If this is the year you’re going to grow a vegetable garden, congratulations!  You’re part of a rapidly growing group who want to enjoy all of the benefits of homegrown crops.  Can’t you already taste the new potatoes, the just-picked fresh corn and the peas right out of the pod?

Like any enterprise worth doing right, it helps to start off with a plan.  The garden’s location is the very first matter to consider.  I wrote about this very subject last spring-here’s a brief refresher.

Vegetables gardens ideally need a site where they receive full sun throughout the day.  Avoid areas near shade trees and larger shrubs which will shade the garden and rob nutrients and moisture from the soil with their roots.

The site should have good drainage, in terms of both water and air.  If possible a south or west facing site, with a slight slope is perfect.  We’ll look at soils next week, but if there is a site where lawns and/or weeds are doing well, it’s likely a good place to start.

Distance from the house is a consideration, although not the most important one.  It’s nice to have your vegetable bounty close at hand, but one can make the trip back and forth worthwhile.

The next question to ask yourself is “How big should I make the garden.”  Consider your springtime enthusiasm, and then look forward five or six months, when the weather is scorching, all fifteen tomato plants appear to be maturing fruit simultaneously and you’re off for two weeks of vacation in the Prairies.  Divide the figure you have in your head now in half and that’s probably about right!

A garden that is three metres square in area will need about 15 minutes a week to plant and 30 minutes a week to cultivate.  When you move up to an area of 10 metres square you must multiply these times by nine!  Vegetable gardens are not low maintenance; they require your attention on an almost daily basis.

My garden consists of four raised beds; together they total about 10.5 square metres, a shade over 100 square feet.  From this space we can harvest tomatoes, potatoes, lettuce, carrots, basil, onions, garlic, radishes and strawberries.  There is enough harvested to keep the fresh product coming fairly consistently for our family of four.  But, if I wanted to grow vegetables to can, freeze or dry I’d need a much larger space and we just don’t have it.

My garden is what is called a “summer garden” in that it produces enough for our family during the growing season, but no surplus to store.  A “salad garden” is a smaller version, with a few tomato plants, a short row or two of lettuce, some parsley, chives and a few more herbs, plus some onions.  You could do something like this in containers if you have no garden space at all.  There are many vegetables which come in compact versions specifically for smaller spaces.

The ultimate size of your vegetable garden will depend on how much physical space you have available, and whether you want to preserve the harvest for winter meals or eat it fresh throughout the summer and into fall.  Next week’s topic-the most important aspect of any garden, soil.

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