A basket full of fresh vegetables harvested from the home garden inevitably instills a sense of satisfaction and achievement. And so it should. By the time the first harvest comes in you will have invested quite a bit of time learning the basics of planning, preparing, planting and maintaining your vegetable garden. But the effort is more than worth it in terms of knowledge gained and money saved on your grocery bill.
The time to plan your garden is in the winter, long before the growing season starts and other warm weather distractions arise. Start with a small plot for your first garden and expand it in future years as you become experienced. Lots of sunlight, well-drained soil and a water supply are the essential for a vegetable garden. Make a diagram of the plot and draw in the rows and what varieties you will plant. Get local advice from experienced gardeners, nurseries or educational centers on recommended vegetables and when to plant them.
Properly preparing the soil is critical to the success of your garden. Remove all plant material from the plot including roots. The top 6 inches of bare soil should be loosened and then covered with a thick layer of compost or rotted manure. If you don't compost, now is the time to start. A good supply of well aged compost near the garden will save you time and money since you won't need to buying fertilizer. Compost and manure are rich in organics and feed the soil with the nutrients vegetable must have.
Start planting after the organic material has had time to work into the soil. You should give it at least a week to break down. Pull the soil into a small mound along each row for planting your seeds. The raised soil will be warmer, drain better and make weeding much easier. Follow the directions on the seed packages regarding spacing and planting depth. Planting dates are based on the hardiness of each variety. Onions, peas, and carrots are cool season vegetables and are planted early. Check local sources and make a list of the planting dates for your area.
Vegetables need lots of water, at least an inch every week. If you live in an area with high rainfall you may not need to do a lot of hand watering but you must be prepared for dry spells. If rainfall is not enough, water early in the day once a week to a depth of 6 inches. Direct the water to the soil, not the plants. It's important to keep the foliage as dry as possible to since wet leaves are more likely to attract insects and encourage disease.
Tip on Water
Soaker hoses are great time savers and provide effective irrigation for your garden. Lay them out between the rows and all you'll need to do is turn on the tap and leave it on for half an hour twice a week. To gauge how much water is needed, find out how much rain mother nature is providing by placing a few empty coffee tins around the garden. Each time it rains measure the depth of water in the tins and keep a record for reference.