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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Plotting your plot

The English language is – dare I say it? – ripe with gardening expressions. There’s good reason that the phrases “laying the groundwork” and “starting from the ground up” ring true. They both emphasize the need for preparation and order.

So it is with growing vegetables. A little planning about garden placement will help make the most of your efforts. This post mainly addresses forming a garden plot in your yard, but the principles also can be helpful to container gardening.

Cameron already gave us great information about soil, including the importance of using lots of organic matter. But where to put that soil? Here now are some plot points about that all-important matter of location, location, location.


• Sunlight is the most critical factor to consider when staking out a garden site. Vegetables require a MINIMUM of six hours of full sun a day to grow. You can compensate for poor soil by amending it, you can deliver water to make up for little rainfall, you can even protect from harsh weather. Unless you’re a magician, though, there’s no way you can substitute
for the sun’s power.

Choose, then, the sunniest part of your yard for your garden site. Not sure where this is? Since the summer sun shines high in the south, a good spot is anywhere with good southern exposure (faces south). This may be the north end of your yard or another spot unblocked by trees or other structures. (You want large, shadow-casting objects to be north of your garden area). Gauge the light before you go to the trouble of digging.

Light meters are available at garden stores; you leave them in the ground for a day, and they’ll tell you the number of sunlight hours. Another (no-cost) tactic is through simple observation. If you have a site in mind, note what time of day you first see sun there. Then check every hour throughout the day. Take into account that any trees currently not in leaf will cast more shade by summer. Also keep in mind that the sun’s orientation will change slightly with the
seasons (more to the south, as mentioned).

Morning sun is preferable to the intense, scorching heat of afternoon light.

•You don’t need to have your entire garden in one rectangle. Place pockets throughout your yard where the plants’ needs are best met. Group water-guzzling watermelons in one spot, for instance, and less thirsty herbs in another. Also, use any structures in your yard to your advantage. My main garden bed is against the north fence in my yard, against which we’ve placed our bean trellis. I have a stair railing in another part of my yard. That’s where I’ve planted my peas, so they can climb it.

• Another consideration to garden placement is water accessibility. Will hoses or sprinklers reach? Will you need to water by hand? This applies, too, to where you set up your containers.

• Lastly, abandon the notion that a vegetable garden needs to be placed on the fringes of your yard, out of sight. On the contrary, vegetable gardens can be beautiful. Plus you’re much more likely to tend a garden that you see and pass by all the time.


•With a good site selected, there are several ways to form your plot. One is to dig up any grass,
vegetation, rocks, etc., and dig in good soil amendments. Another is to build raised beds out of
lumber. They can be open-bottomed to sit on the existing soil or lined with a barrier like plastic. The latter option allows you to start a garden bed without the need to tear up any ground beneath – simply set up on top. Raised beds are great for carving out level spots on a slope, too.

Whichever method, make sure soil is loosened to a depth of about 12 inches or deeper.

• When it comes to sizing your plot, think INSIDE the box. We’re so ingrained with the image of rows upon rows in a vast rectangle, that it’s hard to think of a vegetable garden as anything but. Yet why go to the trouble of loosening and aerating your soil only to compact it as soon as you tread on a row? This is counter-productive and also wastes space and water.

Instead, consider forming your garden in multiple pieces or beds only as wide as your arm can reach in. This allows you to tend and harvest your garden without having to step on (and compromise) its life-sustaining soil.


• Growing up, instead of out, is a great way to garden. Beans and peas aren’t the only climbers. Cucumbers, squash, melons and pumpkins can be trained upward, leaving more ground space. I’ve even heard of pole beans being trained up corn stalks.

• Light also influences the placement of your crops within the plot or pot. Plant tall ones, such as corn or pole beans on the north end so they won’t block the sun to other plants.


1 comment:

Kristi said...

Thanks for this post! I didn't know what to do last month because we live where there is really bad soil and heaps of fire ants, so I didn't know how to go about installing a garden plot so I just planted tomatoes in a pot....but I feel like giving it another try making a garden plot. Maybe. Yikes.