Growing your own vegetables can be a fun and rewarding experience. Vegetable gardening can be described as growing vegetables on a small scale. A vegetable garden typically includes several divided areas of land with each plot intended to grow one or two types of vegetables. Plots may also be organized into rows with a variety of vegetables grown in different rows.
Preparing Your Vegetable Garden For Planting
Many avid gardeners dream of having a huge vegetable garden just big enough to grow everything they want. While growing all kinds of vegetables looks appealing, there are several disadvantages of dealing with a large garden especially for beginning gardeners. So it is better to start small in the beginning and try to expand your vegetable garden gradually.
Preparing a vegetable garden for planting is almost the same as for a flower garden with two exceptions:
- Unlike a flower garden, irrigation watering is the best method for watering a vegetable garden.
- A vegetable garden must have excellent drainage. Especially root vegetables will tend to rot in the ground with poor drainage.
Type of Garden Beds for Planting Vegetables
At the very beginning of the planning process, you need to decide what type of garden beds you want to use to grow your vegetables. Basically, there are three types of garden beds at your disposal which are all good options.
A raised bed is the easiest and most effective way to to start a vegetable garden. Creating a raised bed is quite easy and can be accomplished in just a few hours with simple materials and tools. The materials used to build a raised bed are inexpensive. You can also use raised garden bed kits for this purpose which can be purchased at your local garden center. Choose a square or rectangular layout for simplicity. As regular wood won’t stand rain and moisture, it is best to use a vinyl or pressure-treated lumber for weather-resistance and durability.
If your garden space is limited, pots are a good option for growing all sorts of vegetables. Some veggies like lettuce, garlic, peppers and herbs do great in pots. A pot is also a practical way of growing vegetables as it can be moved easily to another location to find the best sun during the day. Pots come in various sizes and shapes so you can choose one depending on your needs. You can find all kinds of pots at your local garden shop.
Planting directly in the soil
This is the traditional way of vegetable gardening practiced by people for centuries. The first step before planting your vegetables is to remove all the grass and weeds from the garden spot. Then, instead of tilling the soil, add eight to twelve inches of organic material on top of the existing soil. You can add a mixture of compost and top soil or only compost. While a mixture of top soil and compost is often sufficient, filling in the vegetable garden spot with just compost will provide your vegetables with the best growing environment.
Next step is to create rows for planting your vegetables. Allocate the rows in such a way to allow yourself adequate space to move between them to remove weeds and harvest your vegetables. Next to each row, dig an irrigation channel about six inches wide and six inches deep. Tamp the soil down firmly on both sides and bottom of the channel. To water your vegetable garden, simply fill the irrigation channels with water. Once you have created the rows and irrigation channels, you are ready to start planting seeds or plants in your vegetable garden.
What Vegetables To Plant
As a general rule, the easiest vegetables to grow are tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, carrots, radishes, green beans, spinach, chard, onions, squash and lettuce. These vegetables can be started from seeds easily. You can start with simple ones like radishes, carrots, green beans, lettuce, spinach and chard. Some seeds have to be sown directly into the soil. Also, some seeds fare better with soaking prior to planting as soaking speeds up the germination process. For most seeds it is recommended that you only soak them for 12 to 24 hours but no more than 48 hours. So always check the seed package prior to planting.
For new gardeners, it is easier to buy small starter plants from your local garden center rather than trying to propagate them from seeds. In addition to making it easier to get your vegetable garden established, buying grown plants also helps you resist planting too much. When deciding how much to plant, take the maintenance needs of your garden into account. Also, try not to plant too much perishable vegetables like lettuce at one time so that you don’t have a large portion of your crop going to waste.
When To Plant
By staggering your planting, you can have fresh vegetables all season long. For example, you can plant a row of lettuce every two weeks. Each successive planting will mature later in the season providing you with a steady supply of fresh lettuce during the entire season. This method works especially well for some vegetables such as lettuce, peas and green beans. However, it is not necessary for tomatoes, peppers or squash as these vegetables will bear fruit all season long.
