There are a few basic requirements for creating a productive and enjoyable vegetable garden: convenience, sunlight, good and well-drained soil, and easy access to water are foremost. Here is a run down of these basic requirements and a couple of additional considerations for making a vegetable garden.
Convenience. Select a spot near at hand, easy and quick to get to. Choose, as you can a spot, close to the kitchen. A garden close by will capture your spare moments for tending and for watching the garden. And a garden close by will be greatly appreciated once you have made a dozen time-wasting trips for forgotten seeds or tools, or gotten your feet soaking wet by going out through the dew-drenched grass.
Exposure. A yield of delicious vegetables is greatly beholden to exposure. Site your garden in an “early” spot–a plot facing or sloping a little to the south or east that seems to catch sunshine early and hold it late–eight hours of sunlight each day is optimal. Make a “sun map” of your yard tracking the sun across the property in the course of a day. Avoid situating your vegetable garden in the shadows of buildings, trees, and fences. Choose a spot that is out of the direct path of chilling north and northeast winds. A building, a fence, or a hedge to the north of your plot can protect your garden from chilling winds. Even low-growing shrubs or young evergreens can protect vulnerable tender vegetables.
Soil. The chances that you will find a spot of ideal garden soil ready for use are slim. But just about all soils can be brought up to a very high degree of productiveness –especially such small areas as home vegetable gardens require. Even spots of nearly pure sand or heavy muck can often be amended to yield very satisfying harvests. So don’t be discouraged by poor or run-down soil, rather resolve to make it rich.
The ideal garden soil is a “rich, sandy loam.” And the fact cannot be overemphasized that such soils usually are made, not found. Let us analyze that description a bit, for right here we come to the first of the four all-important factors of gardening–food. (The others are cultivation, moisture and temperature.)
“Rich” in the gardener’s vocabulary means full of plant food; more than that–and this is a point of vital importance–it means full of plant food ready to be used at once, all prepared and spread out on the garden table, or rather in it, where growing things can at once make use of it; or what we term, in one word, ‘”available” plant food.
Let’s define each word in the description “rich, sandy loam:”
Rich soil is a soil rich in nutrients. Soil is made rich, or kept rich, in two ways; first, by cultivation, which helps to change the raw plant food stored in the soil into available forms; and second, by composting and manuring or adding plant food to the soil from outside sources.
“Sandy”–as used above–means a soil containing enough particles of sand so that water passes through it without leaving it pasty and sticky a few days after a rain or irrigation. A sandy loam soil is often called “light” which means that a handful, under ordinary conditions, will crumble and fall apart readily after being pressed in the hand. It is not necessary that the soil be sandy in appearance, but it should be friable. Friable describes soil texture that is loose and crumbly and easily penetrated by roots and water.
“Loam” is a rich, friable soil. Loam is soil in which the sand and clay are in proper proportions, so that neither greatly predominates. Loam usually dark in color, from cultivation and enrichment. A loamy soil, even to the untrained eye, just naturally looks as if it would grow things.
Besides adding well-aged compost and manure to transform poor soil to rich loam, you can also grow cover crops of green manure in the off season to help enrich your soil. Green manures are quick-growing crops such as buckwheat, clover, rye, or other grain or legume crops that are cut down and turned into the soil where they decompose and provide nutrients and humus.
The addition of compost, manures, and green manures twice a year for just two years can turn soil that has too much sand or too much clay into good garden soil.
Drainage. A vegetable garden site must be well drained. Dig down eight or twelve inches after you have picked a spot for your garden, and examine the sub-soil. Second strata soil–the soil below the top soil–is usually of different texture and color from the surface soil, and it is commonly harder. If you find a sandy or gravelly sub-soil, no matter how poor it looks, you have chosen a good spot. But if the sub-soil is thick, heavy clay, especially a blue clay, you will have either to drain it, amend it heavily with compost, manure, and green manure or be content with a garden that is slow to warm in the spring and will likely be reluctant to yield heavy crops in summer.
One suggestions, if the spot you choose for your garden has poor soil or is poorly drained, plant a crop of potatoes or sweet corn on this spot the first year or two. These crops are not deeply rooted and feed in shallow soil. At the same time, their roots will begin the work of breaking up heavy, clay soil.
Other Considerations. A garden that is rectangular or square is easily worked, particularly if the garden is open at least on two ends. Your garden need not be deep–no deeper than your reach. A home vegetable garden is best tended from the edges, meaning it is best to avoid walking on your growing beds and compacting the soil.
Almost any site that has been in cultivation for a year or two previous to your starting up the vegetable garden will have an advantage. The soil will have already been turned and aerated and worked to some depth by the roots of plants that have come before.
Choose a site within easy reach of an adequate supply of water; no further away than the reach of a light hose will be a tremendous help in times of protracted drought.
If you have room for two plots, do it or plan to add a second plot in a season or two. Two plots will allow you to take advantage of the practice of rotation, alternating grass, potatoes or corn (shallow feeders) with deeper feeding vegetables. Crops and crop families are best shifted to different plots every year or two. Of course you can practice crop rotation to some extent within the limits of even a small vegetable garden, but it can be more effective and productive, if possible, to rotate the entire garden-patch.
Use these suggestions to take full advantage of the ground you choose for your vegetable garden. Taking full advantage of the advantages you have, will allow you to discount the disadvantages. Careful, persistent planning and work, more than natural advantages, will turn a spot of ground into a garden. A good garden does not grow–it is made.