Planning a Vegetable Garden may seem really daunting at first. Try not to be put off by reading too much information! The best thing to do, is make a rough plan but be prepared too change it the year progresses. Some things will come up quicker than the books tell you, while other things will be harvested much later. No-one has the exact same plot as you, so no-one can tell you exactly when your vegetables will ripen, or what problems you will face.
Be prepared to adapt and modify your original vegetable garden plans, depending on what is successful and what encounters problems. Remember that a vegetable garden is for life, not just this season. You can make your vegetable garden plans more complicated and challenging each year. But my advice is to start off simply!
Planning a Vegetable Garden – Hints & Tips
There are no hard and fast rules to vegetable garden plans. Similarly do not worry about what time of year to start your vegetable growing. All times of year have their jobs, so whenever you start you will be busy. Ideally I would start a new vegetable garden in Spring. Simply because the things you plant in late spring grow so fast it gives you a reward for your efforts quickly. There is nothing like the taste of a freshly picked home-grown tomato or pea to spur you on to more hard work in the vegetable patch.
So, on with the tips for planning a vegetable garden:
1. How much space to allocate for your vegetable garden?
Now, get realistic. You might want your whole plot to be covered in a sea of organic food but how much do you really want to do this year? Gardening is a long-term activity, so save some work for next year. Remember however much you rotivate and dig this year is how much you will have to keep on top of watering and weeding etc. Don’t be afraid to start off small!
If you haven’t got an army of helpers create one vegetable plot at a time, and only do another when you are really up to it.
2. What kind of beds do you want in your vegetable garden?
The traditional vegetable plot is a sea of mud (sorry soil) planted with vegetables in rows, and interwoven with paths for the gardener to do their work. If you have machinery this is a fine way to grow vegetables. But, if you do not, consider that all the areas you walk on will become compacted. Each year you will have to dig over the entire plot. That is hard work, so consider planting your vegetables in permanent beds of a size you can reach across, surrounded by permanent pathways.
The vegetable plots can be raised, with brick, block or wooden borders. Or, you may find it easier to leave them at ground level but with permanent paths to ensure you never compact the soil. My preference is to ‘double dig’ the ground in plots of about 20 feet by 4 feet. This one thorough dig over and incorporation of as much compost and muck as you can lay your muddy hands on, will ensure the soil remains light and airy but rich and nourishing too. Now, you MUST NOT walk on the double dug vegetable plot or you will undo all your hard work!
If you are laying out separate vegetable plots make sure you leave enought space for you and a few trugs or a wheelbarrow of muck to maneuver you way around easily.
3. What kind of crops do you want in your vegetable garden?
This is the all important question. The best advice I can give is to grow your favorite five vegetables. That is your five favorite vegetables which will grow in your climate. Don’t worry that they’re ‘boring’ or old-fashioned. The key to a successful vegetable garden is using the produce you grow.
If you like tomatoes, and you eat lots of tomatoes, then grow lots of tomatoes! If you are not a fan of zuccini for heaven’s sake do not plant them as they crop like nobodies business and you’ll just end up feeling guilty about all the fruits you’ve wasted.
As your gardening skills develop, and your vegetable garden grows you can try more adventurous crops or ones you are not quite so keen on. But, in the early days grow the crops that will give you the biggest sense of satisfaction as they are the ones which will motivate you to grow more vegetables in the future.
Make the core of your vegetable garden planting crops which are reliable. I suggest in the first year 80% of your planting should be things you see neighbours growing succesfully. Even the most common-garden, reliable hybrid tomato will taste unlike anything in the store if you have grown it yourself. Once you are confident about your climate and skills you can devote more and more energies to less reliable or more exotic produce. Remember the cheaper the plug plant or seed the chances are the more reliable the crop. Unreliable crops are more expensive for the nurseries to grow. If its cheap, chances are you can grow it easily!
A vegetable garden is a lot of work to begin with, but then it all gets much easier. So make sure you do not waste all that initial effort by forgetting the project entirely after one to many failures or indeed one to many cabbages!
4. Make room for the garden compost bin!
It is surprising just how quickly you will end up with organic garden waste, from weeding and pulling up your crops. Do not forget to incorporate a garden compost bin into your vegetable garden plans. There are lots of different options from compost tumblers to homemade garden composters (how to build a compost bin might help).
5. Shopping! What tools do you need?
So long as you can dig over your soil and move compost around you actually need very few tools.
- a fork or spade depending on your preference, for digging
- a trowel for those fiddly seedlings
- a trug (or several) or wheelbarrow for moving all your garden compost
- a pick-axe if like me, your soil is naturally the texture of concrete!
- a mattock for weeding, digging, earthing up, creating rows and so much more!
6. Grow vegetables from seed or plug plant?
Long term, in the manner of all things self sufficient I would aim to grow as much as possible from seed. But, if plug plants are cheap use them! They save you a lot of effort and heart-ache and give you much more flexibility with your planting. Vegetable plug plants are invaluable when starting out with a new vegetable garden. It is easy to miss the correct sowing times when it is all new. Plus, to really have a choice of seeds you need to order early.
7. Make room for the water barrel!
Any new vegetable garden should be planned with rainwater storage in mind. Relying on a constant supply of mains water is not a sustainable approach to gardening at all. Collect as much rainwater as you possibly can.
Water your vegetables as little as you possibly can too! That way your veggies will learn to root deeply and bring up more nutrients from deeper soil, without you lifting a watering can.
8. Glasshouse, greenhouse, cold-frame or cloche?
If you can, try to incorporate somewhere under glass to protect tender seedlings. A cold-frame doesn’t have to be anything too complicated. Some glass over two rows of brick will provide protection without you having to do any real building work.
The larger your glass protection, the more you can use it. With a greenhouse you will be able to grow fruits and vegetables from very different climates to your own.
9. Potting shed or utility room?
Don’t forget to think about where you will store all your tools, seeds, trays and pots. If your house is a shrine to zen minimalism make sure you incorporate some kind of storage area or potting shed in your vegetable garden plans.
Although most vegetable gardeners leave lots of things hanging around on the vegetable plot from time to time, it is not a habit to pick up straight away. Things blow away, tools rust or split and mice steal your seeds. Start off your vegetable garden as organised as you can!
10. Plan your vegetable garden how you want it!
Okay, so its great if your uncle has grown veggies for ever, but once you start asking for advice you will quickly find gardeners far too forthcoming with it! Just as reading too many gardening books can make your head spin, too many gardeners can spoil your garden.
Keep the basics in mind for your vegetable garden plans, but make sure your garden is your own. Remember you are the one who’ll be working out there so create a little vegetable filled oasis for you.
Unless you are planning to be self sufficient from the start (which is pretty impossible), enjoy it, have some fun. Learn as you garden and next year maybe you will have some new plans for your vegetable garden. Don’t forget about the rest of your garden too, we all need some space and beauty, not just vegetables. If you need some lawn care tips or inspiration for the landscape lighting and pretty bits of your garden too, check out the links.
Remember its only soil and vegetables, you can change things next year!