The following table is a good rule of thumb for what time of year to plant vegetables. The frost free date you use will be the median or average date of the last frost in your area. For example, in the Dallas, Texas area, the median date of the last frost is April 16. Your local gardening center should be able to give you the median date for your area.
|VEGETABLES||TIME OF YEAR TO PLANT|
|Cabbage, Lettuce, Spinach, Onions, Peas||Four to six weeks before the median frost free date|
|Carrots, Radishes||Two to four weeks before the median frost free date|
|Green Beans, Peas, Spinach, Squash, Tomatoes||On the median frost free date|
|Peppers, Peas, Cucumber, Zucchini||One week after the median frost free date|
|Green Beans, Spinach, Squash||Well after the median frost free date|
Sun, Watering and Fertilizing
Most vegetables, especially those that bear fruit such as tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and peppers need plenty of sun. Ideally, these vegetables need a minimum of six to eight hours of direct sun per day. So you must choose your vegetable garden spot accordingly. In gardens with less light, you can still grow some leafy crops and herbs. However, vegetables planted in areas that get too much shade will grow poorly and often die.
While newly seeded plant beds need frequent watering, established vegetable plants need a minimum of one inch of water per week. However, during hot and dry months they will need more water in order to produce successfully. To see if your soil needs watering, poke your finger into the ground near the plants about two-three inches. If the soil at the bottom of the hole is dry, you need to water the plants. As a general rule, the soil at the bottom of the hole should always be damp rather than wet. Mulching your soil with straw or shredded leaves is an efficient way to help the soil retain water and moisture. As a side benefit, mulching will also help suppress weeds. Keeping weeds at bay is especially crucial as they will rob your vegetables of essential nutrients and water.
If you have planted your vegetables in a raised bed filled with compost, you may not need to fertilize during the season. Plant leaves that look yellowish or stems that appear too fragile are signs that they need to be fertilized. There are several fertilizers on the market that are formulated specifically for vegetables. Follow instructions on the label carefully when fertilizing your plants.
Rotating Your Crops
Crop rotation can be described as the practice of planting different crops in recurrent succession in the same growing space over the years. This approach makes sure that the same vegetables will not deplete the same nutrients year after year. Crop rotation can improve soil structure and fertility of your vegetable garden by rotating deep-rooted and shallow-rooted plants each year. It can also help get rid of any insect pests or parasites that might be present in the soil after the crop is gathered. By utilizing crop rotation, you can successfully continue to grow vegetables year after year.
To keep track of the crop rotation cycle, make a chart of your garden on paper every season, marking the location of all crops you intend to raise. If you grow a lot of different vegetables, these garden charts will come handy in the future as it can be difficult to remember exactly what you planted where.
Leaf, Fruit, Root, Legumes in Rotation
The soil provides large amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and sulfur which are called the macronutrients. Crop rotation maximizes the amount of usable macronutrients in the soil. These macronutrients play an important role in successfully growing your vegetables. Therefore, to obtain the full benefits of crop rotation, you should plant your vegetables in a certain order. Planting your vegetables in the following order is based on these crops’ nitrogen requirements.
1. Leafy vegetables
The first group in the crop rotation cycle includes leafy vegetables that start off the garden after wintertime has almost ended. These vegetables include lettuce, mustard, spinach and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower. These plants require the most nitrogen to help their leaves and stems grow stronger during their growing season.
2. Fruit bearing crops
The second group in the rotation cycle is fruit bearing crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplant and squash. Fruiting crops don’t require that much nitrogen at all. If they get too much nitrogen, they produce more leaves than fruit. This group of vegetables need more phosphorus than nitrogen to help them produce blossoms and fruits. Being planted second in the crop rotation cycle helps these crops make the most of the available phosphorus in the soil before being further depleted by subsequent crops.
3. Root vegetables
Third group in the crop rotation cycle includes root vegetables such as beets, carrots, garlic, onion, radishes and turnips. After the leafy vegetables and fruiting crops have been grown, nitrogen levels in the soil will have been depleted to a great extent. As root vegetables need much less less nitrogen than leafy veggies, planting them third in the rotation cycle works out quite well. On the other hand, root veggies require more potassium to develop strong root systems as well as robust stems and stalks. As potassium takes a bit longer to become available in the soil, by planting root crops third in the cycle you allow more time for potassium to accumulate in the soil.
The last group in the rotation cycle includes vegetables in the legume plant family such as alfalfa, beans, clover, lentils, peas and peanuts. Legumes has the ability to replenish nitrogen back into the soil wherever they’re grown. So this makes them excellent crops to grow after nitrogen hungry veggies have depleted the soil’s nutrients.
As a side note, a form of soil bacteria called “rhizobia” that grow on these plants’ roots in the form of small nodules convert nitrogen from the air into a usable form. After the plant dies, the nitrogen stored inside the nodules becomes available for other plants.
To help release the stored nitrogen accumulated inside the nodules, all you have to do is to spread chopped legumes or till them under the soil. This is called plant manure or green manure. Adding green manure to the soil on a regular basis will greatly improve the health of the soil.