A vegetable garden is something that you will be investing your time, energy and money into to provide your family with healthy, nutritious food.
Like any other endeavor, it will go more smoothly if it is well planned out first.
Here are some things to consider when planning your garden beds.
- You should choose the sunniest spot. Most veggies and herbs require at least 8 hours of direct sunlight to produce well. Your available sunlight could also determine which vegetables you could grow. Observe your yard throughout the day to see what areas stay the sunniest.
- It should be easily accessible. You may lose interest in maintaining it if you have to trek too far from the house. Out of sight, out of mind. You are also more likely to use veggies and herbs more often if they are close to your back door!
- You need to have access to water. It will be a lot easier to water if you are close to a spigot, instead of carrying full watering cans or buckets. That can be very tiresome, and plants may need watering more often on those hot summer days. It’s also more convenient for rinsing off garden tools and your produce before bringing it into your kitchen.
- You need to consider the size. How much do your want to grow? Large gardens require more time in preparing, planting, weeding, maintaining, harvesting, etc. Smaller gardens take less time, but may produce less.
What type of garden do you want to create?
Here you have a few choices:
- A traditional garden, planted in the ground, is what most people envision when you say “vegetable garden”. This can be large, allowing space for corn, dozens of tomato plants and sprawling plants like winter squash, and can provide enough for both fresh eating and preserving for the winter months. Or it can be small, with a few plants and herbs to provide fresh produce to enjoy in the summertime.
- But, for reasons like poor, rocky or hard clay soils, physical limitations of the gardener or maybe just for esthetic reasons, raised bed gardening may be the choice for you. For years I had traditional gardens. As I found it becoming more and more difficult to kneel and get back up, and the fact that no matter what I did to the soil it was always either sticky wet clay or hard baked clay, I decided to build raised beds. Raised beds do increase your costs (building them and then filling them with a good soil mix).
- Container gardening is good if you don’t have land to garden on, such is usually the case for renters or those in apartments, or you only want to grow a few plants on your deck or patio.
Laying out a traditional garden area.
After deciding where the garden will be located, simply lay down ropes or garden hoses to outline the pre-determined size and shape. (It helps if you mow the area first.) This way you can move them around until it is just what you want before making any permanent changes to your yard.
Preparing the ground for planting.
The “old school” way would be to use your shovel and cut down through the sod all along your outline, then dig out the sod, shake off the loose soil, throw the grass away and then roto-till the entire area, adding in soil amendments such as peatmoss and manure.
An easier way is to cover the planned garden area with a good 5 or 6 page thickness of newspaper and wet it down. (Or use a single layer of cardboard.) The newspaper or cardboard will help to choke out the grass and weeds, and will eventually break down into the soil. Cover this with 6 inches of good garden soil (most topsoil companies will offer a “garden blend” or mix of soil, sand and compost), and cover that with 3 inches of wood chip mulch. There are other methods, but this is the easiest I have found.
To plant in it, simply push the mulch back and plant in the garden soil. After plants emerge or when you are planting seedlings, you just push the mulch back around them. The mulch will help prevent any weed seeds in the soil from sprouting, it will help to retain moisture in the soil and it keeps dirt from splashing up onto your plants which will help prevent some plant diseases! To keep everything nice and tidy, you can border the garden area with rocks, bricks, 2×4’s or just leave it natural. Avoid pressure treated wood and railroad ties due to possible toxins.
Gardening in Raised Beds.
If you decide that you want raised beds, you can make them yourself or you can buy pre-made kits. It is cheaper to DIY if you have the tools and the ability, or they even sell “corners” that you slip your own 2×4’s or 2×6’s into to create a box (lumber stores will cut them to length for you, usually for free or a very small charge). The boxes can be any length, but no wider than 4 feet so that you can easily reach to the center from either side. Level the ground if necessary, put down cardboard or newspaper to block grass and weeds, and If you have any burrowing critters in your area, like rabbits, moles or mice, you can put hardware cloth (wire mesh with 1/2 inch openings) under the beds.
For containers, choose pots that are deeper and big enough for what you are growing. Choose larger ones for larger plants or groups of plants, and make sure whatever you use that they have good drain holes in them. Fiber, composite or plastic pots are lighter when filled and watered (easier to move). Clay pots will allow soil to “breathe” but the soil can also dry out faster. You should fill these with a lighter organic soilless potting mix. The planting medium for raised beds is usually a lighter mix, also. You can make your own by mixing 1/2 good garden blend soil with 1/2 compost. Add a few inches of mulch on top to help prevent weeds and to retain moisture.
So those are the simplest steps to prepare a new garden bed, whether in-ground or raised. Now as far as planting the garden goes, I will explore that topic soon, with an emphasis on incorporating the square foot gardening method and companion planting.
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