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Growing Tip No. 12

"When you plan your garden layout, make sure to allow room for tall plants in the back, away from shorter ones so they don't get shaded out."

 
 

Learn how to plant organic vegetable gardens and why people choose organic.


The focus on Vegetable and Herb-gardening in the past 10 years has been on growing more flavorful, nutritious, and fresher produce than can be found in your local grocery store. Our mouths water for the fresh herbs, garden ripened tomatoes, spicy ethnic peppers, and veggies of all kinds that we see on television cooking shows.

Growing your own is easy and fun and produces a more flavorful harvest for your cooking. To get started, just go through these basic steps:

Choose a location:

Ideally, kitchen gardens should be planted with some areas in full sunshine (for tomatoes, peppers and other fruiting vegetables) and some areas that are shaded in the afternoon (for annual herbs such as basil and dill).

Lettuces and other greens thrive where mid-day heat is blocked by trees or large plants. Herbs love the drainage that raised beds provide.

Soil conditions do not have to be perfect, but areas with good drainage are best. Planting your garden near the kitchen encourages you to harvest as you cook.

Plan a layout

Plan your kitchen garden with your needs in mind--calculating what vegetables you will use the most. (Warning: Do not plan your garden when you are hungry. As with grocery shopping, there is a tendency to overdo when your stomach is growling.).

Grow just a few plants of each of the vegetables and herbs that you use most frequently. Avoid large items like watermelons and squashes at first; although they are easy to grow, your small garden can quickly be overrun by their size.

Organize the garden for working. Plan walkways, and design planting beds that are the appropriate size to make harvesting and pulling weeds easy. Plan to have taller plants toward the back and shorter plants toward the front. Avoid tree roots and other obstructions, and make sure your water hose can reach all areas of the garden.

Work the Soil

Hard, compacted ground not only stunts root growth, but also prevents growth above ground. Rototillers and digging forks are the best for breaking up hard, packed soil. Additionally, test your soil; you may need to add lime to correct the pH, especially if you live in an area with heavy rainfall.

Adding compost to the soil is the most important thing you can do for your garden. Composted manures or leaves add organic material to the garden, which breaks down and improves the texture and nutrient content of your soil.

Mulch provides a nice blanket that protects plants and keeps their roots moist and cool. For the best success, always add both compost and mulch to your garden, every season, and clean out debris to prevent bad insects from moving in to stay.

Containers Can Be Great Gardens:

If you are limited by space or mobility, use large containers and plant combinations of herbs, vegetables, and strawberries. Use deep containers for best results, and always add compost to whatever potting soil you buy. Keep in mind that regular potting soil is designed for commercial greenhouses that water daily; adding compost to the soil helps retain water and nutrients for the roots. Organic and slow-release fertilizers also help retain nutrients, thereby making it unnecessary to feed your containers weekly. Make sure you allow enough room for each plant to grow to about two-thirds of its normal size in your garden.

View Our Suggested Garden Plans On The Left

It is Most Important to Plant at the Correct Time of Year for Your Area

Use your last frost date as a guide for tender vegetables, such as tomatoes and peppers. Cool season plants, however, grow best while nights are still nippy and cool. Herbs can be planted early but most prefer the warmer soil of late spring. Basil, for example, is very sensitive to the cold and will not grow at all if night temperatures are below 42. Remember, for best results, it is essential that you choose healthy plants for your garden.

Do Not Over-Water or Over-Feed

If rainfall is regular (about every week or so), you may never need to water. If you are having a very dry season or your area does not get much rainfall, use a slow trickling hose or drip irrigation for about an hour to get the water down deep in the soil where you want the roots to grow. Moist soil a foot or so below ground level will maintain a good, strong root system in addition to keeping it cooler overall. The rule of thumb for feeding is "less is more". When plants are stressed from extreme heat or drought, feeding will not help them. Bugs may attack plants that are stressed, but again, feeding does nothing to help. Do not use quick feeds such as Miracle Gro (unless the sole purpose of your garden is to grow a 20 pound tomato). Organic feed is best for your garden; it breaks down slowly and feeds the plant as required. A feeding schedule of once every 6 weeks is plenty.

Harvest Frequently and Spend Time in Your Garden Daily to See What is Happening to the Plants

It does them good, and it does good for you, too! Picking fruits and herbs often stimulates new growth and makes everyone happy.

Add a little more every year. Experiment with something new each season and try adding fruits or nuts, Asian or Italian types of produce, such as Lemon grass or Arugula, and spice up your kitchen garden for the best flavor possible.

Remember that no one is more of an expert than you are about the plants that you grow. Watching their progress will help you to understand their needs and the environment around them. Just because a bug is spotted in the garden, does not mean that a catastrophe has occurred. There is likely a larger bug around the corner that wants to eat him! Always spray food plants with caution, and make sure the product is approved for vegetables. Do not use Raid on something you are planning to eat. There are many organic types of pesticides that are very safe, not only for you, but for those good bugs, too.

Whether you plant a large kitchen garden or a small container garden, everyone can find room for a few vegetables, which add so much to our lives.

Helpful Videos

Tasteful Basic Kitchen Garden Plans

Here is a rough design for a kitchen garden based on the average garden size.

The center beds are approximately 4' X 6' and the overall area is about 22' square.--These are only suggestions; the varieties of vegetables you grow should be based on what you like to eat. Read more about growing these plants on our Growing Tips page.

Click to enlarge

Steps to Planning Your Garden Location

  1. Locate the north, south, east and west sides of your garden area; note which side of your plot the sun is directed. Make sure taller plants will not overshadow shorter ones as they grow.
  2. Crowd smaller plants together to prevent sunburn on fruit, and give larger plants plenty of room to sprawl.
  3. Make footpaths or walkways so you can reach your harvest. Never walk near plant roots; it compresses the soil and causes the roots to suffocate and die. Paths can be wood, brick, wood chips, or just dirt, but using some type of path material helps to prevent weeds. Paths should be wide enough for you to walk comfortably; don't make them too narrow.

Plant Sizes of Vegetables and Herbs

Small

6 inches-1 1/2 feet wide: Lettuce, Onions, Garlic, Annual Herbs*- Dill, Cilantro, Chives, Parsley, and Arugula
Medium

1 1/2-2 feet wide: Peppers, Eggplant, Bush Beans
Large

2-3 feet wide: Tomatoes, Tomatillo, Cucumbers, Squash, (all kinds), and some Basil varieties (like Sweet Italian and Thai Basil)
Tall
5-6 feet and Narrow 1 foot wide or less: Corn, Pole Beans, Peas

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