Vegetable Garden: The Ultimate Guide
More and more people nowadays are adopting healthier lifestyle. Personally, while it took me a while to get used to eating healthier and being more active, consuming fresh vegetables has made it exponentially easier for me.
By that, I don’t mean meticulously choosing the right ones at the local grocery, but having them handpicked straight from my garden. It really isn’t as hard as it sounds, though vegetable gardening may seem quite intimidating at first. To my surprise, I’ve grown to love it and it’s been part of my daily routine ever since.
A vegetable garden is basically one that is made or built specifically to grow vegetables and other plants that are meant for human consumption; vegetable gardens exist for purposes other than mere beautification. Those who engage in this activity mostly provide themselves with fresh produce, and some even consider this a small-scale form of vegetable growing. Vegetable gardening is especially important if you want to live a cleaner, healthier lifestyle, as it helps you become more aware of the food you eat and the kinds of chemicals — or lack thereof — that enter your body. From what kind of fertilizer to use, to the way your vegetables are harvested, almost every variable is within your control.
Types of Vegetable Gardens
Vegetable gardens come in a variety of forms, and each one is identified based on a number of factors such as the methods employed, the area utilized, and equipment used. While traditionalists would think that vegetable gardens are mostly made up of country house kitchen gardens, the modern gardener might beg to differ. A vast number of techniques are available for different preferences, and it’s important to start off by accounting for the following before starting your garden:
(1) Growing conditions;
(2) Site size;
(3) Crop health; and
(4) The specific kind of crops you would like to grow.
If you’d like to start small, which I personally think is the best option for beginners, in-ground gardens and raised beds are the perfect choice.
In-ground gardens are quite straightforward. As the name implies, these are vegetable gardens with ground on which crops are directly grown. While this is a convenient way to start growing vegetables on your own, there is still a few things to consider when choosing the right method of gardening. For in-ground gardens, advantages include the following:
- Convenience. Because in-ground gardens require less start-up work and the use of existing soil, these are fairly convenient for people who already have the perfect gardening spot in their homes. In addition to this, beds of in-ground gardens don’t dry out as quickly compared to raised beds, and are therefore easier to maintain.
- Simple, easy irrigation. Irrigation systems for these types of gardens are quite simple and easy to install, unlike raised beds that require a more complex irrigation system.
- Practical. Because these gardens require the use of existing soil instead of buying or importing, less money is spent and is instead saved and used for organic changes that would be needed to instead improve existing systems.
Take note, however, that in-ground gardens are less permanent than raised bed gardens, and may prove to be a substantial disadvantage and a deal-breaker to a lot of people. If you’re looking for something more long-term, raised beds may be the option that you should go for.
Raised Bed Gardening
Unlike in-ground gardening, raised bed gardening may require a much longer preparation time, as this type of gardening is done by building a raised bed frame, on which crops are planted and stand. These bed frames may be built from any building material made for the purpose, and the size may vary according to preference. Normally, raised beds stand 6 to 8 inches high, and are 3 to 6 feet wide and long. For those with back problems, such as people who are in their more advanced years, bed frames may also be further elevated from the ground for easier access.
Advantages of raised bed gardening include:
- Easier access for gardeners with disabilities, and more customizable in terms of height. Because raised beds may be elevated according to your preferred height. This can prove to me a huge advantage for those who have difficulty bending over. As someone who suffers from scoliosis and chronic back pain, I’ve found that this also provides for more convenience when it comes to tending to my crops.
- Soil amendments. Raised beds support soil amendments and can enable crop growth in a place that would not typically provide for good gardening. For places with soil that doesn’t necessarily cater to any form of gardening, raised beds can be built specifically for that purpose.
- More control over several factors. Since you have complete control over your gardening space, less water, fertilizer, soil amendments, and mulch are wasted.
- More efficient drainage. Well-prepared raised beds allow the soil to drain more efficiently in comparison to in-ground gardens.
- Less maintenance. Once the soil on raised beds has been stabilized, seasonal tilling is kept at a minimal. So long as the beds are properly maintained and cared for, less weeding is required as well.
- Less chances of soil and plant damage. Due to its structure, raised beds are able to protect crops and plants more properly from foot traffic. This is especially helpful for people who own pets that love running around the area, or children who want to spend some time outdoors.
If you don’t have a backyard that’s spacious enough to cater to any form of gardening, don’t worry. Vegetables can also be grown in containers instead of in the ground, and this can work just as well so long as proper drainage is provided to avoid the development of root rotting.
While this may be quite unconventional for a vegetable garden, container gardening can still come with a number of advantages, such as:
- Less chances of weed growth, especially with the absence of soil.
- Less risk of your vegetables catching any soil-borne disease.
- More mobility, and this gives you more control over the amount of sunlight your plants can get; place them directly under the sun, or in the shade as you please and depending on what your veggies need.
- Suitable for renters and apartment dwellers. Because you don’t need to plant them into the ground. This is perfect for those who have virtually no way of planting vegetables in the garden.
