- Gardening is beneficial for your mind and body; studies show that gardening lowers blood pressure and eases feelings of depression.
- A vegetable garden lowers your grocery bill, it saves you the cost of travelling to the grocery store. The garden provides you with excellent fresh fruits, herbs, and vegetables at a greatly reduced cost.
- Growing your own crops lets you control what ends up on the family dinner table. You can decide what fertilizer and pest control to use, as well as whether to grow organic or conventional.
- You decide the size and shape of the garden; you could start by planting in containers, raised beds, or garden beds.
- Planting a vegetable garden could be a rewarding experience; from one tiny seed you could harvest many fruits or vegetables and even save seeds for the next growing season to start the process over again.
The soil, air, water, and sunlight provide the vegetable garden with all the necessary nutrients for the plants to grow. Providing the right amount of these elements is crucial to have a healthy, luscious, high yielding garden.
A deep, organically rich soil will encourage the growth of healthy, extensive roots that are able to reach more nutrients and water. The result: extra-lush, extra-productive growth above and below ground.
There are 17 elements essential for plants to grow healthy. The elements provided by air and water are oxygen (O), carbon (C), hydrogen (H). After these elements the most important ones are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) also known as macronutrients because plants take them from the soil in the largest amounts. The secondary elements are calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg) and sulfur (S) are also important to many plants. The micronutrients are chlorine (Cl) iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), zinc (Zn), copper (Cu), boron (B), molybdenum (Mo), and nickel (Ni).
Another critical component for plants to perform their best is the soil pH. If the soil is too acidic (low pH, at 6.0 or below) or alkaline (high pH, above 7.0), it does not matter how rich it is in nutrients the plants will not be able to absorb them. Most minerals and nutrients are best available to plants in soils with a slightly acidic pH 6.5 to 6.8.
The best time to get the soil tested is in the spring or fall when it is most stable. Also, it is the best time to amend the soil.
In addition to nutrients and soil Ph levels, the soil texture plays a vital role in plant growth. The ideal soil texture is loam. Loamy soils contain the right mix of sand, silt and clay. The soil texture could be improved by adding organic matter in the form of compost and aged manure or using mulch. Adding chemical fertilizers will replenish only certain nutrients but will not impact the soil friability.
Add organic matter
Just like humans and animals, plants need air, both above ground for photosynthesis and in the soil as well. Air in the soil holds atmospheric nitrogen that can be converted into a usable form for plants. Soil oxygen is also crucial to the survival of organism in the soil that benefit plants. Organisms break down nutrients making them available for plants to absorb. Some organisms create pathways aerating the soil which makes it easier for the roots to grow.
Avoid working in the garden when the soil is too wet or too dry
All forms of life, including plants and soil organisms, need water, but not too much or too little. Healthy soil should be about 25% water.
In general, a vegetable garden should receive one to two inches of water per week. Deep watering is better than shallow frequent watering. Shallow watering will result in a weak root system and evaporation, while deep watering encourages deeper and stronger root growth. The best way to water is using a soaker hose or a drip irrigation system; you should water in the morning between 8 and 10 am, if possible.
When watering, take into consideration the air temperature and the amount of precipitation. Also, remember that when plants are setting buds, blooming or bearing fruits, they require more water. In addition, small seedlings have a tiny root system that can not hold much water, therefore you should water them more frequently.
Water deeply so water percolates into the soil and regularly so plants stay healthy
Vegetables grow best and give their best yields when planted in full sunlight, at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sun each day.
Plant away from trees and shrubs. Trees and shrubs will compete with garden crops for sunlight, plant food and moisture. Also, avoid planting on the north side of a building. Keep in mind that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west making the south side the sunnier spot and consequently the north side the shadiest area in the garden.
When purchasing vegetable and fruit starts, read the labels or ask an expert how much sun each plant requires. Most plants come with labels that will be marked as followed:
Sun or full sun = 6 or more of direct sun every day
Part sun = At least 3 to 6 hours of direct sunlight every day
Part shade = 3 to 6 hours of direct sunlight, (morning sun) protected from the midday
and the afternoon summer sun
Shade = 3 hours of sunlight, protected from the midday and afternoon sun. They could be under tree canopies with filtered sunlight over the course of the day.
Assess how much sunlight the plants will receive in an area before planting them
Some plants grow better near some companion plants than they do near others or when alone. This method when applied in a well-maintained garden can produce great results. It can reduce the number of weeds, garden pests, intensify the crop flavor and will increase the yield.
The Native Americans developed a way of gardening known as The Three Sisters. Corn, beans and squash, planted in the same field, supported each other in several ways: the beans provided nitrogen for the nutrient-hungry corn, the corn provided a support for the vining bean, and the squash, a living mulch, suppressed weeds between rows.
