Creating Space for a Vegetable Garden
The first thing you need to know about creating a space for a vegetable garden is that the entire plot must receive at least six hours of direct sunlight every day. This is called full sun. Nearly all vegetables require full sun to fully mature and ripen.
After the spring equinox on March 21, you can pick a day to check the sunny and shady areas on your property throughout the day. Some shady areas may migrate as the sun traverses the sky. Keep in mind that the sun will continue to climb higher in the sky until it reaches its apex on June 21, the summer solstice. Therefore, a few of your shady areas may receive a little more light later in the season. But the bottom line is, you need an area that’s completely in the sun.
And the entire garden plot should receive full sun; no part of it should be shaded to any degree. You’ll want to keep this in mind when deciding how large to make your garden plot, and where to place it.
The smallest a garden plot can be is probably about six feet wide by eight feet long. This is a nice size for small urban backyards. But note that you won’t be able to grow corn on such a small plot, as it requires several rows of plants to properly pollinate and grow edible ears. Smaller plots are also unsuitable for pumpkins, which sport immensely sprawling vines; they will readily take over the entire garden, not to mention a sizeable portion of the back yard.
What you want to plant will also decide how large your vegetable garden plot needs to be. Generally speaking, vegetables such as tomatoes need to be planted two feet apart. And vining plants, such as cucumbers and zucchini, can be planted in one-foot-high mounds on one end of the garden. But they can be planted in rows, too, like other vegetables.
The amount of produce you want to yield will also decide how large your garden plot should be. Do you want to get all your summer produce from your garden? Do you want to have so much produce that you do freeze and can the leftovers to enjoy during the winter months? Or do you simply want to enjoy growing and eating a few of your own vegetables, to supplement your trips to the farmer’s market?
Very generally speaking, your vegetable garden needs to be large enough to yield produce, but small enough that you don’t feel compelled to buy a tractor to till it. This will also keep your garden a joy instead of time-consuming drudgery.
To prepare the sod, you need to remove the grass. You can do this one of two ways. You can do it the old-fashioned way, which can substitute your daily workout! This method involves removing the grass with a shovel. Just sink your shovel into the ground in one-foot-square chunks. Then scoop the shovel underneath the grass to scrape it off; try to get all the roots, too. These chunks of sod can be thrown into your compost heap. After you’ve removed all the grass from the garden area, use a hoe to chop all the soil into a finer consistency. The other method involves renting or borrowing a roto-tiller. It can be run throughout the garden area several times until the soil achieves a fine consistency. Then you manually remove any small clumps of grass, which can also be thrown into your compost heap.
Here’s a sample of what you can grow in a small six-by-eight garden:
- One row of tomatoes; three tomato plants with marigolds interspersed
- Three mounds of zucchini at the end of the garden
- One row of sunflowers along the north end of the vegetable rows (perpendicular to the rows of vegetables)
Rows are two feet apart. Each row is just under six feet wide. The tomatoes must be two feet from one another; they can be grown from young plants purchased at your local garden store. Onions, lettuce and carrots can be grown from seeds, placed about two inches apart; they will grow into thick rows. The zucchini can also be grown from seeds, planting four or five seeds on three different mounds that are about a foot high, and a couple feet wide and long. The row of sunflowers runs perpendicular to the vegetables.
You can outline your garden with ornamental bricks or stones if you like. If you have an urban lot, you may want to mix some flowers into your vegetable garden for aesthetic purposes. If you want to plant sunflowers in your garden, make sure you plant them on the north side so that they don’t shade the vegetables. Sunflowers grow tall fairly quickly. You can also alternate marigolds with tomatoes; marigolds are a powerful insect repellent.
You may also consider installing some kind of short decorative or tall practical fencing, depending on whether you have an urban or rural lot. That’s because rabbits, raccoons and deer will think your vegetable garden is a handy snacking spot!
A garden this size won’t yield all the weekly summer produce that you need, but it will supplement it. And you’ll definitely have fun eating fresh produce that you grew yourself. And a garden this size is a great way to introduce kids to the small yet profound concept of growing food.