There are several ways you can lay out a vegetable garden space. Choose one or a combination! There really isn't a "best" way to vegetable gardening; it's all about what your requirements are, your abilities, and your available resources. Consider the following options:
This is a layout option most familiar to people. It can be small or large, but basically is set up in the same way. There are two basic approaches to planning the layout for this type of a vegetable garden.
Row lining or cropping whereby you place plants single file in rows, with a walking path between each row; this works best for large vegetable gardens, and it makes it easier to use mechanical equipment such as tillers, mowers and weeding tools. Many homeowners like this conformity; however, many do not because you cannot plant as many vegetables in a small space, and most of the area is used as traffic paths rather than vegetable planting. Row lining is not visually creative and some find it boring.Accessibility to your plants is very important both to take care of them and to harvest. Allow at least 18 inches between your rows so you have plenty of room to work between them; try wide row widths but not too wide to work, about 1-4 feet across.
The "square-foot method" divides the garden into small beds (typically 4x4 feet), that are further subdivided into 1-foot squares. Each 1-foot square is planted with one, four, nine, or 16 plants, depending on the size of the plant when it matures. It also makes it easy to leave some areas of the garden unplanted at first. This allows you to plant a second crop to harvest later in the season. Lettuce, radishes, green onions, carrots, and bush beans are commonly planted several times during the season.
Things to think about with Traditional Gardening
Before you can plant, soil preparation is a must. Killing the existing vegetation with Bonide KleenUp will make prepping the area easier. Once the existing vegetation is dead and removed, dig the soil to a depth of at least six to ten inches. Add a two to four inch layer of organic matter and incorporate it into the soil. Organic matter will improve your soil structure and will add nutrients to the soil. Consider using Bonide Compost Maker which can help energize soil, compost, and decomposing matter. This organic product contains beneficial organisms important to soil quality and it helps to stabilize nutrients and humus while reducing odors. This product may be broadcast dry or sprayed with water onto garbage, leaves, and other waste products to make valuable compost.
If the soil's pH is not within an acceptable range for the plants you are growing, the plants will not be able to access the nutrients in the soil, no matter how much you fertilize them. To find out your soils pH, you can bring at least a quart sized sample of soil to your local "Bonified® Expert" Nursery or Garden Center. You can also submit soil samples to a soil testing lab. Most states' Department of Agriculture soil testing labs are located at your local cooperative extension center.
The pH scale measures how acidic or basic a substance is. A substance that is neither acidic nor basic is neutral. The pH is measured on a scale from 0 to 14, where values below 7.0 indicate acidic soil, and those above 7.0 indicate basic or alkaline soil, with 7.0 being neutral. A typical vegetable garden should have a pH of 6-7.
Adding lime like Bonide's Hydrated Lime (to raise the pH) or Aluminum Sulfate (to lower the pH) is not a quick fix but it will help. It can take months to register a change in the pH and you will need to periodically retest your soil to insure it does not revert to its old pH.
There are two types of soil compaction: shallow and deep. Shallow compaction occurs near the soil surface(within normal tilling depth) and is normally made by pressure applied to the soil surface, like foot traffic. Freezing-thawing and wetting-drying cycles and even tillage can help break up shallow compaction. Deep compaction, which can be measured as low as 28 inches below the surface, is caused mainly by axle load heavy machinery on a regular basis. Deep compaction is extremely difficult to correct since it is below the normal tillage zone. Wetting-drying and/or freezing-thawing cycles have little effect on compaction at such depth. Deep compaction is a deterrent for all crop growth because it limits water and air storage in the deeper part of the soil. Over time, tilling and adding nutrients will help.
It's important to give your plants good air circulation by spacing them out. Information on how far to space your plants can be found on the back of seed packages or for live plants, on the plant tag. Allow even extra space for plants like tomatoes so that air can move among the leaves and keep them dry.
Raised Bed Gardening
This is a great alternative especially if the soil is a problem. You can control your soil quality resulting in better drainage. Better drainage will prevent disease from spreading. In addition, the soil warms faster, allowing you to plant earlier. Depending on how high you make the raised bed, this alternative can reduce bending down. The material you select for the raised bed is extremely important. Be sure it's not toxic; avoid treated lumber or railroad ties. Cedar, redwood, cypress, and plastic make good options, as well as cement blocks or rocks. There are many raised bed "kits" available in the marketplace today. Be sure to design the bed so that you can easily reach all your plants. Line the beds with landscape fabric or newspaper, or consider using Bonide's KleenUp or BurnOut to kill the grass. Use wire mesh to line the bottom of the beds if burrowing animals are a problem. The depth of the raised bed can vary, but consider a minimum of six (6) inches.
Straw Bale Beds
Straw bales are an inexpensive way to create a raised bed. No digging or soil preparation is required. You can plant within or even on top of the bales, placing your vegetable plants into individual holes. The bales are not permanent and can be removed and composted at the end of the season. Consider using straw, wheat, or oat straw bales versus hay bales. Hay bales can be used, but they may contain weed and grass seeds. For more information on straw bale gardening and on preparing your bales for planting, consult your local cooperative extension office.
Growing vegetables in containers, or even directly into soil bags, is another method of growing edibles. You can use traditional containers, or recycled items such as 5 gallon pails, with holes drilled into the bottom. You can also plant directly into soil bags. Container vegetable gardening allows you to move your plants where they will get the most sunlight and you can control what you grow. The difference with container gardening is that you cannot use garden soil; it is too heavy. Instead, consider a good quality potting mix, combined with compost.
Containers must have adequate drainage holes. The bigger the vegetable you want to grow, the bigger the container should be. On average, a 12 inch container is a good size to grow most vegetables. You will have to water and feed your vegetable plants more in a container than you would in the ground; in the heat of the day, a container can dry out very quickly.
Vegetables that are ideally suited for growing in containers include tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, green onions, beans, lettuce, squash, radishes, and most herbs. Pole beans and cucumbers also do well; just consider growing these and other vining plants vertically to save space. When shopping for vegetable plants best suited for container culture, look for terms such as "dwarf", "patio", or "bush" varieties since these are bred to be smaller plants. For tomatoes, look for "determinant" versus "indeterminate" varieties which are better suited for growing in containers.