How to Plan Your Vegetable Garden

 How to Plan Your Vegetable Garden

Creating a vegetable garden can be a daunting task. There is a lot to consider. Here are some tips to ensure your new vegetable garden is a success this growing season and the seasons to come.

Choose a sunny location.

As in real estate, location is the most important factor when creating a garden. Vegetables need full sun, which means at least 8 to 10 hours of sun each day. Choose a spot in your garden that gets continuous sunlight throughout the day. Unlike flowers or shrubs that only stay small when they don't get enough sunlight, vegetable plants won't produce at all if they don't get enough sunlight every day.

Check for good drainage.

Once you've determined which part or parts of your garden will get at least 8 to 10 hours of sun per day, you need to consider drainage. Veggies don't like wet feet. If there is too much moisture in the soil, it will rot and die. Make sure that the location you choose for your vegetable garden is not in a low-lying area or an area where water collects after rain.

Consider Raised Beds

Raised beds are a big help if your garden is wet or your soil is mostly clay or sand. A raised bed is simply a bed made by using wood or rocks to define a growing area and then filling the area with rich soil. Most vegetables have shallow roots so a raised bed doesn't need to be very deep.
Raised beds have the added benefit of warming the soil quickly in the spring, so cool-season crops will start in the spring.

Soil testing is necessary.

Make sure to do a soil test before planting anything. By adding soil amendments in the fall rather than the spring before planting, you give them a chance to spread throughout the soil so the nutrients can easily reach all the plants in your garden.

Don't waste your money on cheap soil test kits for sale in big box stores. They are not accurate and only test a very small number of metals. Purchase a soil testing kit from your local agricultural extension office or through your local Master Gardener organization. These kits come with instructions on how to properly sample soil. You will then send your kit to the soil laboratory.

A soil laboratory will analyze your soil and send you a report detailing the nutrients and minerals present or absent in your soil and the type of garden you are planning, thus recommending appropriate amendments to improve your soil. You won't get this from a store bought kit!

Start Small

After choosing the garden space that will become your vegetable garden, it's time to consider size. Remember, the larger your garden, the more time and effort you will have to devote to mowing, pruning, and other maintenance.

If you are a first-time vegetable gardener, it is best to start small and gradually grow your garden each year. If you start with a large garden, maintenance can be stressful and discourage you from growing vegetables again. In a small garden, it is easy to follow the mowing and mowing process.

I suggest you plant only 2 to 3 small beds the first year. Then each subsequent year, add an additional bed or two until your garden reaches the maximum size you can comfortably maintain. Helpful hint: It won't be big enough to achieve everything you want to grow. This happens to me every year!

Spacing is Important

Now is a good time to release your seed catalog. What do you want to grow? Make a list of everything in your dream garden and then get ready to whittle down your wish list. How many plants do you want to grow from each plant? How much space do each of these plants need?

Pay close attention to the spacing of your plants. Too little space will prevent them from growing and setting fruit. It can also prevent good air circulation which can lead to the growth of pests and diseases such as powdery mildew.

A large space will allow the grass to establish. Weeds compete with your crops for water, sunlight, and nutrients. You can reduce the number of weeds by using a thick layer of mulch, but the larger your garden, the more mulch you will need to purchase and spread throughout the garden.

Grow Upwards

Don't be discouraged if your wish list is longer than you think is a good place to start. You can create more space in your garden by moving up. Peas, beans, cucumbers, squash and squash can be grown on a trellis or tent. If you plant vines spread out over the ground, the support footprint will be much smaller.


Don't forget to leave room for paths so you can weed and harvest your garden. Aisles should be at least 18 to 24 inches wide or wide enough to accommodate a wheelbarrow. It can be smooth or rough.

Attract Beneficial Insects

Vegetables aren't the only thing you'll grow in your garden. Make sure you have room for herbs and flowers to attract beneficial insects. Beneficial insects come in two categories. Pollinators, such as bees, play a crucial role in the success of your vegetable garden. Without pollination, you won't have vegetables. Another type of beneficial insects are insects that prey on other insects that damage or destroy your vegetables. Both types of beneficial insects love small flowering plants like those found in herbs, so I grow my herbs in my vegetable garden rather than in a separate herb garden.

Attract Birds

Birds eat large amounts of insects, so you want to make your garden a welcoming place for them. A water source such as a bird bath and nesting areas such as birdhouses or surrounding trees and shrubs will make your garden and yard attractive to birds.

Crop Rotation

Now that you've decided what vegetables, herbs and flowers you'll grow, it's time to think about designing your garden. It is better to think of it in terms of spaces rather than rows so that it will be easier for you to practice crop rotation. The same crop should not be grown in the same place every year. This will cause disease specific to the crops grown in that area as well as harmful insects that overwinter in the area that will wake up in the spring and destroy your crops.

You have to divide your crops into species, Legumes (peas and beans), Cucurbitaceae (squash and cucumbers), Solanaceae (tomatoes and peppers) and everything else. Plant crops together in the same family and rotate the areas each year. Mapping your garden each year makes it easier to remember what you planted last year so you're not planting the same family in the same place. Be sure to plant the tallest plants or trellises on the north side of each area to prevent them from shading other plants.

Keeping Wildlife Out

The final consideration when planning your garden is wildlife. Deer are a big problem here in New Jersey. All gardens must be fenced to prevent grazing. Deer can jump up to 8 feet from a standing position, so an effective deer fence should be at least 8 feet high. Woodchucks are another common problem. They will burrow under a fence so it is recommended to place a barrier of chicken wire or concrete blocks at least 2 feet in the ground to discourage them. Use row covers to prevent small rodents such as chipmunks and chipmunks from accessing your crops.
Investing in netting is essential if you are growing raspberries. Cover your berry bushes with netting while the fruit ripens to prevent birds from eating all the fruit before you can harvest it.

No comments