Before you can start your new veggie garden there are things that you should think about. Unfortunately there is a lot to deal with but good planning now will save you a lot of headache later in the season.
The first thing to think about is the location of your plot. Most vegetables need at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day. This means trying to keep your plants away from the shade of trees, fences, and other buildings. Preferably you want an east to west orientation for your garden plot to obtain the maximum amount of available light with your shortest plants, such as lettuce on the southern edge and your tallest plants such as pole beans on the northern edge. This will help keep your plants from shading out their neighbors.
Next is weather to plant in rows or small groups. Raised beds or not. Where do I put a path? I would suggest forgetting the old notion of planting like vegetables in long rows. Long rows of plants waste your compost as you have to cover your whole garden with it before you can run your furrows. The soil will compact as you use the spaces between the rows for your paths making for more hard digging next year as well as making the soil too hard for plants to spread their roots into as they reach for water.
Instead try a grid system. Mark out your garden plot to scale on a piece of graph paper and divide your garden space into one foot squares. Every three to four feet place a path across the grid. This will make it easier to access your plants, weed your plot or to water with a can if there is no access to a garden hose. Recycle old bricks or wood to build a raised bed if you can. This will increase drainage and the higher elevation will make plant access easier for you. The grid system also provides the advantage of breaking up rows of same type plants. Breaking up these rows will help keep garden pests contained to the square where their favorite food is and to help contain plant diseases should you be so unlucky to encounter them. You can of course use more than one grid per plant type but try to separate them a bit. The two other main advantages to a system like this is that it makes it easier to companion plant your garden and to rotate your crops. More on that in a bit.
Pottage gardening is an old french term which, when simplified; means planting your veggies, herbs, and flowers all together in the same plot. For we urban gardeners it takes on the new meaning of planting these things in the same window box or balcony pot. This is very important for balcony gardeners that may need to draw insects to their vegetables in order to pollinate them I would suggest red or yellow flower types as these are the most attractive to bees and the like.
OK... Crop rotation. Most folks think that this is something that will not concern them as they do not intensively plant or overwork their soil. This is not true. Plants will use whatever nutrients that they can and crop rotation will help to keep your vegetables from depleting their soil. This also helps to control the spread of disease by not returning a host plant to the same area year after year.Crop rotation is done on a four year cycle for most vegetables. Perennials such as artichokes, asparagus, berries, and rhubarb do not to be rotated. Maintained greens such as kale or swiss chard which you have managed to keep growing over the winter should still be rotated out of their plot every two years. There are seven plant families or crop rotational groups and are described here:
Lastly; keep a logbook or diary. Go to your local $1 type store and buy a notebook or scribbler. This may seem un-necessary but the information you glean from it is invaluable. Use it to keep notes on when you germinated your seed and how long it took. Planting times, blooming dates and how long it took a crop to mature. Your watering, weeding, and feeding schedule. Note the weather and the frost dates. Note any disease or insect problems you encountered. If the location of crops in your garden plan is here you can tell which food grew well for you and which did not. Where your crop rotation occurred and where the seeds verses the weeds are located. You can find a simple one here that you can download or view gardenjournal.pdf
This may seem like a whole lot of work but it is more than worth it in the long run. Next year armed with your notebook and garden plan you will have your food up and growing while your neighbors are still digging holes and your year end harvest will put those store bought, pesticide ridden veggies to shame.
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