This is the time of the year when many people are busy making plans for their vegetable gardens.
I’ve noticed an increase in first time vegetable gardeners over the last few years and I think it’s a very positive trend.
A measure of good health, food security and self-reliance begins with the ability to produce a least a portion of the food that you consume.
Most everyone benefits from some understanding of how to produce food and for far too long Americans have thought of themselves as food consumers instead of food producers.
Knowing the basics of food production is good insurance and peace of mind in the event of an interruption in the food supply or in any global food crisis.
By growing your own food you become empowered and gain a measure of security for yourself and loved ones.
No matter where you live or what your circumstance it is possible to produce a least a part of the food that you eat. Most people have the means to grow something, even if that food is only a pot of parsley on a sunny Manhattan window ledge or tomato plant living snug and happy in a 5-gallon bucket on your patio or deck.
Start at the Beginning
Life feeds on life.
And all life – plant or animal – begins with a seed and ends with a harvest.
By purposely planting a seed into the earth humans engage in agriculture.
The trick to planting a seed and getting food out of the deal is knowing when, where and how to plant the seed.
There’s as many opinions about vegetable gardens as there are gardeners.
And often new gardeners are confused by all the different information and advice. But the fact is vegetable gardening just isn’t that complicated.
All that is needed to grow a good vegetable garden is a dose of old-fashion common sense, planning ahead, a little knowledge of how plants grow and what they need and some hard work.
Even if you don’t have lots of ground space, container gardening is one way to grow food in a limited space. Container gardening confined to a high-rise balcony or to a patio deck will benefit from the exact same recommendations as a raised bed garden, a square foot garden or a traditional in ground planting.
One of the key factors for a successful vegetable garden is the selection of a proper site location.
In general the only requirements for a good vegetable garden location are full sun, level ground, proper soil pH and an access to water.
The first and most important requirement for any vegetable garden is strong full sunlight. By that I mean at least 6 to 12 hours of full sun every day – no shade.
Most vegetables require full uninterrupted sunlight in order to be productive and to stay healthy.
Inadequate sunlight will result in spindly leggy plants that are slow to flower, slow to fruit and subject to disease and garden pests.
When selecting a new garden site location it is wise to invest some time to watch how the sun moves throughout the day for any given location.
If possible watch the potential location for a full year. That’s because the arc of the sun changes with the seasons for most locations. The angle of a summer sun is different from that of a winter sun.
Pay extra attention to nearby trees and buildings when selecting a new garden site. Sometimes a potential location will have a close tree, fence or building nearby that may cause unseen summer shade or drainage problems.
The eastern or northeastern exposure of the location may have the morning sun but by the afternoon the location is in shade – and that’s not good. The same problem can occur with a full western exposure but in reverse. There’s no morning sun to help dry the dew off the plants – only a full burning afternoon sun.
It’s worth mentioning that once a full sun location has been established, the way that a garden in oriented in relation to the sun is an important factor in maintaining full sun for all plants throughout the day.
A rectangular shape north to south orientation is I believe the most successful vegetable garden configuration. Don’t let the talk of directional sun orientation confuse you; it’s an easy to understand concept.
Let’s make a garden area or garden bed in a rectangular shape. We’ll pick any size of our choosing.
The short sides of the rectangle will face north and south, and the long sides of the rectangle with face east and west. We’ll call the north side of the rectangle the “top” of the garden and the south side of the rectangle the “bottom” of the garden.
Now the vegetable garden is facing in the right sun orientation direction and is really for planting. But even with correct sun orientation it’s important to plant seeds and bedding plants in a way to maintain full sun exposure for all vegetable plants.
The way that vegetable seeds or bedding plants are sown or arranged in the garden can make a difference in how much sun the individual plants receive though out the day. Whether you are using a raised bed system or a “just stick it in the ground” row planting, the actual planting of seeds or bedding plants needs to be thought out ahead of time. That’s because not all vegetable plants are the same height. Once the tall vegetables in a garden attain any height at all they will begin to cast a shadow on the low growing vegetables and shade them from the sun if not oriented properly.
Tall growing vegetables like corn or climbing beans should be planted at the top or north end of the garden. Low growing vegetables like beets, carrots or lettuce should be planted at the south end or bottom of the garden. A gardener can use this information to advantage for some vegetables. Certain vegetables like lettuce, peas, beets or spinach will tolerate some partial sun especially during the hottest part of the summer. And with a bit of shade, vegetables like radishes or beets will not have to be watered as often and will not have the tendency to wilt from heat.
LEVEL GROUND IF POSSIBLE
A level location is desirable when planning or planting a vegetable garden. If there’s too much slope to the ground, water and soil will wash down and drain away from the high part of the garden.
The water will tend to pool and settle at the low-end of the garden. It’s a bad situation for the plants because the plants located at the high-end of the garden will not receive enough water and the soil will erode away from the roots.
Plants located at the low-end of the garden will often be sitting in mud or standing water for an extended period of time – not a good situation either.
If there is no other choice but to use a hillside or non-level ground, orient the rows so that they run horizontal across the hill and not up and down vertically no matter what sun orientation direction the garden faces.
PROPER SOIL pH
The next requirement for choosing a successful vegetable garden location is proper soil pH.
Proper soil pH is an important part of all gardening – not just vegetable gardening. Even though gardeners may not be able to choose the soil or dirt in their gardens and backyards, they can work with what they have.
Soil pH testing kits are inexpensive and available at home garden centers. Garden soil pH should be tested once the garden site location has been selected and the soil has been prepared and is dry.
A soil with a pH above 7 is considered to be an alkaline soil and a soil with a pH lower than 7 is considered to be an acid soil.
In general, soils in moist climates are acid soils and soils in dry climates tend to be alkaline.
A soil that is too acidic can be amended by the addition of lime. A too alkaline soil can be corrected by the addition of sulfur. The soil in my garden tends to be acidic and I use wood ashes to amend it.
- Common garden vegetables that prefer a slightly acid soil are corn, potatoes, tomatoes, radishes and sweet potatoes.
- Common vegetables that prefer a slightly alkaline or “sweet” soil are beets, broccoli, beans, cabbage, lettuce, summer squash, pumpkins, asparagus and cucumbers.
The last consideration in locating a vegetable garden is a convenient source of water.
If you are feeling lucky you can sit back and just let Mother Nature water your vegetable garden when it rains, but more often than not you’ll be sorry if you take a chance with her. Most people will want to water their gardens on a regular basis. If you can manage, try to have a source of water or accesses to a garden hose close by. Carrying heavy buckets of water over a long distance during the summer can get old fast; especially when the bugs are biting or during a merciless heat wave.
Just keep in mind the location and movement of the sun for any given garden site; easy access to water, level ground and soil pH when choosing a site for a vegetable garden and you’ll be well on your way to growing a portion of your food.