Whether you are trying to save money, control the amount of chemicals your family consumes, teach children about the growth of plants or experiment with unique varieties for your kitchen, a vegetable garden can delivers exercise, fulfillment and perhaps a few challenges. Spend some time planning and you can keep the challenges to a minimum.
All vegetables are sun-loving plants. You need a location with a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight per day. If your choices are severely limited and part of your garden is going to remain shaded, plant cool season crops in the shade, for example, lettuce, cabbage, spinach and radishes can handle some shade, and will survive longer into the summer with it. Trees and shrubs close to your garden will compete for water and nutrients. Stay as far away from them as possible.
Traditional row gardening wastes space and creates large areas between the rows that the gardener has to keep weed-free. In fertile ground, wide raised beds, planted in a grid pattern (rather than rows) make more efficient use of garden space. Gardeners with very poor soil conditions should consider framed raised beds filled with amended soil. Not only will these beds overcome poor conditions, but they are also easier to plant, maintain and harvest.
Tall plants, like corn, indeterminate tomatoes and okra need to be on the north side of the garden so that they do not shade the rest of the plants. Plants growing in beds or rows running north and south will receive more even sun than those in beds running east and west. Grouping all like plants together sets a convenient table for pests. Instead, plant smaller groups in several places throughout the garden. Two cucumber vines planted in three places in the garden stand a better chance of surviving an insect invasion than six vines planted all together, for example.
Planting a vegetable garden should not be a one-time event. Plants like lettuce, onions, potatoes and peas go into the garden very early and are ready to harvest or past their prime by early summer. The space their harvest opens up can be used to plant something else that does well in summer, or left vacant for a few weeks and then planted with a fall crop. Succession planting and crop rotation will help build the soil and keep the space productive. Plant cover crop legumes, if nothing else. You can turn them under for valuable nutrients before the next planting cycle.