Designing for Dining and Getting Your Vegetable Garden Ready

Most produce is, of course, grown in a vegetable garden, and it's always best to get your garden started before even acquiring your plants. Of course, you have to dig into the soil and work in organic matter. One of the first steps, however, is designing your garden.

Sketching out your plan

The best planning advice is simple: Start small. Just be sure you locate in a spot where expansion is possible, should you want to make a bigger garden in ensuing years. As for actual size, it depends on what you want to grow. Just to give you a general idea, here's what you can put in the following standard-size gardens:

1 A 6 x 8 foot plot can support a couple tomato plants, maybe some bush beans, and some lettuce.

1 A 10 x 18 foot plot can hold all that, plus a couple space-consuming squash plants and cucumbers, and maybe some carrots or beets.

1 A 20 x 24 foot plot can hold all that, plus peppers, leeks, broccoli, turnips, and maybe some herbs as well.

1 A 40 x 60 plot allows you more of everything, plus some bigger items, such as corn (corn isn't worth growing unless you can have a dozen or more plants because otherwise they don't pollinate or pollinate completely, and you end up harvesting gap-toothed ears) and asparagus or rhubarb.

Sketch out your vegetable garden plan on paper ahead of time. Figure out how much space to allot to individual plants — and don't forget to allow for space between the rows, or paths, so you can tend the plants. (Mature sizes of various vegetable varieties are noted on seed packets and often in catalog descriptions.)

Allow for succession planting: If something is harvested early in the summer, lettuce, say, or peas, you can then free up that space for another crop, such as carrots. Succession planting is a good trick, but to pull it off, you may need to do some research as well as some trial and error — and be willing to invest the time and effort. See Figure 13-3 for a plan that may work for you.

Figure 13-3:

Garden plan showing succession plantings.

Sweet Corn (Early Planting)

Summer Squash

Sweet Corn (Late Planting)

Broccoli or Cabbage

Bush Green Snap Beans'

Bush Yellow. Snap Beans

Bush Peas

Beets (Thin by using greens)

Carrots (Interplant, with Radishes)'

Onion Sets (Harvest scallions & early onions)'

Sweet Corn (Late Planting)

Sweet Corn (Early Planting)

Summer Squash

with Peppers

Followed by 1/2 row Carrots & 1/2 row Beets Followed by 1/2 row Chard & 1/2 row Lettuce

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f IfWlfl^F interPlanted

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f IfWlfl^F interPlanted

with Peppers

Followed by 1/2 row Carrots & 1/2 row Beets Followed by 1/2 row Chard & 1/2 row Lettuce

Followed by Yellow Snap Beans

Followed by Green Snap Beans

Onion Seeds Early Leaf or Head Lettuce "

WShcallions

Onion Seeds Early Leaf or Head Lettuce "

Herbs

Herbs

Intercropping, also called interplanting, is really very simple. Just have two " different plants share the same part of the garden in an alternating or checkerboard pattern. This setup can look rather nifty, but it has practical advantages as well. Smaller, faster-maturing plants can grow with larger, slower-growing ones and so you always have something to harvest. And plants that appreciate a little shade can grow in the shelter of taller ones (have pole beans next to lettuce or spinach, for example). See Figure 13-4 for an example.

Figure 13-4:

Garden plan showing interplanting.

Peas & Carrots Cabbage & Lettuce iltfifM

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Carrots & Radishes Onions & Radishes

Parsnips & Radishes Cabbage & Radishes Cabbage & Onion Sets

Corn & Spinach

Corn & Lettuce Tomatoes & Spinach

Tomatoes & Radishes -si Tomatoes & Lettuce Swiss Chard & Peppers Onion Seed & Radishes

Working with the sun: Where to plant vegetables

Most fruiting vegetables like the environment sunny and open — the soil is warm, light is plentiful, and they grow easily, developing and ripening their fruit with minimal stress or impediments. (If conditions are not ideal, they make less fruit and take longer to ripen — also, the plants may lean or grow toward the light source in a bid to get as much as they can.) Examples of sun-loving vegetables include tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans, okra, eggplant, and corn.

To maximize needed sun, site your vegetable garden in a south-facing spot; plant taller plants to the north end so they don't cast shade over their shorter fellows.

Some vegetables are less dependent on full sun, which can fade or dry out their foliage or slow their growth. Or the plants may just may like cooler temperatures. Vegetables that gardeners grow for their leaves fall into this group, as do ones with edible roots. Examples include lettuce, mixed greens (mesclun), chard, potatoes, carrots, and turnips.

To maximize sheltering shade, grow these vegetables in an east- or west-facing garden; site taller plants and objects (including trellises, teepees, and caged or staked tomatoes) in front of and to the south of these shade-lovers. Or grow these plants earlier in spring or in the fall — assuming you have enough time to ripen them before winter comes, that is — times of the year when the sun is lower in the sky.

Using planting patterns and systems

As much as you may like to toss a packet of seeds into a pile of dirt and let the plants grow where they fall, you may be better off working with some kind of system. The following sections provide info on how you can design around a natural garden, raised beds, or existing landscaping.

