By Nikki Phipps
(Author of The Bulb-o-licious Garden)
Planting a vegetable garden is fairly simple but can be somewhat intimidating for anyone new to gardening. Before attempting this feat the first time, you should always do your homework. Research your landscape for the best suitable site as well as the requirements for your chosen plants. There are many books, guides, and other references devoted to vegetable gardening that will help you with this task.
How to Plant a Vegetable Garden
Beginners should start small and plan the garden accordingly. It is often helpful to make a sketch of the chosen layout as well as a list and location of selected vegetables. When choosing vegetables, pick ones that are more easily grown, suitable to your area, and only those you actually will use.
Generally, it is recommended that your soil be prepared during the fall and left in a semi-rough state until spring, when it should be worked into a more suitable condition for growing plants. The soil should be loose and smooth at this point with an ample supply of organic matter mixed in for the promotion of healthy plants. Be sure the soil in the chosen location of your landscape provides good drainage.
Try to select a site facing south, if possible, with at least eight hours of full sun. If you must have some shade, leafy crops, such as lettuce, or root crops, such as carrots, can be placed in these areas. Crops such as tomatoes, beans, peppers and vine growers, however, must remain in full sun. Also try to stay away from steep slopes and choose an area that is well protected from strong winds. Fences and others structures can be implemented in areas susceptible to these conditions if needed.
Since vegetable gardens require quite a bit of water, you should also choose a site conveniently close to a water source, such as an outside spigot. The location you choose should not be situated too close to large trees or wooded areas. Trees may compete with the garden for moisture or nutrients and may also cast too much shade; wooded areas may encourage the intrusion of wildlife pests such as rabbits, deer, raccoons or woodchucks, which can damage your crops.
Since variables in soil and temperature affect crops differently, consider the individual needs of your vegetables. For instance, different varieties of one vegetable, such as carrots, may have different requirements. The long-rooted type requires deep, sandy soil, whereas the stubbier varieties do well planted in shallow topsoil.
Garden Layout and Planting
Vegetable gardens do not always have to be laid out in large plots in the backyard; you can grow them nearly anywhere as long as all their growing conditions are met. Many vegetables can be grown in beds, borders or containers provided there is adequate soil, sunlight and water. Keep in mind that there are different techniques used to make the most of limited space for gardeners who do not have large sites.
Companion planting is a technique in which plants that complement one another are incorporated to help reduce pests or disease. This method can be used strictly with vegetables, such as planting peppers with onions, or with the addition of flowers and herbs, such as tomatoes with marigolds.
Vertical planting works well for smaller gardens. They provide support, take up less space and keep plants off the ground. The use of supports in the way of a trellis, fence or even a container makes vertical gardening an attractive feature as well.
Succession planting is achieved by planting one crop followed by another. For example, a cool, short-season crop followed by a warm, long-season crop like lettuce followed by tomatoes.
Caring for Vegetable Gardens
Careful planning will lessen the work of gardening and make it possible to achieve the most out of your vegetable garden. Once all of your crops have been planted, all it requires is a little maintenance. Watering is probably the most important and usually a good soaking about once a week is sufficient except during hot spells, which may require additional watering.
An occasional dose of fertilizer will help boost production as well. Normally, the preferred method is by way of organic fertilizers such as compost or manure.
To limit weed growth and extra work, mulch your vegetables generously. Mulching also will help retain moisture.
Starting a vegetable garden is easy and with the proper care, you can sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor come harvest season.