Plants can protect each other from wind or weather, act as decoys for harmful insects, attract beneficial insects that eat pests, or provide nutrients, physical support, or shade for other plants. Early season, cool-weather crops keep weeds at bay before later crops can be set out or mature.
If interested request a list of vegetables and fruits and their companions
Some herbs contain certain properties that repel insect, nematodes, and pest. Also, they are prone to attracts beneficial insect to the garden.
Basil repels mosquitoes, flies, and asparagus beetles
Borage repels cabbage and tomato worms
Catnip repels aphids, Japanese beetle, squash bugs, weevil and Colorado potato beetles
Chives repels aphids and Japanese beetle
Coriander repels aphids, Colorado potato beetle, and spider mites
Dill repels aphids, cabbage looper, spider mites, squash bugs. It attracts beneficial insects such as ladybugs, green lacewings, and parasitic wasp
Fennel repels aphids, slugs, caterpillars, and snails. It attracts beneficial insects like Damsel bugs, minute pirate bugs, and parasitic wasp.
Garlic repels cabbage looper, Mexican bean beetle, root maggots, and bores.
Lavender repels moths, fleas, and flies. It attracts beneficial insects such as parasitic wasp and lacewing.
Oregano repels aphids, spider mites, and leafhoppers.
Parsley repels asparagus beetles and attracts beneficial insects like parasitic wasp and braconid wasp.
Peppermint repels aphids, cabbage looper, flea beetles, squash, and whiteflies.
Rosemary repels cabbage looper, carrot fly, slugs, and snail. It attracts beneficial insects like honeybees and parasitic wasp.
Rue repels cucumber beetles and flea beetles.
Spearmint repels aphids, cabbage looper, beetles, fleas, and squash bugs. It attracts beneficial insects such as hover flies and parasitic wasp.
Thyme repels cabbage lopper, cabbage maggot, corn earworm, tomato hornworm, and whitefly
Plant herbs in your garden
Weeds seem to sprout immediately in the spring from bare ground, therefore you should cover the ground to suppress them. One of the best ways to keep weeds under control is by applying one to two inches of natural mulch to the ground. Another technique is planting crops in sequence, so that ground is never left bare even after a harvest. For instance, if the ground is planted with cold crops while warm crops such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers get established, spring weeds will not have a chance to grow.
Another method to keep weeds at bay in the vegetable garden is by planting beneficial flowering annuals such as: Alyssum, marigolds, nasturtium, zinnias and salvia.
In addition, it is better if you pull out weeds before they bloom and spread their seeds. Make sure you pull the complete root system so you avoid root propagation.
Avoid bare ground
Using space efficiently
Utilize the space by growing vertically, when providing strong physical support to vines such as squash, cucumber, and melons you could grow more vegetables in a small space. In summer time plant a second crop of lettuce on the north side of tomato or pepper plants. These plants will provide protection from the scorching summer sun to the lettuce. Sturdy plants like corn could be use as support for pole beans. Another way to use the space efficiently is by sequence planting fast crops such as radishes and lettuces; for example, plant a new crop next to the old crop a week or two before harvesting. Plant sweet basil around tomato plants, this will increase the flavor of the tomatoes and suppress weeds.
Utilize the space and grow more
In order to continue growing a sustainable vegetable garden, it is vital to rotate crops. The goals of crop rotation are to help manage soil fertility, avoid or reduce soil-borne diseases and prevent or reduce soil-dwelling insects such borers and rootworms. Each crop has different nutrient requirements affecting the soil balance differently; for example, corn and tomatoes require a lot of nitrogen and phosphorus to grow. Therefore, it is important to avoid planting the same general category of crop in the same spot. Also, many insects and diseases attack specific crops, rotating the crops will confuse the pests and will help minimize their population.
Keep track of what type of crop is growing in each section of your garden and rotate it
Sample of crop rotation plan
Gloves - are recommended to protect your hands from thorns and splinters, and to protect the skin from irritation.
Hand trowels - are wonderful for planting, digging around corners, and taking out weeds.
Spade - is great for digging holes for plants and moving small mounds of soil from one area to another.
Rake - is an essential tool you need when leaves and debris fall into the garden. Helps to keep the garden nice and tidy.
Hoe - is a multipurpose tool to use in the garden to help with weeding, chopping up the soil, covering seeds, digging trenches for planting, and is also useful for maintaining the garden rows between different vegetables.
Long hose with adjustable nozzle and rain wand - water is the foundation of life in a vegetable garden. It is imperative that the hose can reach every area. The adjustable nozzle puts you in control of the water pressure.
Wheelbarrow - an essential garden tool if you are installing the garden yourself. A vegetable garden requires a means of conveying soil, compost, clippings, and yard waste to the garden. Gardeners must consider their own agility and the type of work this tool will perform.