Natural garden beds

Natural garden beds can be in-ground or mounded up, without need of wooden edges. Either way, work the soil between 8 and 12 inches deep to accommodate the roots of most vegetables.

Natural beds don't need any kind of edging, but you do need to remove the sod if you're turning part of the lawn into a garden. It is best to remove the sod with a sod knife (a special tool that can be rented) or a spade. For larger jobs, you can rent a sod cutter, which is a machine that penetrates the soil about three inches deep and cuts off the roots of the sod. It can then be rolled up and removed. For smaller jobs, you can rent a manual sod cutter or you can use a spade.

It is important to remove the sod and then rototill. Don't try to rototill over the grass. First of all, only larger rototillers are capable of doing this, and secondly, if you till in the grass, it will be impossible to completely remove the grass and it will constantly re-sprout — a real pain!

As far as other weeds go, remove as many as you can before you till or work up the soil. Then when new ones sprout remove them as soon as possible — when they are young and before they go to seed (and produce more weeds!)

More ambitious vegetable gardens need plenty of paths and rows to allow access — for you, for a hose, for a wheelbarrow. Ideally, you want access from all four sides of a particular bed. Build pathways into your master plan when you're first sketching out the layout. Then, to clarify where the paths are and also to prevent weeds from seizing the open space, "pave" the paths with a layer of straw (not hay), dried grass clippings, or gravel.

Raised garden beds

Using raised garden beds is a very practical way to construct a good vegetable garden. They have good drainage, the soil warms up quickly in the spring, they're easy to weed (high off the ground), and you're less likely to step on and compact the soil, so roots can grow better in looser, well aerated ground. Just make bottomless wooden boxes between 8 and 12 inches deep, set them in a sunny, flat area, fill with good soil, and away you go. Native soil can be used if it's of good quality, otherwise half native and half added purchased soil would work fine. See Figure 13-5 for how to build a raised bed. If you use more than one raised bed, space them so you can walk between them or bring a wheelbarrow down the row. Construction tip: Brace each corner with a corner post for extra stability.

Note that the wood you use should be untreated lumber. Treated wood may leach harmful preservatives, which is not a risk you want to take when raising edibles. Rot-resistant redwood or cedar is great; other softwoods, including pine, tamarack, and cypress, can also do but tend to rot away after a few years and need replacing. You can certainly use plastic, cinder blocks, and even bales of hay to establish a box. Just be sure the walls are securely in place before adding soil to the interior.

If tunneling rodents are an issue where you garden, keep them out of your raised bed by lining the bottom with a layer of chicken wire. Use a slightly-too-big piece so you can pull it partway up the sides and tack or staple it in place.

Prepping your soil

The biggest mistake beginning vegetable gardeners make is using lousy or too-thin soil. Gardening is not rocket science, folks (even if NASA is working on growing vegetables in space). Please, before a single vegetable begins its hopeful, potential-filled life in your yard, give it a very good home! This prep work can save you untold disappointment and, perhaps more than any other factor, assure a bountiful and delicious harvest.

Figure 13-5:

Making a raised bed. First build up the earth for planting (A). Then plant your garden and put up the wooden walls to contain everything.

This prevents you from damaging your garden during planting.

If you're working with a brand-new vegetable garden (or one that fell fallow and you're bringing it back to life), I suggest you stake it out and get it ready the autumn before you plan to plant. This act gives the soil and the amendments you've added time to settle and meld. It also means you have less work to do next spring.

If a fall start isn't possible or practical, go ahead and prepare the ground in spring — but don't start too early. If the ground is still semifrozen or soggy, digging in the soil can compact it and harm its structure. How do you tell whether it's ready to be worked in? Grab a handful and squeeze — it should fall apart, not form a mud ball.

Follow these steps when preparing your soil:

Most vegetables are content with 6 to 8 inches of good ground for their roots to grow in. If you're planning to grow substantial root crops (potatoes, say, or carrots), go deeper still — up to a foot or more (yes, you can use a technique called hilling, where you mound up good soil around crops like potatoes, but this method doesn't excuse your making a shallow vegetable garden).

Add lots and lots of organic matter! Try compost (make your own — see "Composting for Vegetable Gardens" later on), dehydrated cow manure, shredded leaves, well-rotted horse manure (call nearby stables), or a mixture thereof. If your yard happens to be blessed with fertile soil, adding organic matter is less crucial, but most soils can stand the improvement. Mix it with the native soil, fifty-fifty, or even more liberally.

Here's a word about difficult soils: Maybe your area's soil is notoriously acidic, or very sandy, or quite obviously lousy for plant growth. The good news is that organic matter can be like a magic bullet in that it helps improve whatever you add it to. You have to replenish the organic matter at the start of every growing season or maybe even more often. (If the soil stubbornly resists improvement, resort to setting raised beds atop it and filling these bottomless boxes with excellent, organically rich soil.)

Organic Vegetable Gardening

Organic Vegetable Gardening

Add delicious organically grown vegetables to your diet today... Growing Organic Vegetables Explained! I’m sure you, like many people, have been trying to find a way to eat healthier so that you can live healthier. There are many fad diets available today that do not always produce the desired results. One of the only ways people today can live a healthy lifestyle is to eat only healthy foods.

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