As a gardener, one of the greatest joys of living in our southern climate is the extended gardening season. For me, gardening is a year-round activity. However, in the colder months of December thru February, I’m working on my garden, more than in my garden.
The most productive, and high yielding vegetable gardens take into consideration many factors that create that success. This concept is so important in the success of a thriving and bountiful vegetable garden, that the first two episodes of DIY Network’s, Fresh From the Garden, a show all about vegetable gardening, which I host, are devoted entirely to planning and preparing your vegetable garden site.
Included in this important list of issues to consider in planning or improving your next vegetable garden, are a few of the following items:
First, make sure your vegetable garden plot is free of all crop debris from previous growth. Dead plants can provide the perfect environment for diseases and pest to over-winter until spring. This debris can be tilled under and worked into the soil, but remove any known diseased plants. Dispose of these rather than adding them to your compost pile. Otherwise, the diseases can survive and return to your garden beds, along with the new compost, this spring.
Another important consideration for your garden is to pick an ideal site for growing vegetables. First, you need as much sun as you can get, and the more the better. Almost all vegetable plants thrive in full sun, and yields will decline as the amount of sun your garden receives declines.
Next your site needs to be accessible. A healthy and productive garden demands your time and attention. If it is rarely visited, it will succumb to weeds, pest, and disease. It is also quite rewarding to have your garden close enough to visually enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Pick a site that drains well. Good drainage is extremely important to the success of your plants. Few vegetable plants can tolerate soggy ground and many will die. If your site drains poorly now, you may be able to improve the existing site by tilling and amending the soil. It may also be possible to change the slope to redirect water. However, my favorite technique to insure good drainage is to plant your vegetables in raised beds.
Vegetable plants thrive in loose, well-drained soil. The soil needs to be dense enough to be able to hold moisture, but also loose enough to drain. Raised beds allow you to create that environment, off the ground. To keep plants thriving, you can fill your beds with the perfect mix of topsoil, organic material, and aged manure.
Next, know what you want to plant and when to plant it! Each type of vegetable has a preferred growing season and if you are not ready for planting when the time is right, you can set yourself up for problems and disappointment. Use these quiet months to study up on what you want to plant. Then, learn what varieties grow best in your area, and when to plant them. It’s fun to experiment, but if you’re looking for time-tested results, go with varieties that have demonstrated provens uccess in your growing region.
A great resource for this information is your Cooperative Extension Service. Many offices have County Extension Agents, and Master Gardeners on duty to answer all your gardening related questions. They will mail you free publications, and many deal with vegetable gardening.
Lastly, as you plan your garden layout, know where to position plants in your garden. To do this, you must know the growth habits of the plants you will be cultivating. Place the tallest plants on the north and west side of your garden. That way, they won’t shade out shorter crops. Orient your garden layout to take advantage of the most sun exposure.
These guidelines will get you well on the way to planning for a bountiful harvest!