A little thought put into vegetable garden planning and design saves the new or amateur gardener possible heartache. Finding a good spot, preparing well, and knowing what to plant near each other are steps that take a little time, but help ensure much reward and a healthy harvest.
Location, Location, Location
A sunny spot in the yard is best for a vegetable garden. Regardless of whether you have much land and are planning to grow many plants, or a small yard and would like to grow a few plants, choose a spot with little to no shade to grow vegetables.
If there is grass growing on the selected spot, use a four-tine pitchfork to dig up the grass at the roots. The grass should be thrown in the compost bin or otherwise disposed of, and clean topsoil poured into the garden. This will help prevent grass and weeds growing back quickly, but you will still need to weed the garden.
The other option is to build raised beds. Some gardeners prefer this option because the soil warms up earlier in the Spring and stays warmer through the growing season.
A raised bed can be as simple as a mound of good quality topsoil on the ground, at least 12 inches high. With some effort, a raised bed can be a landscaping delight.
Before heaping topsoil on the ground, it is advisable to dig up the grass underneath. Weed block is a type of black fabric that will prevent grass and weeds from growing up through the raised bed. Line the bottom of the raised bed with weed block.
The edge of the raised bed can be built up with stones, untreated wood, or plastic lumber. Build the raised bed at least a foot off of the ground, but as high as you like. Fill with topsoil. (The lid in the illustration is only necessary if you are building a cold frame, which is like a very small greenhouse.) Seeds can be planted in a raised bed as soon as the soil reaches 65 degrees F.
Gardeners who use raised beds plant one crop per bed, for example, one raised bed for tomatoes, another raised bed for peas.
Definition of Companion Planting
Companion planting is simply planting crops that keep each other healthy together. Whether the garden is a small hobby patch or a large family operation, utilizing the companion planting well helps ensure a healthy harvest. This is one hallmark of organic gardening.
Companion planting takes various plant qualities into account: what type of soil they like, what nutrients they take from the soil and what nutrients they put back in, and which bugs like one plant and dislike another.
Carrots and tomatoes love being planted next to each other. Tomatoes and parsley do well next to each other, and tomatoes and asparagus are great neighbors.
If you have a strawberry patch, plant spinach or lettuce next to it. Spinach and cabbage like each other, but be careful! Strawberries and cabbage do not like each other, so do not plant all three in the same garden patch.
Cucumber makes a good neighbor for strawberries, tomatoes, beans, peas, and sunflowers.
Cabbage, broccoli, onions and potatoes love being near each other. Spinach is versatile and will make a good neighbor among this crowd.
Companion Planting as Pest Control
Nasturtium deters squash beetles, so plant nasturtium flowers between rows of any summer or winter squashes such as zucchini, yellow crook neck, pumpkins and butternut squashes. Nasturtium are edible flowers that come in bright shades of yellow, orange and red. They add a spicy flavor and pleasing contrast when added to green salad.
Nasturtium also deters aphids and it is good to plant them next to tomatoes.
Rosemary deters both bean beetles and mosquitoes. Plant rosemary next to green beans and peas. Rosemary deters carrot fly and is a good companion for tomatoes, so plant these three together.
Thyme repels many of the pests that attack cabbages.