So you decided you want to venture into the world of vegetable gardening. Maybe you are tired of the tasteless vegetables at the grocery store, or maybe you want to be a little bit more self-sufficient. Maybe, you want your kids to see how food grows. There are many reasons to start a vegetable garden, and they are all good.
So what’s next…
Well, the first step in setting up a new vegetable garden is choosing the right location for it. This step is extremely important. If you end up choosing the wrong location for your garden, you’ll work too hard for a very small and unappealing harvest. It’s frustrating and discouraging; your vegetable gardening journey will end up being short and nonproductive.
Here is a list of 8 things you should consider while looking for the right spot for your new vegetable garden, so you can make sure you start on the right track.
1. Sun – the majority of vegetables need between 8-10 hours of sun for optimal growth. You get less sun; you’ll get less of a vegetable. So take a notepad, and for a week or so, observe the location you have in mind. Write down when the sun is shining on it and when it’s in the shadows. Then, calculate how many hours of sun you get there.
One important thing to remember is natural changes that you can’t manipulate. For example, I set a small garden on the edge of the woods in our yard a few years ago. I did that in early Spring. There was plenty of sun there, it looked real good, and I was very happy. I planted my seeds, they germinated and started growing beautifully. I was very happy. Until the leaves started growing on the trees on one side of the garden. Before I knew it, the garden was in shadows for the first half of the day, and I had to harvest half mature lettuces. Your site might not look the same year round, so consider that when choosing a location.
2. Water Source – there are a few ways to reduce your garden’s water consumption (like mulch, for example). But any way you look at it, you’ll need water at some point. A water source can be a hose receiving city water, a pond, a water barrel collecting rainwater, or even a stream. Just make sure it’s a reliable, clean source.
3. Accessibility – the purpose of a kitchen garden is to serve the kitchen. If it’s half a mile away from the kitchen, that might be hard to do. Make sure you have easy access to your future garden, so when you need green onion for supper, it’s not too far away.
4. Soil Quality – soil quality might not be as important as you think (for the small kitchen garden). You can take soil samples and send them to the lab (through your cooperative extension office. This service is usually free), so you have a better idea of what you are working with. Most vegetables need a soil pH of between 5.8 and 6.5 while the phosphorus and potassium index should be between 50 to 70. However, soil can and should be improved all the time, so don’t let bad soil discourage you. Always add lots of compost and use soil supplements. If your soil is really bad, consider building raised garden beds and filling them with good garden soil.
5. Drainage – good drainage is especially important in areas that get lots of rain. Here in NC, we usually have very wet Springs. If your soil doesn’t drain properly, the roots of your vegetables will rot in the ground, causing the plant to die. To check if you have good drainage, dig a hole approximately one foot wide and one foot deep. Fill the hole with water. When it drains, fill it again, and then again. If it drains three times in 12 hours, your drainage is good. If not, consider building raised beds to improve drainage.
6. Strong Winds – strong winds place vegetables under a lot of stress and slow their growth. Try to choose a location where trees or buildings block the winds.
7. Distance From Other plants – Nearby plants can shade your garden and send roots that will compete with your vegetables and interfere with their proper growth. The rule says: plant your garden a distance away from other plants (trees or bushes, for example) that is at least equal to the height of those plants. So plant your garden 5′ away from shrubs that are 5′ tall.
8. Room to Grow – gardening is addictive! After you taste your first tomato right off the vine, still warm from the Summer sun and so juicy and flavorful, you’ll realize that you never really ate a tomato before. Going back to store bought tomatoes will simply be not up to snuff. Plus, you’ll start wondering what else you might be able to grow… Then you’ll think about maybe trying to grow vegetables during the Fall and Winter… Then you’ll venture into mushrooms, flowers, fruit trees, specialty crops, giant pumpkins, wheat… OK, maybe I got carried away a bit (or not). Anyway, the bottom line is, start small but try to choose a location that will allow you to expand if you want to in the future.
It might seem like a lot to think about, but it’s not that bad. It is, however, a very important decision that will dictate your success in vegetable gardening.
So I made this printable checklist that you can download here, to help you remember all the important points to consider. Feel free to print it out and share it with your friends and family.
Happy vegetable gardening,