Starting a vegetable garden is a great way spend some time out doors and save money on your shopping bills. With the right planning your vegetable garden doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Vegetable gardening is wonderful because a couple of dollars of tomato seeds can produce dozens of pounds of tomatoes. There’s not to many things I’d rather do on a warm summer morning than go out and pick a warm piece of fresh produce.
Sense you are starting your first vegetable garden, starting small is probably the best idea. Take the first growing season with your vegetable garden as a learning experience. The tendency for a gardeners first garden is to start to large, but they end up having too much produce if everything goes well or getting overwhelmed and not returning to their garden the following year.
Try and figure out how much the people in your home will eat. Keep in mind that not everything you grow will need to be totally consumed every time you harvest it. Tomatoes, peppers, and squash for example will continually provide crops to harvest throughout the season, while carrots, radishes, and corn will only be harvested once during the season.
Make A List Of Vegetables To Grow In Your Garden
With a list of the vegetables you want to plant in your garden you can begin to calculate how much space you are going to need. There are several different options when you are choosing a garden space to raise your vegetables in, the deciding factor is just how much space you need. Growing vegetables in container gardens offers gardeners the ability to only use the exact amount of space you need. If you only want to try to tackle carrots or tomatoes, just having two big container gardens is easier than gardening in the yard. Container gardens offer a great way for gardeners in apartments to grow their own vegetables as well.
If you’re aiming higher with your vegetable garden goals then you’ll probably be moving out into your yard. A garden in your yard is very versatile but making improvements and keeping weeds out can grow into a large time suck.
Raised bed container gardens offer the same versatility as a traditional vegetable garden but cut out lots of the headaches. There is obviously some added cost and time needed to start a raised bed vegetable garden but the time and money it saves you in the long run make them a favorite of many gardeners. I know when I started my first vegetable garden I choose to go with a raised bed because of the terrible soils I was working with. When I built the raised bed vegetable garden I was able to bring in good top soil and mix it in with a mushroom compost that was very rich in nutrients. Because I lined my beds with a weed blocker before I added in the soil I was able to keep my weeds to a bare minimum. I’m also a big fan of raised bed vegetable gardens because of the ergonomics of working in them. There’s only so many hours I can spend on my hands and knees or sitting on one hip with my legs kicked out. A raised garden allows me to bring in a stool and sit much more comfortably or even sit on the lip of the garden.
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Location, Location, Location Of Your Vegetable Garden
It doesn’t matter what style of garden you choose for your vegetable garden there are some basic keys to success to follow:
- Sun – In general vegetables are going to need 6-8 hours of direct sunlight. If your vegetable garden can’t supply enough sunlight than your veggies won’t fruit as much and will be more open to disease and insects. If finding enough sunlight is proving to be an issue than container gardening is a good route to go since you can build your garden on a patio or deck if that’s where you need to go for sunlight. (Note: make sure to check the seed packets before buying because some vegetables will prefer part sun.)
- Water – Make sure that your garden is with reach of a water supply unless you want to haul watering cans out by hand. The majority of vegetables aren’t drought tolerant and will have dire results if they become water deprived. If it’s possible try to place your garden within hose distance.
- Soil – All vegetable gardening results depend on good soil. For optimal performance from your vegetable garden you will want moist, well-drained soil with a rich content of organic matter like peat-moss or compost.
If it’s possible many gardeners will choose to place their vegetable gardens close to their homes. Keeping your garden near by allows you to collect your fresh produce when your going to cook. Many cooks will even keep some container vegetable gardens near the kitchen filled with herbs for cooking.
Row Cropping Versus Intensive Cropping
If you’ve chosen to go down the road of traditional vegetable gardens in your yard or even raised bed vegetable gardens you will need to make a choice between how you want to layout of the spacing for your vegetables.
This is the traditional style that most people think of when they think about vegetable garden layouts. Plants are planted in single rows with enough space for the gardener to walk in between and tend the plants. Row cropping is ideal when you are working with a larger gardens beyond wider than 5 or 6 feet. Row cropping in your vegetable garden will allow you to use tillers to fight against the onslaught of weeds. The flip-side of row cropping is that you have wasted space, the amount of crops you will harvest per square foot is lower with row cropping. As far as visual aesthetics go row cropping is very boring and doesn’t really add to the overall look of your gardens.
If you’re going to choose row cropping you will want to space rows at least 18 inches apart so you have enough room to work. When you planning your layout you will also want to place your taller vegetables towards the north end of your garden. Plants that go on the north end include naturally tall plants and plants that will grow up along supports.
If you choose to grow your vegetable garden in a raised bed than this is the style of planting you are likely going to use. With intensive cropping you bunch your plants together at the recommended spacing for each individual plant leaving not extra space to work between. Generally gardens are 1 to 4 feet wide but can vary greatly in length. By minimizing the space between plants your create less space for weeds to take hold. Depending on how comfortable you will be reaching into your garden this will decide on how wide you want to make your garden. As a 6 foot tall man I like to build raised bed gardens that are 4 to 5 feet apart. Make sure not to use all of your gardening space immediately so you have space to grow a second crop later in the season.
Intensive cropping is also a great way to go if you can’t dedicate a whole vegetable garden but want to grow your own crops. If you all ready have landscaped beds in front of your home you can section out small parts of it to grow vegetables right in the midst of your flowering plants.