Vegetable Gardening: Step by Step Guide
I started growing my vegetable garden without knowing that there is actually a lot of techniques that I can follow to avoid encountering common problems such as insect infestation and droughts that greatly affect the health of my crops. One thing that I’ve learned is doing your research before actually venturing into the world of gardening can help you quite a lot. Over the years, I have learned quite a few things about vegetable gardening by way of trial and error, and coupled with all the studies I’ve read up on, here are some basics that could help you make your gardening experience significantly better.
Choosing a Location
While this may be often overlooked by some, carefully choosing the location for your garden is actually a vital step in the planning process, and you’ll have to come up with a rough idea of the kind of vegetables you plan on planting and growing before finding the right spot. Vegetables generally need around 6-8 hours of exposure to sunlight for optimal results, as this provides the best growth. Vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, and other leafy greens may require less sunlight.
Bear in mind, however, that it would be best to keep your garden away from other shrubs and trees to ensure that your vegetables will be getting all the nutrients and water they may need for their overall health. Before making your mind up and choosing a spot with finality, make sure that the surrounding soil, as well as the soil on which these crops are going to be planted, is of good quality by testing it, as there are different kinds of soil that may be unable to give your vegetables the nutrients they need. To avoid drought, also be sure to pick a location with a nearby water source. Good drainage and air circulation are also factors to consider when it comes to this step.
Making Your Vegetable Garden
For purposes of efficiency, some experts recommend keeping a garden journal to keep track of your activities. I’ve personally found that this has made my vegetable gardening experience more economical, as I’m now able to determine the exact varieties of vegetables I’m growing at a given time, as well as setbacks encountered and solutions I’ve found to resolve each one.
Also take note of the basic tools that you might need as a gardening beginner. Here’s a list of some tools that will make your gardening experience so much easier:
- Watering can: This is probably the most important tool and the easiest one to get a hold of. If you want to save up on a few dollars, a makeshift watering can is fine, too.
- Rake: Prepare your seedbed by raking through the soil, and use this tool to break up any large clumps and clods that may be found.
- Spade: This is used to dig into the soil, as well as adding organic matter for overall plant health.
- Trowel: This tool is made specifically for digging holes for transplants, as well as breaking up surrounding soil.
- Hoe: This is especially useful when it comes to weeding, as well as chopping up the soil if needed.
- String and labels: Measure the spacing of your crops by using some string and ruler in the layout process, and label your vegetables accordingly to make sure that you’re able to keep track of everything.
Preparing the Soil
After having figured out the size, location, and the shape of the garden that you would like to build, the actual process of letting it all come together can now commence. Set your plan in motion by building up the soil. This is the most important step in order to make sure that you get good yields. Having rich soil for your vegetables will guarantee lush, productive growth as it maximizes root growth and guarantees plant health. Raised beds, in particular, help you get deep layers of fertile soil, and save you a good amount of time for harvest, as well.
To prepare the soil, dig to a depth of around 7-10 inches, and add a couple inches of organic matter about a third of the way in. Incorporate it into the soil to provide it with all the necessary nutrients, and improve overall soil structure.
The perfect vegetable garden fertilizer has a nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium per cent ratio of 5:10:5, 10:10:10, or 12:12:12. These three are important for green growth, root growth and fruit development, and disease resistance and root development, respectively. Some recommended fertilizers are compost cow manure and peat moss.
In order to test your soil, soak it with a house, and grab a handful of soil the next day to check if it’s ready for planting. Do this by squeezing the soil in your hand, and if water comes out, try adding some organic matter to improve drainage. Be sure that once you open your hand, the oil forms a ball and doesn’t fall apart too easily.
Choose What to Grow
I first started out choosing my crop variety by picking almost every variant in sight at the market. The result? A complete mess! So I read up and found that there are some rules to follow when it comes to choosing the vegetables you’d like to grow in your garden:
- Base your choices on your taste. By that, I mean pick something you’re sure won’t go to waste, and something you and your family would actually enjoy eating. Stay away from vegetables that aren’t as palatable to you, your children, your parents, and whoever else might be consuming them.
- Be very conscious about the availability of your vegetable of choice. Choose veggies according to season, or better yet, choose something that’s always there!
- Quality over quantity. Instead of investing in a lot of vegetable varieties, be sure to instead spend on something that guarantees higher yields. It’s better to have fewer vegetables that give you better results, rather than a lot of different ones that may actually let your money go to waste.
- Account for the amount of veggies you and your family actually consume in order for you to avoid over planting. While you could always end up selling or giving away excess harvests, be sure to avoid planting way too much to your liking.
Now for the most exciting part! Although you may want to jump right into the planting step the first chance you get, there are still some factors to consider when it comes to how efficient planting should look like. First decide where each vegetable should be placed, and choose a specific period or time on which they should be planted.
As for vegetable arrangements, here are a few tips:
- Be careful to take note of veggies that grow in spring, and those that should only be planted when the soil is a bit warmer, and plant them accordingly.
