Last Updated on September 6, 2021 by Grow with Bovees
The selection of a suitable site on which to establish the vegetable garden requires considerable thought, for an ill-chosen spot can be a great handicap from the beginning.
Although the average home gardener has little choice, several points must be considered if the outlay on seed, fertilizer, tools and labor is to show decent returns.
If You Have A Level Site
The ideal site would be on level ground with good drainage, but a sloping site can also be used. If the ground is on a slight slope, ensure that the gradient is even by filling in any low spots with soil taken from obvious high spots, otherwise some plants will receive too much moisture while others, a few feet away, will suffer from a lack of water.
Germination is always patchy on uneven ground, making it difficult to obtain an even stand of seedlings. Examining the site after rain or a heavy watering will provide a useful guide to how level it is.
Planting A Vegetable Garden On A Slope
If the only ground available is on a moderate to steep slope it will be necessary to construct a number of terraces to conserve soil and moisture. The grade of the slope will determine the number of terraces necessary: moderate slopes may need two or three wide terraces, whereas steep slopes need several narrower ones.
On moderate slopes the terraces can be shaped with soil, but on steeper ones it is essential to build walls of concrete, brick or stone to prevent severe damage and soil loss during heavy rain.
These terraces should preferably slope slightly back from the retaining bank or wall.
When constructing terraces, set the top-soil aside, level off the terraces with the subsoil, and then replace the topsoil in an even layer, especially if the subsoil is clayey. Failure to do this will result in terraces consisting of two clearly-defined soil types, and subsequent plantings will, for some time, be rather uneven despite generous treatment with store bought bagged compost or fertilizer.
At all costs avoid creating low-lying spots, which are likely to become waterlogged after heavy rain.
Good drainage is essential in vegetable gardens, as no crops of consequence will tolerate ‘wet feet’ for very long.
Too much soil moisture is detrimental to plant growth because the roots also need air to function properly. Roots and tubers developing in wet soil are susceptible to both internal and external disorders, which can result in severe losses and low storage quality. Saturated conditions also appreciably slow down the beneficial activities of soil organisms, which, like roots, must have air to flourish.
Where the drainage is in question, dig a hole 12 inches (30.48 cm) deep and of a similar diameter, soak the area well, and then fill the hole with water. If it drains away in 3-4 hours there should be no difficulty in raising satisfactory crops.
If drainage is a problem, raised beds, 36 inches (0.91 m) to 48 inches (1.22 m) wide, can easily be constructed. First mark out the beds and pathways, and lay a garden line tightly along the edges of each intended bed. Then bring soil up from the paths on to the beds using a spade or hoe. These beds should be constructed before any soil amendment, compost or fertilizer are added.
If a large area is affected by poor drainage or if the soil is particularly heavy or clayey it may be necessary to lay one or more pipes to lead the water away to the lowest point. A ‘soakaway’ can be dug and filled with large stones if there is no drain or ditch to which the water can be led.
The pipes should be placed at least 18 inches (45.72 cm) below the soil surface to be effective and to be out of the range of normal gardening operations. The pipes can be of any material, though perforated PVC pipes of 4 inch (10.16 cm) diameter are easy to handle.
Vegetable Garden Layout
There are three principal methods of laying out the vegetable garden, and each has advantages and drawbacks.
One method, which we can call the ‘open-plan’ method, is to dig over the whole area, using a mini rototiller, and sow or plant the different crops side by side in rows with no demarcated paths.
This is the usual method where rain is experienced throughout the year and where little or no watering is required once the plants are established. It is a method particularly suited to level ground or ground with a slight slope.
An alternative method, often used in areas with a well-defined dry season, is to grow the vegetables in beds, each devoted to a single crop. In the dry season the beds can be level with the paths or slightly below path level, while in the wetter months they can be raised above the paths and raked fiat or given a slight crown down the middle.
A third method, is to have several permanent beds. These are usually situated within a framework of brick, concrete, synthetic sheeting off-cuts or timber. If timber is used it is essential that it be pressure treated.
This method is particularly suited to smaller gardens and gardens on difficult terrain, and is capable of producing the highest yields per square yard. It allows a high plant population within the bed area, discourages weeds because of the abundant crop growth, and allows you to carry out all the growing activities that you will need to successfully grow vegetables.
Square (grid) Planting.
