Have you received any garden seed catalogs yet? Developing a vegetable garden site takes time and resources -- a home vegetable garden can take three to five years to start producing well. Container gardening is a more short-term gardening option that works well with locations that have space restrictions, such as patios.
There are a few conditions needed to constitute a good vegetable garden location. First, most vegetable crops need at least six hours of direct sun each day. Select the location with the best sunlight. A south-facing gradual slope is ideal; the next best location is the area with the least shade. Less sunlight will cause the plants to produce less. Be aware that south-facing slopes warm up earlier in the spring but could get too hot in summer.
The second most important feature is the proximity of the water source to the garden. Gardens in the corner of the yard can be difficult to water and will suffer accordingly, but there are some solutions. Drip irrigation, rain barrels, plastic row covers and abundant mulch can all help reduce water demand. Timers attached to hoses help water plants and reduce disease problems. Watering early in the morning prevents sun damage to wet plants and allows plants to dry before nighttime. Wet plants at night will increase the plants' chance of contracting disease.
The condition of the soil prevents many gardens from producing well from the start. Subdivision soil is often thin, compacted and low in organic matter and has drainage problems. Soil tests can be beneficial in determining the acidity of the soil and whether any nutrients are lacking. Using composted organic matter as a supplement is very beneficial to almost all soil types. If it is not composted, such as fresh leaves or grass clippings, additional fertilizer may need to be added.
After removing any grass and before rototilling, add several inches of compost and 1.5 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 10-by-10 foot area, and till both into the top 10 inches of soil. Do not use a fertilizer that has herbicides or insecticides. Do not add lime, gypsum or sulfur without a soil test showing a need for them.
A Square Foot Garden, an EarthBox and adding new soil to create a raised bed are all good vegetable gardening methods to get around poor soil on site. The Square Foot Garden and EarthBox use a soil mix of peat moss, perlite, vermiculite and compost to create a weed-free well-drained soil that easily grows garden vegetables.
The last environmental aspect is wind. Gardens in windy locations dry out quickly, and strong winds can knock over tomato plants in cages, corn plants and trellises of peas, beans and melons. Make sure everything is anchored securely.
Weeds harbor insects and diseases and can cause a complete loss of harvest due to competition for water and sunlight. Start weed control early and don't give up. Pre-emergent herbicides, weed barrier cloth and mulch help prevent weed growth. If weeds get the upper hand, cut them down to prevent any seed production.
Consider the kinds of vegetables your family will eat and what you will do with them before you buy seeds or plants. Are you going to can or preserve them, or eat them fresh? Sweet corn, for example, is great fresh from the garden, but it takes up lots of space for a small harvest, and fresh sweet corn at the store is very inexpensive. So is it worth growing? As far as tomatoes go, to have enough to can all at the same time, get a determinate variety that bears its crop all at once. For fresh eating over a long period of time, buy an indeterminate variety.
Don't forget to donate some vegetables to a local food pantry or the Plant A Row for the Hungry program started by the Association for Garden Communicators.
Jeff Rugg's weekly column, "A Greener View," can be found at creators.com.