Planning Your Vegetable Garden
Starting a new vegetable garden might seem like a daunting task. Even planning an established garden every year might seem like a hit-or-miss proposition. What should you consider in choosing a site for a new garden? How can you create a yearly plan for your garden that will increase your chances of success?
Choosing a SiteIf you’re planning a garden your first question is probably: “Where is the best site for my garden?”
To pick a good location, consider:
- Sun - Choose a site that gets at least 6 hours of sunshine a day. Check how sunny your proposed plot will be at different times of day. Remember that the angle of the sun is lower in the spring and autumn and may effect how the garden is shaded by nearby trees.
- Water – Your garden will need at least 2.5 cm (1 inch) of water per week. Make sure your hoses will reach your intended site. Too much water isn’t good, however: avoid a site with poor drainage.
- Air Circulation – Your site should have good air circulation, especially important for wind-pollinated crops such as tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and sweet corn. Too much wind is a detriment, however: it can reduce yields, cause erosion, result in moisture loss and topple tall crops like sweet corn. In this case, consider wind breaks.
- Slope – A flat site is best. Soil erosion is a problem with sloping land. A slope can be used to advantage, however, if it’s kept planted. On a south-facing slope, soil warms up faster in the spring: a boon for early crops. Also, the site could be terraced.
- Convenience – Try to situate the garden close to the house. Kitchen gardens – just outside the back door – are handy. When you need an ingredient for dinner, it’s just steps away.
How Large Should the Garden Be?If you plan to plant a garden that will provide you with all of your vegetables, ideally you should plan on 5 square meters (50 square feet) per person. But don’t despair if you have a small property (or none at all!) Even a small plot can produce big yields with a little planning, and vegetables can even be grown in pots on a sunny balcony or patio.
Unless you have a lot of time to garden, don’t plant a larger garden than you can realistically care for. A smaller, well-tended garden will be more productive and more satisfying.
Planning and OrganisationA good garden begins with a plan. Start with a 3-ring binder. Make a plot plan of your garden using graph paper and a pencil. Using removable Post-it notes with crop names on them makes it easy to try out plans before committing them to paper. Save your plot plans from year to year. This helps keep track of what was planted where so that you can rotate your crops appropriately. Keep a garden log of planting dates and varieties, as well as your successes and failures. A good garden journal can help you improve your garden with each successive year.
When laying out the garden, it’s best to orient rows from north to south to avoid taller plants shading shorter ones. Also, give special thought to perennial crops such as asparagus – especially important if you plan to plow or rototill the garden. Give perennials a separate plot or put them on the garden perimeter.
Decide what types of planting systems you want to use. Rows, wide rows, raised beds, hills, trellises, and poles, are just a few options. Study the advantages of each and decide which works best for your garden.
Other ConsiderationsPlant crops suitable for your climate. Consult seed catalogues to determine your planting zone, which crops and varieties are best for your climate, and when to plant them. Talk to local farmers about what they grow and when they plant and harvest. Find out your first and last frost dates, and schedule your planting accordingly.
Practice crop rotation – plant a particular crop in a different location in the garden each year. This keeps soil healthy and helps eliminate disease and control weeds.
If you have wildlife (or pets) in your area, consider how you plan to keep animals out of the garden. Fencing may be necessary.
A little planning goes a long way in ensuring a productive and enjoyable vegetable garden!