Putting good plan into action for your vegetable garden will make the garden better suit your needs than if you just go out and throw some plants into the ground. You’ll get a far bigger harvest of vegetables from a given amount of space than you would ever imagine.
This post will help you find a suitable spot for your vegetable garden, and will help you take advantage of companion planting and succession planting techniques so that all of your garden space is most efficiently used.
Seed packets and starter plants usually have growing directions. If you don’t know the average last frost date of your local area, call your local nursery and ask, or search for your garden zone. Some plants grow better in the northern part of the country, and some in the southern part. For example, you aren’t going to have much luck with asparagus in hot weather climates like Florida.
Location, location, location
Your vegetable garden should be located in a sunny spot. Optimally, it should be close to your house and close to a water source for convenience in taking care of your garden.
Keep your garden away from shade trees that will block direct sunlight. Your garden will need 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight per day to thrive.
The best vegetable garden soil is a light, well-drained sandy loam with high organic content and fertility, and free from rocks and stones. If you are gardening in a small space, almost any kind of soil can easily be improved by adding compost and soil amendments.
If you have enough room, make your garden 1/3 bigger than you actually want to plant, so that you can plant a cover crop of clover on one third of the space of the garden each year, keeping your soil fertile.
You should be thorough when you prepare your garden soil. Dig at least 8 inches deep. You can dig with a spade, or use a garden tiller if you don’t want to do a lot of manual digging.
Different vegetables, different needs
Vegetables don’t all have the same requirements for soil, temperature and moisture levels. Vegetables like lettuce, spinach and peas do best in cool weather. You’d want to plant them very early in the spring, or in the fall. Plant them in part of the garden that gets early sun, and is shaded during the heat of the day.
Other vegetables like tomatoes, beans, peppers or eggplant require hot weather, and should be planted where they get the biggest amount of sunlight in the garden. The greatest amount of sunlight can be arranged by making your garden rows go north and south, and by allowing plenty of space between the rows of the garden.
Companion planting is when you plant certain types of vegetables next to each other at the same time that are harvested at different times. When you remove the early crop, it leaves room for the later crop to keep growing and fill in the space. There are combinations like cabbage and lettuce, radishes with beets, carrots or parsnips, or early beets in the rows between tomatoes.
Succession planting means that you grow one plant until it is harvested, and then you immediately replace it with a different plant that grows next, because it is better suited to that part of the season. You might start with cabbage, and then follow with squash. Other examples are spinach followed by sweet corn, peas followed by beans, or early carrots or beets followed by celery.
Some succession plantings might overlap, like when tomato plants are placed in between rows of early peas that still have a picking on the vines. Cabbage should never be followed one after another in the same soil, because it can pass on diseases that can remain in the soil.
A written plan?
An experienced gardener might not need a garden plan if he or she has been using the same plot for many years, because he or she will be familiar with the vegetables that he or she usually grows, and their space requirements.
But hey, if you were that experienced, you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog post, would you? So you’re probably going to want a vegetable garden plan on paper before you begin digging and planting your vegetable garden.
Draw your garden plan to a convenient scale — like 1/8th of an inch to a foot. Keep in mind that taller vegetable plants like tomatoes can shade shorter plants, so you’ll want to keep your rows far enough apart to account for that.
When possible, low vegetables like lettuce, beets, beans and carrots should be on the east side of the garden. Taller plants like tomatoes, peas and corn should be on the west side.
A good plan has enough room to walk through it, so that you can water effectively and look out for weeds and pests.