A vegetable garden is a useful addition to any yard that has a bit of space. Not only will you benefit from the healthy, nutritious food that a vegetable garden produces, you'll also benefit from spending more time outdoors and learning about plants, insects, soil types and nature. But a good vegetable garden must also be accessible, convenient and well-organized. If you grow companion plants and plants with similar needs near each other, both will thrive. And paths will allow you to get to all parts of your garden without stepping on valuable soil in beds.
Select an area of your yard that gets at least six hours of full sun every day. If you don't have enough sun, you can still grow vegetables that do well in lower light, such as lettuce and spinach. If other plants currently exist, remove them. Also pull all weeds or cover the area with flattened cardboard boxes.
Measure your chosen area and plot the dimensions on paper. Create beds that are about 4 feet wide by 8 feet long, with pathways that are 18 to 24 inches wide between beds, to allow you to reach into your beds easily without stepping on the soil.
Design your garden on paper before you plant. Looking at landscaping books and magazines can give you many ideas and advice. Draw the shapes and sizes of your beds, where your planned pathways will traverse, and then determine the placement of your vegetable plants. Doing this before you plant will tell you exactly how many tomato plants you need to purchase or start from seed, for example. Tomatoes need 3 to 4 feet between plants; other types of vegetables have different spacing needs.
Plant vegetables that will grow tall, such as corn, at the north end of your beds. Doing this will prevent taller plants from shading smaller plants. You might need to do a little research to determine which plants grow tall and which others will remain shorter.
Plant vegetables with similar watering and fertilizing needs close to one another in the same bed. For example, members of the nightshade family, including tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, all like their soil to dry out between waterings, so they make good companions. Don't be afraid to intermix herbs and flowering plants among your vegetables: basil and tomatoes are considered companion plants, and they can look attractive when you grow them together.
Think outside the box a bit: you needn't plant vegetables in tidy rows, for example. If you improve the soil in your growing area(s) with compost and other organic materials such as fallen leaves or grass clippings, you can plant your vegetables closer to one another. Long, narrow beds are conducive to this type of planting, because you can reach into their centers and needn't use areas between rows as pathways.