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How to plan a vegetable garden
Learning how to plan a vegetable garden is very important so that you’re able to maximize the benefits of the space you have and ensure that all of your plants have enough room to grow in optimal conditions. You need about an hour of planning time, but, in the end, you’ll save yourself time every week during planting season if you plan it correctly now.
How much sun does your yard receive
You need to plan your garden around what kind of sunlight your yard gets. Vegetables require a lot of sun, and you have to be sure that there will be enough for them all. If you plan it right, you could grow vegetables up the side of your house or down the edge so that they can soak up as much sun as possible.
What do you have growing in your yard already?
It would be best if you planned out the veggie garden in a way that takes into account what you already have growing in your yard so that you can plan around it without upsetting any of the landscape.
How big is your planting space?
When planning out how big of a space the vegetable garden will need to be, you need to plan how much produce each plant will give and plan accordingly. Depending on where you live, one plant may not provide enough produce for two people while another may produce too much for just one person.
Planning out the vegetable garden layout
Now that you’ve thought about what you already have in your yard and how much space to plan for each plant, you need to come up with a plan for the vegetable garden layout. It would help if you planned out where everything will be planted so that it’s even on both sides, planning around anything that might shade other plants, and plan out any pathways, so you have enough room to move around without tramping down your veggies.
You should also decide if you want your garden to be sustainable. Check out our article on sustainable gardening here.
How to choose the vegetables for your garden
Here are the best things to consider while choosing what varieties of veggies you’ll plant in your garden.
What will grow in your living conditions?
You might want to plan on growing vegetables that are better suited to your climate. Locate your growing zone and some efficient sources on what to plant when.
Will you be planting edibles in containers rather than directly in the ground?
It’s much easier to control what goes into a planter than creating soil mix in a container garden.
How much space do you have for each plant?
Some plants can take up quite a lot of room, and there’s no point planning out a huge veggie garden if you don’t have the space for it (and especially not if you’re planning how many veggies per square foot).
How big should your planting space be?
The amount of space needed for each plant can vary from veggie to veggie, so it’s a good idea to know what plants you plan on growing as some plants take up more space than others.
For instance, tomatoes need a lot of space to branch out and at least their own square foot of garden space if you plan on pruning them. On the other hand, you can fit about 20 carrots into a single square foot of garden space.
It’s best to plan for the plants you grow and then adjust accordingly.
Now that you’ve thought about what type of produce you want to grow and planned out the vegetable garden layout, it’s time to plan around the soil quality. After planting everything, you don’t want to learn that the soil isn’t good enough for vegetables because they won’t thrive like they can if their needs are met.
To avoid poor in-ground soil quality, if possible, plan on having one section of raised beds filled with nutrient-dense soil while filling another area with fast-draining soil along with compost or manure. The nutrient-dense soil will be used for the plants you plan on growing that have a high nutritional value. The fast-draining soil will fill the space of those planters where you’ll be planting veggies that don’t do as well in wet soil, such as carrots and broccoli.
When planning on how big to make your planter boxes, it’s best to plan about twelve inches deep and two feet across so you can fit a decent amount of produce in each box. You should plan one square foot per plant you plan on putting into a vegetable garden planter box. For example, if you plan on planting ten tomatoes, then your planter box should measure at least 10″x10″.
The quality of soil in your garden space can be improved by adding compost or other organic materials before planting. For any new garden, it would also be wise to test the soil using a kit that comes with instructions included. If you plan on growing edible flowers or root vegetables, consider testing the pH level of your soil because certain plants need specific pH levels in order to grow and sustain themselves.
Sandy soils drain water quickly, so they lose nutrients more easily than other soil types. In contrast, clay soils restrict airflow due to their thickness—which means vegetable roots won’t get enough oxygen making them struggle to grow properly.
Making raised beds affordable
Although it is possible to plan a vegetable garden independently, obtaining a plan from a trusted source can help save time and ensure that things get done the right way. If money is an issue, consider using recycled materials to plan and build raised beds.
