There is nothing that tastes better than home grown vegetables, fresh from your own garden. If you don’t believe us, try growing a small plot of your favorite vegetable. Once you’ve tasted the bountiful harvest, you’ll be convinced that it’s time to start a real garden.
The first step is to look at your land and choose the best place to put a vegetable garden. Most garden plants need sunlight to flourish, so you will need to pick a location that gets a lot of direct sunlight.
While many plants prefer moist soil, you need to be aware that too much water can be a bad thing. Soil that does not drain can cause the roots of your garden plants to rot and this means no vegetables or inferior ones at the very least.
Test your soil by digging a small hole about five or six inches deep. Fill it with water. If the water doesn’t begin to drain from the hole immediately, choose another site.
It may be necessary to water your garden plants in the heat of the summer. Plant your garden near a water source because water is heavy.
Once you’ve chosen the spot for the garden, it’s time to prepare a layout plan. You will need to decide whether you are going to plant the vegetables in rows or raised beds. There are pros and cons to both gardening methods.
Raised beds are ideal for smaller areas where space can be an issue. In raised bed gardening, you plant vegetables closer together and usually work off of a layout of squares. (You may hear the terms “raised beds” and “square foot gardening” interchanged, although square foot gardening is a very specific type of raised bed gardening.) Thus, you might grow a 12-inch square of lettuce rather than a four-foot row.
The good news is that the plants help to shade the ground, making it more difficult for weeds to grow. The bad news is that you will be doing all of the weeding by hand.
It will take more space to grow and garden using the traditional row method of planting. If you plant your rows far enough apart, you can use a motorized tiller to control weeds between rows. You will need to hand weed around the plants.
Proper spacing of plants is very important in both gardening methods. This is where it pays to think BIG! That six-inch tall tomato plant can grow to be several feet tall and it may spread out to cover three to four feet if it is not staked for upright growth. Planting too close together causes overcrowding and shading, thus yielding fewer vegetables.
One of the advantages of having your own garden is that you can choose to grow vegetables organically. An understanding of companion planting can be helpful. This is a concept in which you use plants that are known to repel pests instead of chemicals.
For example, interspersing onions around your cabbage plants can help to repel some insects that feed on cabbage. Marigolds are another good companion plant.
It is important to keep gardening records because it is best to rotate plants in the garden. This means that you don’t plant any one vegetable in the same spot in consecutive years.
Gardening is an ongoing learning experience. Many find it to be a fun ongoing challenge to grow those veggies bigger and better.
Want to learn more about garden layouts?
The University of Illinois Extension has this page about planning your vegetable garden layout, with lots of specific tips for various types of vegetables. They also include a sample garden plan.
Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening web site used to have a good page with layout ideas. But now his site has gone commercial, and his “informational” site doesn’t have the layouts listed anymore that I could find. His book, Square Foot Gardening, is widely available at most bookstores and does have very specific layout plans. If you’ve never had gardening success before, try the Square Foot Gardening method, and you’ll be amazed at how well you do. Using his book completely changed me from an unsuccessful vegetable gardener to a successful one, so it’s worth the cost of the book. Buy it used or borrow it from the library if you are cheap, but get it!
This Squidoo page has several different vegetable garden layout ideas, and a lot of good background information about each type. They are trying to sell garden layout software, but it’s still a good page.
The Colorado State University extension features this terrific garden layout page designed with raised bed gardening in mind, and focusing on gardening in blocks. It also includes suggested spacing for specific vegetables for a kitchen garden.