- Keep in mind that there are certain crops that have a shorter harvest period than others, as they mature more quickly. You can usually find this information on seed packets when choosing your vegetables.
- Taller veggies should be placed up north, as shorter plants may not get enough sun due to the shade. While some crops are better suited for growing in the shade, others don’t thrive as well.
- Don’t plant everything all at the same time. Patience really is key, but it’s definitely going to be worth the wait.
Caring for Your Vegetable Garden
One of the most important things for vegetable garden owners and hobbyists is pest and disease prevention. Be sure to keep animals away from your garden, or you’re going to be in big trouble. As for insects, large insects and caterpillars may simply be removed by hand in order to limit their contact with your crops. If they come in large numbers, insecticides that don’t contain any harsh chemicals are an effective way to get rid of them, but be careful to use these according to what the label says.
Fungal diseases can also be a huge problem, but are quite easy to avoid. Fungal disease prevention may be done by simply watering the soil, and not the leaves of your veggies. Be sure to check all your crops carefully and throw away plants that have already been infected to avoid allowing the disease to spread.
Choosing Seed Varieties
When it comes to choosing seed variants, here are the best ones for beginners: zucchini squash, pepper, cabbage, lettuce, radish, tomato, and marigold — intermediate planter tip: these are good for pest prevention
Depending also on the size of your garden, it may be ideal to choose seeds that produce smaller plants, and be careful to choose a variant that you could easily tend to. If you want to play it safe, two or three packs of the same vegetable is the best choice. From there, you could easily add more vegetables as you go.
Choose a particular planning technique during the layout process to maximize space, as well. Vertical cropping is great for beans, peas, squash, cucumber, and gourd; succession planting for lettuce, beans, and radish; and intercropping for fast growing vegetables. You can do this by planting green onions among caged tomato plants, for example.
A good tip when you’re still in the planning process of your vegetable garden is to start out small. This is one thing that I hard to learn the hard way. Don’t plant too much early on. For beginners with some space to spare, a good layout would be a garden that’s 11 rows wide, with a space of 10 feet in between each row. Make sure that you have easy access to each row. Otherwise, some crops may be getting more attention than others. If this is too much, you can lessen the number of rows, or make the distance between each row shorter; just make sure that it doesn’t get too crowded, or your vegetables might have to thrive on shared nutrients. So long as all your crops are getting an equal amount of sunlight, water, and rich soil, choose any dimension to your liking.
When sowing your seeds, be sure to distinguish cool-season crops from the rest of the bunch. If you’d like to follow the direct approach, which is highly recommended, take note that these cool-season crops adapt well to cooler conditions and germinate better when the soil is cold.
Direct sowing is done by starting with area inspection. Make sure that no weeds are found anywhere near your soil, as this may affect plant growth. Be sure to read the packet carefully, as well. Follow the instructions step by step, and you’re bound to be virtually mistake-free.
Mark the spot on which you plan on planting each seed, and remember to go easy on the water. A helpful tip is to dampen the soil before planting and water only as needed, until germination can be seen. The soil should be moist until this point, then water the area whenever the surface of the soil looks dry.
If you aren’t so sure that you’d like to start from scratch or have the patience to wait for your seeds to grow and develop, purchasing young plants from a garden center that you can simply sow directly into your garden may be a good choice. This works well, especially for plants that grow relatively slower than others, such as celery and broccoli.
One of the benefits of using transplanting is that a transplant is already about a month old when it’s planted, so it matures much faster than seeds that are sown directly. Transplanting is also excellent at driving away pests during growing season.
Garden Care Tips
Be sure that your seedlings are pampered until they grow into full-sized plants. Make sure that you constantly inspect not only the crops themselves, but surrounding areas as well, just to be sure that no weeds are growing and no pests are trying to make their way into your garden. Clean your garden tools accordingly, as well, in order to ensure sanitation and good plant maintenance.
This may look like a hefty amount of information to take in, but vegetable gardening has a lot of aspects that are suitable for beginners. Once you start, the entire process is interesting enough to keep you going, and the results are so much better than what you might initially be anticipating. The best part is, once you actually begin consuming the veggies that you worked hard to grow, you’ll fully understand why a lot of people find this more palatable than trying to look for decent produce in the grocery.
Frequently Asked Questions
What vegetables can I grow in the shade?
Kale, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, radish, and carrots are some of the most popular vegetables that thrive well in the shade. Upon reading packet details when choosing your seeds, be sure to choose cool-season veggies for shade growth.
What’s the best way to control weeds?
Herbicides may be used, but mechanical weeding may be the best option if you’d like to veer away from harmful chemicals that may affect the quality of your soil and your vegetables in general. Mulch may also be used for effective weed control.
Should I put grass clippings in the garden?
This is optional, but it helps in supplying high amounts of nitrogen to your veggies. Grass clippings may also serve as mulch that buffer and control weed growth.