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Your Garden Plot: Starting a Vegetable Garden

You can picture it, can’t you?   Your very own kitchen garden.  A place where you can plant and harvest and putter around and grow fresh vegetables, juicy berries, and aromatic herbs.

But, you wonder, how do you get started?  Where should you put your garden?  In that unused corner of your yard that’s presently an extra patch of lawn that you have to pay the neighbor’s son to randomly mow?  Or, should your garden go in the small side yard that’s presently a jumble of kids’ bikes and old toys?  Will your soil work for a garden?  Your flowerbeds seem grow flowers, so the soil should be fine, right?  What about watering?  What’s the best way to water a large amount of garden space? Just how do you get a vegetable garden growing?

Starting a vegetable garden is probably easier than you think.  First, you just need to pick the best spot in your yard to plant your garden, and the best spot is the spot that gets the best sunlight.  It’s also helpful if the area is protected from pets or other animals (or, is as protected as it can be) and has easy access to a water faucet.

Choosing a Space for Your Garden

Most vegetable plants require a minimum of 6-8 hours of sunlight per day, so it’s important to choose a sunny spot in your yard for your garden.  If your yard is short on sunny space (like mine), you can still make a garden work, but you may be a bit more limited in what you can get to grow.  To maximize a shady yard, consider:

Most vegetable plants require a minimum of 6-8 hours of sunlight per day, so it’s important to choose a sunny spot in your yard for your garden.  If your yard is short on sunny space (like mine), you can still make a garden work, but you may be a bit more limited in what you can get to grow.  To maximize a shady yard, consider:

What type of shade are you up against?  Is the shade light or dappled (sunlight filtered through tree branches, for example)?  Or, is the shade partial (receives direct sunlight for 3-5 hours per day)?  Or, are you dealing with full shade (area receives little or no direct sunlight)?

Some shade is easier to work with than others.
Light or dappled shade still provides garden beds with a good amount of bright light, so you can still plant flowering vegetables, like peppers and squash, in these spots.  Your plant yields won’t be as high as they would be in full sun, but the plants will still produce.

During the height of summer, partial shade can be great for growing vegetables that prefer cooler weather, such as beans, peas, and broccoli.  Root vegetables, like radishes and carrots, tolerate partial shade fairly well.  Leafy greens, like lettuce and chard, and herbs will grow in as little as three hours of sunlight per day.

If your shade problems are caused by trees, consider trimming low-hanging branches, so more sunlight can filter through the canopy.

Likely, your garden won’t be completely sunny nor completely shady.  Plan your garden so that your sun-loving veggies, like tomatoes and corn, are in the sunniest spots.  Plant your legumes in dappled light, and your root and leafy greens in your shadier spots.

You can use reflective materials to increase the amount of indirect sunlight plants receive.  Some gardeners place aluminum sheets along their garden fence to reflect extra light at their plants.  You can also fill in the area around your garden beds with a light or white colored gravel to increase the amount of reflected sunlight.

There are even reflective mulches available that you can spread around your plants, such as red plastic mulch for tomatoes. The mulch reflects the sunlight back at the plant’s leaves and encourages photosynthesis which increases plant production.  Many of these mulches have the added benefit of deterring garden pests like snails and aphids.

Other considerations when choosing your garden plot include:

Access to water

Your garden will need to be watered frequently, sometimes daily when temperatures are high or the plants are producing.  So, it may advantageous to have a spigot nearby to keep from hauling long hoses to and fro across your yard.

Also, if you’re considering using a home drip irrigation system for watering your garden, you’ll need a good access point for the system.

Protection from pets and other animals

Digging is your dog’s favorite hobby right after sleeping and chasing squirrels.  Pets just can’t seem to resist burrowing in that cool soil when temperatures soar.  You’ll save yourself the aggravation of discovering Fido amid a pile of excavated cucumber plants if you can place your garden in an area that’s already fenced off (like a side yard) or an area that easily can be (like a corner of the backyard). Fencing can also help deter other animals, such as deer, rabbits, cats, and skunks.

After you’ve selected your garden space, you can have your soil tested to assess the health of your garden soil.  You may be tempted to skip this step.  I once did.  And, after my vegetable plants failed to produce more than a handful of vegetables, I tested my soil.  The results revealed that my garden soil was highly acidic; so much so that I’m surprised I didn’t suffer acid burns while weeding.

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