Once you have determined how large you want your vegetable garden to be, plan out how many raised beds will fit into the space. Since vegetables often grow in specific rows or squares, plan around this limitation by creating boxes with wooden planks or bricks on the bottom of each box, so there are no gaps for weeds to creep through.
Then add soil until each box is roughly 12 inches tall, allowing enough room for your seedlings while also letting them mature without running out of space.
Using repurposed materials and raising your planters are both great ways to save money when planning a vegetable garden. Many people take this plan one step further by growing their vegetables organically, which means less work for you!
Suppose you plan to add flowers or plants that do not need soil into your plan, make sure to leave plenty of space between planters to water them evenly. With proper planning and good gardening practices, your organic backyard vegetable garden will yield delicious results for years to come!
Consider the irrigation needs: how often will you need to water?
Before you get to sticking your planters in the ground and adding soil, plan out how you will irrigate and where. Vegetables require about an inch of water each week, depending on the weather and soil conditions.
Choosing to plan your vegetable garden using drip irrigation kits or soaker hoses is a great way to provide this necessary fluid to your plants. Leaving them unattended for long periods can cause root rot, making it harder for vegetables to absorb nutrients properly.
Survey your soil: what type of soil do you have?
Now that you know how frequently you’ll need to bring water to your planters, it’s time to find out what kind of soil they’re sitting on. If the top layer of dirt is compacted and hard to get through, you’re going to be in trouble. This likely means you’ll need to plan for a large planter (4ft x 4ft) and allow it to sit on grass or mulch so that water can seep through it quickly.
Determine planting patterns: how to get the most yield from your vegetable garden
The whole point of all this work is to grow vegetables that your family can eat. But, to cut some of that produce bill, you’ll have to have a good yield. You’ll need to plan where to plant each vegetable you want. Then, plan out how many plants of that vegetable you will want to grow to maximize what you can harvest from your planters and give yourself the best chance of having a bountiful yield.
Prepare your soil: adding fertilizer and amendments to local garden soil.
Depending on what kind of soil your garden is in, it may require a little extra work before you start planting. Sandy soil lacks nutrients and water-holding capacity, making it harder for plants to take up nutrients when they’re given regular watering. Clay soils will hold onto too much water, which means there isn’t enough room left over for air or for the roots to break through the ground easily.
How is soil pH measured and what is best for vegetables?
Vegetables and other types of fruits and seeds that grow out of the soil require a slightly acidic soil pH. This range runs from about 5 to 7, with 7 being neutral.
Maintaining this soil pH is a big deal when planning a vegetable garden because the pH level affects how well plants absorb nutrients and other elements that help them thrive.
You can quickly test your soil’s alkaline levels using essential equipment like:
- A home pH testing kit (These can be picked up at most gardening stores throughout the year)
- A soil-testing kit from your local cooperative extension service will give you a more accurate reading. They may even have additional information on where you live about what types of fertilizers or amendments should be used to get your veggie garden started right!
What are soil amendments?
When the soil in your garden is compacted, it hampers plant growth. Compacted soil resists water seeping down to the roots of your veggies and makes it difficult for them to grow because there isn’t enough room left over for air or space.
Soil amendments are a great way to open up the ground and give your plants a chance to thrive. If you plan to grow vegetables all year round, best to start off right with loamy soils with lots of organic matter that will decompose into nutrients as time goes by.
You can work amendments into your existing soil if you plan on planting soon to make your soil better for vegetable gardens. Here are some of the most common soil amendments.
- Sand (coarse)
- Peat Moss
- Cocoa Pith or Wood Bark
All the amendments mentioned here will help open up the soil and give your veggies a better chance of thriving. If you plan to grow a vegetable garden in spring, summer, and fall, it’s best to do all of them so that the soil has time to decompose into nutrients over time.
