Even as a gardener, I find there is something different and special about growing my own vegetables. As much as I marvel at producing beautiful plants for my garden from seed or cuttings and seeing them take their place in the flower bed, there is an added something that really seems to complete this process when you grow vegetables. For me that is picking, cooking and eating the plants I have produced -complete satisfaction. You don’t need a huge piece of land to create a successful vegetable plot and there are many different ways of vegetable gardening. But first there are a few points to consider when designing a plot.
Where to situate your plot
There are a number of important factors to consider when deciding where to grow vegetables. Soil will be the engine in the production of your vegetables so it is essential that you pick the right patch of ground. Measuring the pH of your soil will enable you to determine whether it is alkaline or acid. Vegetables grow best in a soil that is slightly acidic with a pH of 6.5. You can buy a perfectly good testing kit from your local garden centre. If your soil to acid you can add garden lime to reduce the acidity. You will also need to think about drainage. Most vegetables prefer free-draining soil, so if your patch tends to be waterlogged or floods at certain times of the year it won’t be suitable. Soil structure is also important. A clay soil, although rich in nutrients will have poor drainage and is slow to warm up in spring. Sandy soil drains far too easily and therefore won’t hold enough water or nutrients and dries out in summer. Loam lies somewhere in between and contains the best features of both sandy and clay soils. Sadly this ideal is rarely found, but not impossible to create. The answer is to spend plenty of time improving your soil with well-rotted organic matter such as manure or compost.
Another important consideration in where to situate your vegetable plot is the elements. Vegetables need as much sun as possible, so at least half of your site must have full sun all day. Windy conditions will slow down vegetable growth, so if there is no protection from wind you will need to create some by planting a hedge or placing a fence in the right place. Nearby trees will afford some protection from wind but you don’t want them too close so that they cast too much shade. Frosts can also be a problem for vegetable gardening. Low-lying sites will encourage cold air to collect. Also be aware that nearby trees and buildings can also be sources of cold air.
It may seem obvious but pay some attention to water. Vegetables need plenty of it so situating your plot near an outside tap is essential. It is also a good idea to install a water butt to catch rain water. A final consideration is access. If you have designed your plot around a series of beds you will need easy access to each bed for sowing, weeding and harvesting. If you intend to create paths to give you access, make sure they are hard wearing – slabs or even old scaffolding planks are good.
Deciding how to grow vegetables
The points above apply to any vegetable plot whether large or small. If you only have a small plot you may want to consider the best way to grow your vegetables. Where space is limited, raised beds are a good answer. You can even create a raised bed on a patio. Raised beds are essentially wooden containers filled with fertile soil. They are also ideal if you have trouble bending over or are confined to a wheelchair.
Another useful way of growing vegetables is to integrate them among your other garden plants. Legumes such as beans and peas can look stunning growing up a plant support in the middle of a flower bed. Lettuce is great grown at the front of a flower bed where it is easily assessed. The only problem with integration is the amount of vegetables you can grow.
Many vegetables can also be successfully grown in garden planters and even hanging baskets. Vegetables that thrive in pots include beetroot, carrots, radishes, lettuce and spring onions. Another advantage of container vegetable growing is that you can follow the sun around your garden, moving your vegetables around so that they get the maximum amount of sunlight.
Once you have decided where and how to grow vegetables you are then ready to choose what to grow and start growing!