A common mistake when using the bed method is to have paths that are too wide and beds that are too narrow. Beds can be of much more room to develop satisfactorily. Beds of this width still allow sowing, transplanting, thinning, weeding, cultivating and harvesting to be carried out comfortably from the pathways, which can be 14 inches (35.56 cm) to 18 inches (45.72 cm) wide.
This facility prevents too much treading and unwanted compaction of the soil.
In bed culture, distinct rows can be avoided altogether and certain crops can instead be planted on the square or check planted. Square planting and check planting are methods of setting out seedlings in order to get a high plant population and obtain the highest yields per square yard.
This intensive planting will of course require a correspondingly high level of nutrients for the plants.
In square planting the plants are set out on a square grid, and in check planting they are staggered. The optimum planting distances will depend on the vegetable being grown and also on the cultivar.
In general, it can be said that planting too closely will reduce the size of the vegetables owing to competition for nutrients, ground space and, where tomatoes are concerned, light.
You may occasionally encounter suggestions that vegetables have a decorative value and can be advantageously planted amongst flowering annuals and perennials. There is very little merit in such a procedure because, apart from being unproductive, it exposes the vegetables to pests and diseases and thereby jeopardizes the organized growing of vegetables elsewhere in the garden.
Size of the Vegetable Garden
Before deciding how big an area to devote to growing vegetables, it is essential that the following points be considered: the size of the family to be supplied, the amount of water available during dry periods, the type of vegetables to be grown, and the amount of time the grower is prepared to spend on the project.
A hundredth of a hectare intelligently planned and planted can provide an adequate quantity and variety of vegetables for a family of five. This is allowing for a few rows of ‘new’ potatoes and a few hills of pumpkins.
If the full potato requirements of the family are to be met, considerably more ground is necessary. The grower with little ground available will get maximum satisfaction and benefit from his efforts by concentrating on closely-spaced crops such as carrots, beets, turnips, broad beans and lettuces, and by relying on outside sources for potatoes, pumpkins, cauliflowers and sweetcorn.
‘Shady’ is a term often used to describe a desirable situation for certain garden plants, but, without exception, these are never vegetables.
No vegetables will produce satisfactorily if subjected to heavy shade for several hours a day, or to moderate shade throughout the day. Light is important for plant growth, being essential for chlorophyll formation and for the manufacture of carbon compounds by the leaves.
Potatoes, particularly, are adversely affected by shade. This is because the tubers are simply storehouses for surplus starch produced by the leaves in conditions of high light intensity.
When planted in shade of any degree the leaves barely manufacture sufficient starch for plant maintenance and growth, and tuber production is consequently depressed. No amount of fertilizer, manure or any other type of plant food can compensate for lack of adequate light.
If shade is unavoidable for a few hours daily in parts of the vegetable garden, try to plant these areas with cabbages, lettuce, Swiss chard or similar leaf crops, which appear to tolerate such conditions for short periods.
But even these crops need several hours of full sunshine a day if they are to yield satisfactorily. Root vegetables will also tolerate some shade.
Shade from distant trees and buildings is not as damaging as shade thrown by the overhanging branches of mature fruit trees and ornamentals. These create heavy shade, and plants beneath them also suffer considerably from ‘drip’ during rainy periods — conditions that are conducive to the establishment and spread of serious fungal diseases. Any tree limbs overhanging the vegetable garden should be considered for pruning.
In addition, such trees rob growing crops of valuable moisture and plant food because of the extensive root systems they usually develop near the surface. Using a good mulch in the vegetable garden will help keep soil moisture levels up.
Shelter is different from shade and is often necessary in exposed situations and low-lying areas. A sheltered garden often allows the growing of tender plants, such as green beans and tomatoes, to be continued during the colder months when unprotected plants would succumb.
Shelter also protects staked tomatoes and other tall-growing crops from wind damage. Strong winds often cause considerable damage to pruned and staked tomatoes by whipping the plants and causing the immature green fruits to chafe against the support or against each other.
Permanent shelter can be provided by a building, a wall, a substantial wooden fence, a hedge or even a row of Elephant grass or bamboo. A tall wooden fence, apart from acting as a windbreak, may also be useful as a support for runner beans, peas, lima beans or chayotes.
If a hedge or other living shelter is used, care must be taken to ensure that its feeder roots do not compete for moisture or nutrients with the growing crop.
In areas where there is frost during the winter months, and in the absence of permanent shelter, considerable benefit can be had from a temporary windbreak of Elephant or other grass on a rough, light frame.