If you plan on planting in winter, doing just one type of amendment should be okay. It’s always good practice to get your plan ready before you get started with actually planting. Just adding these amendments alone can increase yields by 30%!
What to add to the dirt: which amendments do you need?
When preparing the soil, plan on adding about 2-4 inches of compost or other organic matter. This amendment improves the structure of your garden soil, which means more air can get into it. It also allows for better drainage so that your plants can get all the water they need without making everything soggy if you have to water often.
Add good topsoil or loam (not dirt from last week’s yard sale) and mix this with the native soil before planting begins to ensure there aren’t any apparent layers.
A typical fertilizer to add to compost is a blend of phosphorus and potassium known as “poultry manure.” Ensure the chicken manure is well-rotted, so you don’t damage your plants by accidentally shocking the roots with too much nitrogen. After all, it’s called “manure” for a reason!
If you plan on growing fruit trees or other deciduous plants (as opposed to annual vegetables), plan on adding one inch of organic mulch throughout the year to maintain soil temperatures and moisture levels. I’d recommend using wood chips to minimize how attractive it looks, but that’s just me–you may want beautiful black velvet artwork in your yard!
How do soil amendments affect the soil pH?
The reason you use “soil amendments” is to change the pH of your soil. As I mentioned before, the pH scale goes from 0-14, with 7 being neutral. Most vegetables prefer to grow between 6.2 and 6.8, which correlates roughly to slightly acidic soil (but not enough acid for blueberries). The ideal planter soil should drain well so that it doesn’t become waterlogged but retains enough moisture to dry out seedlings.
Some common elements to plan on adding or subtracting if you plan on growing vegetables are nitrogen (fertilize with manure), calcium (lime), phosphorus (bone meal), potassium (manure or wood ash), and magnesium. There are other additional benefits to these amendments for your vegetable garden, like nitrogen is responsible for leafy green vegetables (so you’ll get lots of leaves), calcium aids in root development, and phosphorus helps improve flavor.
Few vegetables like to be planted directly in planter soil; most prefer to sprout in seedbeds or planters boxes with planter soil mixed into the bedding soil before planting. This makes it easier on your back (do less digging) and improves drainage by allowing planter soil to settle around the roots of seedlings.
To fertilize or not to fertilize: how to choose the best fertilizers for your vegetable garden
If you plan on growing vegetables, be prepared to add fertilizer to your vegetable garden 4-8 weeks after planting. This will ensure the plants have enough nutrients for root growth and the first round of fruit or flowers.
You’ll want to fertilize again mid-season around three months after planting (or when the first fruits appear) and then just before harvest for some final nourishment. Be careful not to over-fertilize as it can damage some plants.
Make sure that any fertilizer you choose has an analysis of 10-10-10 or 20-20-20–this means it’s “complete” with nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) in those ratios.
What do those fertilizer ratios mean? Plant cells are mainly composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. The ratio of hydrogen to oxygen in the air is 2:1 (meaning twice as much oxygen). All plant cells have this same fixed ratio–2 parts hydrogen for every part oxygen.
This is what makes up the basic structure of all carbohydrates (sugars), proteins, lipids or fats. It is why water hydrates your body instead of dehydrating it as pure alcohol does. There are too many hydrogen ions needed to make an environment where they can function correctly. During photosynthesis, plants get their energy from light.
When adding additional nitrogen into the soil, the plants can grow larger and faster. Potassium is also involved in plant growth, but to a much lesser extent than nitrogen. Plants need phosphorus for healthy root systems. The roots’ job is to take up water and nutrients from the ground; this process is called absorption. Phosphorus aids in plants’ ability to form strong roots that absorb well.
Seeds that produce fruit such as peppers, pumpkins, and tomatoes also need calcium (Ca) during their growing stages.
Fine-tuning soil pH levels: If your plan is to grow food crops like vegetables or any other type of plant that yields fruits or seeds, you will want to make sure they have the right soil pH level required for optimal plant health and productivity.