low-lying areas; the coldest and most frost-prone spot is at the bottom of the hill; the warmest garden site is at the top of the slope. Other factors that affect the performance of your vegetable garden include prevailing winds, nearby bodies of water, and maritime influence.
· Prior to planting a new garden, it is a good idea to have your soil tested. Soil tests reveal what type of soil you have and key minerals that it contains or lacks. This will help you select the soil amendments best-suited for your site. Collect a small sample for analysis at a soil-testing lab.
· A compost pile or bin recycles valuable garden wastes by facilitating their rapid breakdown and decomposition into a humus-rich fertilizer. For best results, the compost pile should measure at least 40 cubic feet.
· A small, well-laid-out garden with its beds oriented north and south for optimum solar exposure is ideal. Tall crops that cast shade, such as corn and bean, should be planted in the north half. Perennial vegetables and flowers should be grouped together, preferably along the edges. A small hedge around the site provides protection from the wind.