Planning a Vegetable Garden
During World War II, Americans responded to pressure on the public food supply by growing fruits and vegetables at home. These "Victory Gardens" were planted in backyards and on apartment rooftops, in big cities and small rural towns, and in every corner of the country. A homespun solution to a national problem, Victory Gardens came to be a part of everyday life in America.
Today, some people are re-purposing this wartime effort on the home front into a modern strategy to combat rising grocery bills, economic uncertainty and global warming.
Why Garden at Home?
Having a vegetable patch right outside your door has many benefits. Most notably, growing your own vegetables is an easy way to save money on groceries. A small investment in seeds and supplies combined with just a little sweat equity can reap pounds of fruits and vegetables over one season. Canning or jarring the surplus from each crop allows you to enjoy the bounty of your harvest throughout the year.
In addition to the economic benefit, home-grown vegetables are fresher and often more flavorful than grocery store produce. By taking charge of your own greens, you needn't be concerned about unknown chemical pesticides affecting the vegetables you eat.
Gardening can have intangible benefits as well. Many amateur horticulturists use time in the garden as a stress reliever - a chance for alone time and peaceful reflection. Gardening doesn't have to be a solitary activity, however: growing vegetables can be a great outdoor activity for families and a fun way for children to help the household. Local gardens also help fight global warming, as eliminate the fuel needed to transport food thousands of miles from farm to table.
Where Will Your Garden Grow?
You don't need to have a large available space at home in order to start a vegetable garden. A well-tended smaller garden will actually yield more vegetables than a larger counterpart that is ill-managed. If you live in an apartment or if space is very limited, you can choose to grow in containers housed on a deck or balcony.
Regardless of your garden's size, there are some key requirements for successful growing:
- Sunlight - Most vegetables require anywhere from six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day. Plants that don't get enough light typically bear less and are more susceptible to attacks from diseases or pests. Leafy vegetables such as spinach and lettuce can be grown in the shade if you don't have access to a spot in full sunlight. Cool-season varieties such as peas can also be grown in partial shade.
- Water - Most vegetables require regular water in order to survive. While a full-scale irrigation system isn't necessary, the closer your garden is to a water source the easier time you will have keeping vegetables well-watered.
- Soil - Plants tend to thrive in moist, well-drained soil rich in organic nutrients. When using containers to grow vegetables, make sure to use a potting mix designed for containers (most contain equal parts clean sand, perlite, vermiculite, potting soil and peat moss).
- Convenience - Many home gardeners like to locate their vegetable patch close to the kitchen, making it easier to harvest fresh produce while cooking. If your only suitable growing spots aren't conveniently located, consider keeping a few favorite potted veggies on handy indoor counters.
What to Plant?
The next step is to determine what you'll be growing in your garden. Begin by examining the types of vegetables your family eats throughout the year. First time gardeners have been known to plant more than they either need or can manage. To begin, follow the old adage that "less is more". Seed catalogs can help you narrow down your choices, or you may seek help at your local home and garden store.
Remember that certain types of vegetables such as peppers and tomatoes produce throughout the year, while others such as carrots or corn produce only once. You may need to plant more of the latter as a result. During your first growing season, you may want to plant several varieties of each vegetable to determine which will grow best in your garden.
Row Cropping Vs. Intensive Cropping
Home gardens typically adhere to two basic designs:
Row Cropping - vegetables are planted in single file rows with a walking path between each row. This layout is especially effective for larger gardens, and allows space to use mechanical tillers and for weed control. The drawback of row cropping is that fewer vegetables are planted in a given area, making it less suitable for small gardens.
Intensive Cropping - vegetables are planted in wide bands from one to four feet across. The closer spacing of the plants usually necessitates hand weeding. Because of this, the width of the bands should not exceed easy reach. Intensive cropping allows for more flexible garden layouts. Many gardeners will leave certain areas unplanted initially, allowing additional crops to be planted and harvested later in the season.
Vegetables generally require a steady supply of water. If you have indoor/covered plant containers or if rain isn't plentiful, you'll need to handle watering detail. Always water when the topmost inch of soil is dry. In-ground crops may require watering once or twice a week, while faster-draining raised beds or containers will likely require watering every other day.
For maximum results, consider applying a packaged vegetable fertilizer. Always follow the provided instructions and avoid applying more than the recommended amount. If you are planning an organic garden, you'll want to dig in high quality compost during the initial planting. Organic fertilizers may also be used if desired.
Weeds are the bane of every gardener: they compete with your vegetables for nutrients and water. Discourage weed settings by using a hoe or hand fork to regularly stir the top inch of soil (this is known as cultivation).