Planning a Vegetable Garden
By: Lynn Ocone
When I was young, my parents offered me a tiny plot of ground in our backyard for my own garden. That first season, I grew carnations, tomatoes and cucumbers. The spark was ignited. I've been gardening ever since, wherever I've lived; Colorado, California and here in Vermont. After 30 years, I continue to learn about and experiment with new vegetable varieties and plant combinations. I make discoveries every season. But over the years I've settled on a garden layout that utilizes three-foot-wide raised beds. It is, I think, the key to beautiful and productive gardens.
First, I'm going to review the essentials of a vegetable garden, then I'll describe how I make my raised beds. I believe that if you follow these directions, you'll be well on your way to an abundant harvest and an enjoyable gardening season.
Choose a Sunny Location
There's no better way to start than by choosing a sunny spot for your garden. Most vegetables need six to eight hours of direct sun a day for best results. Leafy greens like spinach and lettuce can thrive with a bit less. As you assess your yard this winter, remember that the deciduous trees that are leafless now will cast shadows as the seasons progress.
If possible, locate the garden so that access to and from the kitchen is easy and convenient. It's best if you can view the garden from a window. When the garden is easy to see and reach, you are more apt to notice what needs to be tended and to take full advantage of the harvest.
The ideal garden location has loose soil that drains well. If your soil isn't perfect, you can improve it over time by adding organic matter such as compost.
Make the Garden the Right Size
A 20- by 20-foot garden gives you room to grow a wide range of crops, including some tasty "space hogs" such as corn and winter squash. A 12- by 16-foot plot is sufficient for a garden sampler with a variety of greens, some herbs, a few tomatoes and peppers, beans, cucumbers and even edible flowers such as nasturtiums for garnishes. By growing plants in succession and using three-foot-wide beds with 18-inch paths, you should have plenty of luscious vegetables for fresh eating and extras for friends.
Use the following plan as a guideline, substituting crops to suit your own tastes. I always include flowers in my garden because they are beautiful and a joy to cut and bring indoors. Flowers also attract pollinating insects to the garden.
If you'd rather design your garden from scratch, I recommend plotting it on graph paper. Use paper with a grid of 1/4-inch squares, with each square representing one foot in the garden. Outline the beds in pencil, then fill in the plant names.