There’s a niche of intensive cropping called “Square-Foot Gardening.” This style of gardening uses smaller beds to grow vegetables, generally these are four-foot by four-foot. Within the 16 square foot gardens are subdivisions on 1 square foot that are individually planted with different vegetables
Your soil is a huge part of the success you are capable of achieving and if there is problem you need to address them. Before you even begin planting your vegetable garden you should have all ready started by testing your soil. The first test to conduct is to decide how well or poorly your soil will drain water. You can check the drainage by soaking the soil and waiting til the following day to dig up a handful of soil. Take a lump of soil in your hand and squeeze it, if water oozes out than your soil is holding water to long and you will need to add more organic material like compost or peat-moss. Open your hand with the soil inside and look at it. If the soil is in the same shape it was when you squeezed it, or if it falls apart when you give it a slight tap, your soil has too much sand content. The answer again to this problem is adding more organic material. If you tapped the soil and it stayed together then the clay content is to high and once again turn to organic material to fix the soil. If your lucky enough that poking the soil results in it breaking in to several smaller pieces than you have good soil.
In the case that you have soil that doesn’t drain well and you don’t have the means or desire to amend the soil I suggest growing your vegetables in raised gardens or container gardens so you can bring in a better type of soil.
You can build a raised bed garden for your vegetables right on top of existing lawn. You will need to line the raised bed with several layers of newspaper before bringing in the soil.
Beginning Your Vegetable Garden By Digging In
If your going to use a raised bed garden or a container garden to grow your vegetables than this isn’t applicable to you as your soil will be loose from installing it, but int the following years you may need to follow the following instructions.
You need to loosen the soil, a hoe or potato rake can be used if your going to do it by hand but tillers are a great alternative if you can get your hands on one. When you have all of your soil broken up you will need to mix in any amendments that you need to make (this is when you add your compost or peat-moss). Make sure to work the amendments in thoroughly into the soil to spread the nutrients evenly. After you finish digging your garden soil up you will want to smooth it out with a rake and then water the soil thoroughly letting it sit for a few days before you begin planting.
Choose The Vegetable Varieties To Grow In Your Garden
Once you’ve started to looking into the vegetables you want to grow you will begin to notice that there are tons of varieties of any given vegetable. Personally I love this part of planning my vegetable garden, there are some really funky varieties out there and they spice up your dinner table when you eat them. Make sure not to get to caught up in the fun of picking the varieties an forget to check the specifics of the their growing requirements. Every variety of vegetable can differ in slight ways from the others. Some varieties may produce smaller plants which may be ideal if you limited on space like a container vegetable garden, or they may handle higher heat conditions, or have lower water requirements.
I love looking through seed catalogs in the spring, they are some of the best resources for vegetables. As soon as you can narrow down your selections of vegetables, 2 or 3 of them to grow. Lets say we’re talking about peas, if you grow 3 varieties of peas if one or even two doesn’t perform well you will still have peas to harvest. The following year you can keep they peas that worked and experiment with new varieties of peas as well.
Early spring gardening starts long before the weather warms enough for certain types of vegetables. With the assistance of some light bulbs you can start vegetables early and have crops ready to harvest a couple of weeks earlier in the season. Starting seeds indoor isn’t really that hard, but it does take some attention or time.Check out these indoor grow kits if you are interested in starting seeds indoors.
How To Care For A Vegetable Garden
Until your plants are ready to harvest there will be some upkeep that will be needed throughout the growing process. You will need to keep the soil watered occasionally but you never want to water so much that there is standing water. The standard I go by is an inch of water every week. Whether that inch of water comes from the sky or from your hose, it’s all the same to your vegetables. You can easily check if the soil in your vegetable gardens is enough by inspecting the top inch of soil to see if it is dry and brittle or is moist. Vegetable gardens in the ground will probably need water once a week but raised bed gardens and container gardens drain faster and the soil heats up so will need watering more often.I may be one of only a few people who enjoy weeding, but I always find it to be nice time for relaxing. Weeding is something you will have to do, it’s unavoidable but hopefully you’ve chosen a vegetable garden style that goes along the level of weeding your willing to put up with. If you let weeds establish in your garden they will fight with your vegetables for nutrients and water resulting in smaller crops to harvest. Using a hoe or weeding tool to help turn over (cultivate) the top or your soil consistently to discourage weeds setting in. Adding mulch, straw, or compost on top of your soil can help keep weeds out of your garden around larger vegetable plants.
Adding fertilizers to your vegetable crops will help you grow bigger crops to harvest. If you’re trying to stay organic than adding in fresh compost from your compost bin will provide plenty of nutrients for your vegetables. If for some reason you don’t have a compost bin setup and don’t mind adding in store-bought fertilizers than you definitely do so. You can even buy fertilizer from Amazon that are totally organic. Being careful to not over fertilize your vegetables is important as well as you can burn them out.
Finally…Harvesting Vegetables From Your Garden
Here it is the pay off for all the planning and building and weeding so make sure to savor this moment! Depending on what you’ve chosen to grow you may be able to harvest it in stages. For instance you can cut off lettuce and let the roots continue to grow to be harvested later. Cucumbers and Summer Squash can be harvester as soon as they grow to a few inches long, or you can wait till it gets larger sizes. If you’re in doubt about picking some of your vegetables your generally safe from just a visual inspection and picking your vegetables can produce more vegetables.
Burgess Seed & Plant Co. has all the seeds, bulbs, perennials and ornamentals to make your yard and garden more beautiful.
I’m going to be creating a video diary as I start a raised vegetable garden so come back and check for updates!