Planning your Veggie Garden
by Rob Sproule
Few things are more satisfying than sinking your teeth into a cherry tomato, snap pea, or crunchy carrot from your own garden. I can’t think of any better summer hobby than cultivating a veggie plot; few other investments yield dividends like vegetable gardens can!
If you’ve got a patch of land you want to sink your teeth into, keep these tips in mind. Many eager gardeners fall victim to common traps which, unfortunately, can lead them to abandon their efforts in frustration.
Before you tear up your entire back lawn, take a deep breath. It’s very, very easy to get caught up in the excitement of an edible garden and over-extend yourself. It is, after all, a palpably exciting prospect!
Be realistic with yourself about the time that you have to invest. Do you have a half hour a day, or can you only manage an hour on Saturdays? Determine the size of your plot by the time commitment you can give. If you trick yourself into thinking that you can add an hour to every day, you’re dreams of fresh tomatoes can turn into a weedy nightmare.
If you don’t have much time to spend, consider an 10′ by 10′ plot. This 100 square feet will give you space to grow the basics. If you have more time to spend, notch the size up accordingly but be cautious; the goal is to finish the season invigorated and eager, not frustrated and tired.
Where is your Garden?
Edible plants typically require 6 hours of light a day, although there are exceptions on either side. Where you situate your plot will largely determine what varieties you can grow.
You can live on a mature lot with big trees on all sides, sunlight may be scarce. Consider planting tomatoes, peppers, and other heat-lovers in dark containers both to keep their roots warm and to elevate them for more light. If they still don’t get 6 hours on a sunny day, consider growing them elsewhere.
Partially shaded gardens, especially those which receive morning light, are ideal for growing salad greens, like lettuce and spinach, root veggies like carrots and beets, and broccoli. If you like Far Eastern cuisine, your shady plot may be ideal for bok choi and snow peas.
For sun drenched yards, which are the norm with newer houses flanked by immature trees, your options open up considerably. You’ll be able to grow heat-loving plants in the ground but will need to think about shading cool weather crops.
If you love spinach but are short on shade, get creative. Use plants on trellises, like cucumbers and vine tomatoes, strategically to shade the salad greens and root veggies in their northern shadow.
Lastly, make sure your location is close to a convenient water source and, if you or your neighbour have a persistent weed patch, opt for a spot as far from it as possible. You’ll spend most gardening hours watering or weeding; anything that cuts back on hauling hoses and tugging dandelions is a blessing.
Laying out your Garden
Now that you’ve chosen your size and spot, it’s time to think about layout. There are several options, each with its own set of pros and cons.
If you choose to plant in traditional rows, I suggest laying a board down (2″ by 8″ or so) to walk on. This will not only keep the mud off your shoes, but it will reduce weeds and the soil underfoot won’t turn into concrete from constant walking.
Rows allow for excellent air circulation but aren’t very space efficient. Planting several rows together will help, but make sure not to plant things too close that they inhibit each others’ growth.
Planting in tight squares in gaining in popularity because the crowded spaces help keep weeds down. On the con side, tightly planted formations inhibit air circulation, so I don’t recommend it for sheltered gardens.