How to Plan Your Vegetable Garden
My favorite winter pastime is leafing through seed catalogs and dreaming about planting my garden in the spring. Choosing my seeds and then planning my garden is a great way to pass the dreary winter days.
Choose a sunny location
It is recommended that you observe your yard through one entire year before designing your landscape. You should make note of how the sun and shade moves through the yard throughout the day and the seasons. This is critically important if you are planning to have a vegetable garden. Vegetables require full sun which means a minimum of 8 hours of sun each day. You need to know which part of your yard is consistently sunny all day.
Check for good drainage
Once you have determined which part or parts of your yard gets a minimum of 8 hours of sun each day, you need to consider drainage. Vegetables do not like wet feet! Make sure that the site you have chosen for your vegetable garden is not in a low-lying area or an area that collects water after a rainstorm.
After you have chosen the area of your yard that will become your vegetable garden, it’s time to consider size. Remember, the larger your garden the more time and effort you will have to devote to weeding and other maintenance. If you are a first time vegetable gardener, it is better to start out small and gradually expand your garden each year. If you start out with a large garden, the upkeep may be overwhelming and discourage you from growing vegetables.
Spacing is important
Now it’s time to get out your seed catalogs. What do you want to grow? Make a list of everything you want in your dream garden and then get ready to pare your wish list down. How much space does each of those plants require? Pay close attention to spacing between your plants. Too little space will prevent them from growing and bearing fruit. Too much space will allow weeds to take hold. Weeds compete with your crops for water, nutrients and sunlight.
Don’t get discouraged if your wish list exceeds the amount of space you feel is reasonable to start. You can create more space in your garden by growing upwards. Peas, beans, cucumbers, small gourds and pumpkins can be grown on trellises. The foot print of the trellises will be much smaller than if you grew those vines on the ground. Don’t forget to leave space for paths so that you can get into your garden to weed and harvest. Paths should be a minimum width of 18 to 24 inches.
Attracting beneficial insects
Vegetables aren’t the only things you will be growing in your garden. Make sure you have space for herbs and flowers to attract beneficial insects. Beneficial insects fall into two categories. Pollinators, like bees, are critical to the success of your vegetable garden. Without pollination, you will have no vegetables! The other kind of beneficial insects are insects that prey on insects that damage or destroy your vegetables. Both kinds of beneficial insects love plants with tiny flowers such as those found on herbs.
Birds eat large quantities of insects so you want to make your garden a welcoming place for them. A source of water such as a birdbath and nesting areas such birdhouses or nearby trees and shrubbery will make your garden and yard attractive places for birds.
Now that you have decided what vegetables, herbs and flowers you will be growing, it’s time to think about the layout of your garden. It’s best to think of it in terms of areas, rather than rows so that it will be easier for you to practice crop rotation. The same crops should not be grown in the same place each year. That will exhaust the soil and encourage disease. You should divide your crops into families, such as legumes (peas and beans), cucurbits (squash and cucumbers), solenaceae (tomatoes and peppers) , etc. Plant crops in the same family in the same area and then rotate those areas each year. Within each area be sure to plant the tallest plants or trellises on the north side to prevent them from shading the other plants.
A soil test is a must
Before you plant your seeds, do a soil test. You can obtain soil test kits from your local extension office. The soil test lab will analyze your soil and send you a report detailing the nutrients and minerals present or absent in your soil and recommend the appropriate amendments to optimize your soil for growing vegetables.
Keeping wildlife out
The last consideration in planning your garden is wildlife. Deer are a huge problem here in New Jersey. All gardens must be fenced to prevent them from grazing. Deer can jump up to 8 feet from a standing start, so an effective deer fence must be at least 8 feet high. Woodchucks are another common problem. They will burrow under fences so it is recommended that a barrier of chicken wire or concrete blocks be sunk at least 2 feet into the ground to discourage them. Barrier methods are not effective against small rodents like chipmunks and squirrels. Most gardeners employ hot pepper sprays to discourage them from eating their crops.
If you are growing berries, investing in nets is a must. Cover your berry bushes with nets while the fruit is ripening to prevent birds from eating all of the fruit before you can harvest it.
Creating a garden plan may seem complex with so many elements to factor in, but a well-designed garden will reward you with fresh vegetables for years to come.
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© 2014 Caren White