When growing vegetable plants in home gardens, you must meet all a plants needs to grow strong, healthy plants that will produce a good harvest. A good harvest is the ultimate goal, after all. When planning a home vegetable garden, take into consideration: soil, nutrients, water, sunlight and pest control. Pay special attention to soil texture and acidity, because they affect the nutrient and water availability to your vegetable plants.
Nutrient availability for plants depends on soil texture and acidity (pH level). Test your soil's pH with a home testing kit, or by sending your local, county or state agricultural agency a soil sample.
Soil texture effects how much water and nutrients reach plants. Sandy soils don't retain moisture, and nutrients are leached out, while clay soils don't have good drainage, and soggy soil puts plants at risk for soil-borne diseases. The ideal garden loam is about half sand and half clay. A good garden loam also contains humus, which provides nutrients for beneficial microorganisms in the soil. Plant matter should be added directly to the soil in the fall and allowed to decompose naturally.
Individual types of plants have individual nutritional needs. All plants need nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, as well as secondary and micronutrients. Replenish nutrients in the soil as they are used up. For vegetables that will be eaten, use organic fertilizers or soil additives.
Compost is a complete organic fertilizer, rich in the same nutrients as humus, in an already decomposed form. Whether homemade or purchased, compost should be turned directly onto the soil, in preparation for planting. Use compost as a top dressing throughout the growing season as well, to replenish soil nutrients.
Other additives may be needed to provide specific nutrients for individual deficiencies: bat guano, blood meal, fish meal and soybean meal are good sources of nitrogen; bone meal, colloidal phosphorous and rock phosphate are phosphate sources; add granite dust, greensand and ground kelp for potassium deficiencies.
Water carries food and nutrients to plants. The amount of water required will vary according to individual plant needs and soil texture. Water vegetable plants whenever the soil feels dry, but don't water till soggy.
Photosynthesis is how carbon dioxide and water are converted into sugars, which are needed for plant food. Vegetable plants must receive the right amount of sunlight to produce strong, healthy plants. Thin, leggy stems are a sign of too little sunlight, and bleached, blistered plants indicate too much sunlight. Eight to 12 hours of direct sunlight per day is needed for plants that require full sun, and those that require partial sun need from five to six hours. Partial shade indicates that indirect or filtered sunlight is needed.
Vegetable plants present unique problems regarding pest control. While you don't want garden pests to devour crops, methods used to control them must leave vegetable plants safe for human consumption. Natural means of pest control are especially suited to vegetable plants for this reason. Natural methods of pest control include insecticidal soaps; organic teas and foliar sprays; mechanical methods, such as row covers, traps, handpicking, and hard sprays of water; companion planting to attract beneficial insects or repel the undesirable ones; and planting distracting plants to draw insects away from a valued crop.