I often think back to my childhood and the tedious chores of working in our family vegetable garden. I had to pull the weeds, spread the manure, turn over the soil, pull the weeds, plant the seeds, water the crops, pull the weeds, pick the beans, pluck the tomatoes, and did I mention pull the weeds. As a child I didn’t appreciate the lessons I was learning in the vegetable garden. Now, although I know how much work it is, I find I want to grow vegetables again.
Before getting started, here are a few questions to consider. Should I grow a raised bed garden using the square foot gardening method? Maybe I should start with the traditional row type garden, after all that is what I grew up with. I don’t have a lot of time with my job, so maybe I should start small with a few containers to see if this is really what I want to do.
Step 1. Select a sunny site
Most vegetables are actually the fruit of a plant. To produce the fruit a plant needs a minimum of 8 hours of direct sunlight. Root crops like carrots and radishes only need about 6 hours of direct sunlight. Leafy greens like lettuce and collards will grow with only 4 hours of direct sunlight. Whatever the minimum requirement for sunlight, the crops will produce better the more direct sunlight they get.
Step 2. Easy access to water
Crops like tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers will produce a better crop if they do not dry out between watering. Tomatoes are especially notorious for splitting if the soil is allowed to dry out. Consistent watering will produce the best garden crops.
Step 3. In the line of sight
There is an old saying, “Out of sight, out of mind.” That saying would very much apply to a vegetable garden. If the garden is located where it’s not often seen, there is a tendency to ignore it until harvest time. A vegetable garden is like a child; it needs constant care. A daily walk through the garden can solve a multitude of problems before they become epidemics.
Step 4. Soil Samples
If the garden will be grown in the native soil or if it will be in a raised bed that has already been established, soil samples should be taken and tested. The publication A Gardener’s Guide to Soil Testing is available online or at the local office of NC Cooperative Extension. This publication explains step-by-step how to take a correct soil sample, fill out the sample form and soil box, where to take or send the soil sample and what the soil test results mean.
Step 5. Making a plan
There are several methods for planning the garden. One method is to make a diagram of the garden and write down what will be planted in each box of the diagram with a planting date and a harvesting date. This method is perfect for people good with organization skills.
Another method is to use a linear calendar for each area of the garden. Again writing down what will be planted with a planting date and a harvesting date. This method is good for scheduling a long-term rotation schedule.
For help planning when to plant the more common vegetables in the Triangle area the publication Home Vegetable Gardening is a very good resource. In the center of this publication is a chart with planting times, spacing requirements, and days to maturity that can be very helpful as a planning aid.
As problems arise, a good source of information is your county’s NC Cooperative Extension Agent or the Extension Master Gardener Volunteers.
Shawn Banks is a Consumer Horticulture Agent with the NC Cooperative Extension Service.