Serving and eating fresh food you grew yourself is immensely satisfying to both your taste buds and your spirit. There’s really no comparison between the flavor of supermarket produce and vegetables plucked from your garden moments before you eat them. Plus, it’s awe inspiring to watch tiny seedlings grow into huge plants laden with tomatoes, beans and peppers.
If you have garden space and a little time, you owe it to yourself to master the “art” of backyard farming. It’s really not that hard, and the rewards are plentiful! I’ll briefly cover the basics of vegetable garden design, but you might also want to get some gardening books from the library.
Planning is crucial
Smart gardeners think carefully about where to situate their garden. They also know their soil type, planting dates for their particular climate, and how they will water the garden. However, before you sow a single seed, it’s essential to consider the overall vegetable garden design.
Advance planning can make or break the success of the garden, because if you design something unmanageable, inconvenient or ill-timed, then all the pricey tools and heirloom seeds won’t help much. It’s better to have a modest, well-maintained garden than a large one that’s overrun with weeds. Plus, if a garden presents too many obstacles and isn’t enjoyable, it’ll likely be abandoned.
Choose a good site
Some things to consider are the amount of sun (most vegetables need a full day), wind exposure, ground slope, water access and location. The nearer the garden is to your home, the more convenient it will be for you to tend.
The traditional method of vegetable garden design is to plant in long rows; however, many gardeners today opt for using raised beds. This allows you to create the ideal soil composition by filling the beds with a mix of soil, compost, peat moss, topsoil and supplemental nutrients.
Raised beds are simple to build out of lumber, bricks, faux-stones or boulders, and can be any length, but for easy access to the middle they should be no more than five feet wide. Laying them north/south gives all the plants even sun exposure.
Inexperienced gardeners often want to use their sunny spots for flowers, but to be rewarded later on, you must be willing to give veggies some prime real estate. One popular option is the potager garden, which mixes vegetables with herbs and flowers so the space is both functional and visually appealing.
Planning what goes where
Group plants by similar planting and harvesting dates, as well as plant size. A popular space-saving technique is to interplant quick growers like radishes among slower ones like carrots. The radishes will be ready to harvest by the time the carrots get going.
When creating your vegetable garden design, leave room in your beds to make successive plantings of crops that have a short “peak” period, so you can enjoy them over a longer period of time instead of having more than you can eat all at once. You’ll probably still give away bags of the prolific producers like cucumbers, tomatoes and zucchini, but your non-gardening friends and soup kitchens will thank you.
Be aware that certain plant combinations inhibit the growth of others. They can all share the same garden, just don’t put them right next to each other. A few combinations to avoid: potatoes with tomatoes and squash; beans with onions; broccoli with tomatoes.
If you plan to have an ongoing garden, your vegetable garden design should allow for crop rotation. Vegetables fall into basic groups which ideally should not be planted in the same location for three years to lessen the depletion of nutrients and chances for disease.
Alliums include Leeks, Garlic, Onions, and Shallots. Brassicas include Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Radishes and Turnips. Cucurbits include Cucumbers, Melons and Squash. Legumes include Beans and Peas. Mescluns include Arugula, Radiccio and Swiss Chard. Solanaceae include Eggplant, Peppers, Potatoes and Tomatoes.
With these tips, you’re well on your way to creating a workable vegetable garden. Soon enough, you’ll be bringing in a bountiful harvest to have for supper!