Even if you’ve never grown so much as a sprout, taking up vegetable gardening isn’t as hard as it sounds. First of all, you’ll need information about the soil in your area and even the plot of land you will be using. You can do some detective work by checking with your local council, talking to neighbours, joining a local gardening group or searching online via a soil map [http://www.landis.org.uk/soilscapes/]. Try to find out as much as possible about the surrounding soil, plants and fruit-bearing plants and trees. Even weeds will tell you a lot about your future garden’s soil type. You should also look into local fruit tree varieties, insects, animals and birds. While you will want to encourage biodiversity, you will need to know how to prevent your garden from being eaten to shreds!
Your soil: the key to successful vegetable gardening
One way to learn about your soil is to take a sample and test it for yourself. You’ll need a spade to dig and a pail to hold the soil sample. There are different kinds of soil, such as chalky, clay, loamy, peaty, sandy and silty. Knowing which one you will be planting on is crucial for choosing the best vegetables.
That said, there are things you can do to change the texture and structure of your soil. For example, clay soil is fertile, but it’s also cold, wet and heavy to work. You must work it differently if you want to grow a range of seasonal vegetables.
Larger tools, such as a tiller or a soil miller, are normally used when you are working your soil for the first time.
To lighten heavy soil, you can add a bit of sand, wood ash and even calcium. Sandy soil, on the other hand, requires a great deal more watering and maintenance in the beginning. But tilling will be easier and you can plant earlier than you would with clay soils, which take longer to warm up.
Natural factors to consider before planting
When getting started with vegetable gardening, it’s important to think about the location of the garden, including its orientation in relation to the sun, prevailing wind, exposure and any trees planted close by.
Some fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes, cucumbers and aubergines, need a decent amount of sun, whereas others prefer cooler, wet environments, such as chard and certain lettuce varieties. Certain plant varieties need shade to grow or even protection from the wind. It’s also worth thinking about a greenhouse for your garden. Not only do they extend how long you can grow your crops, but they are also great for protecting edible plants from being eaten by local wildlife.
Another crucial point to consider is choosing varieties that will adapt to your garden’s environmental constraints. Choose fruits and vegetables that grow quickly and are hardy enough to withstand disease and pests.
DIY permaculture vegetable gardening
Permaculture gardening—from “permanent agriculture”—is a style of gardening that aims to build a harmonious, self-sufficient ecosystem. It usually involves creating square or rectangular plant beds using wood from pallets, as long as the wood is free of chemicals or other surface treatments. You can also use a no-dig method known as “lasagne gardening,” which produces a rich soil full of biodiversity. It’s simple to achieve by alternating layers of green organic matter, such as grass clippings or shredded leaves, with layers of brown organic matter, such as dead leaves, plant matter, wood chips or even cardboard. The method breathes new life into decomposition and provides compost for future planting. Ensure you never walk on lasagne gardens or you will compact the layers and kill off the micro-organisms aerating your soil.
Plan out your planting
Now it’s time to design the layout for your garden.
Larger plants must be put at the back, while smaller ones should go at the front where they can get enough sun and be protected by the larger plants. It’s also important to mix crops, as this makes it harder for harmful parasites and fungi to take over.
Feel free to get creative by mixing flowers and herbs into your garden bed as well. For example, lavender, hyssop and thyme can be used for many purposes such as herbal teas, baking and seasoning.
Try to scatter your seeds somewhat loosely in the prepared soil instead of planting in a straight line. Another tip is something called “companion planting”. In essence, some plants work well together, while others can be mutually harmful. For example, potatoes and tomatoes, which belong to the nightshade family, cannot be grown together. It’s important to find the best companions for them when you want them to thrive in your garden.
Important first steps to get your vegetable garden started
When it comes to growing fruits and vegetables, the first steps are the easiest. Start by weeding your vegetable patch or bed with a hoe. After cleaning up your plot, you can choose to leave the weeds you’ve pulled on top of the crop to provide minerals through decomposition. However, if the weeds are seedlings or dropping many seeds, you will want to compost them instead or they will keep popping back up.
Next, lightly rake your soil and start sowing seeds or planting. Some of the most popular things to grow in spring are lettuce leaves, such as lamb’s lettuce and spinach.
When the season changes, you just need to repeat these steps for the fruits and vegetables that grow best from summer until autumn.
As a general rule, avoid planting the same crops in the same place every year. And by planting flowers in your vegetable garden, you’ll be providing an important source of food and sustenance for pollinating insects and birds. What’s more, they’ll make sure your garden isn’t overrun by hungry aphids and caterpillars!
Last but not least, all your crops should be mulched. The aim is to work the soil as little as possible while harvesting as much as possible. Mulching allows you to keep moisture in your soil, so you won’t need to water the plants as much. It not only saves time but is also better for the planet!
Happy gardening and bon appétit!