With the price of food skyrocketing, many people are gardening this year for the first time. This article is to help you determine where the best place is on your property for your vegetable garden. If you’re thinking about putting in a vegetable garden this year, you’ll need to consider several factors for where to put your garden. You’ll need to have good accessibility, you’ll need to know your climate and weather, you’ll need to know how many hours you have access to direct sunlight, and you’ll need to know where water is most readily available to your garden, and you’ll need to have a location with good soil.
Personal Accessibility and the Accessibility for Tools
How easily can you get into the garden? Do you need special accommodations to be able to work in your garden? For example, if getting down on your knees is too difficult, perhaps you should consider using raised beds that eliminate much of the bending and stooping.
Also, can you get whatever equipment you’ll be using into the area? What about supplies? Can you easily get supplies like manure, compost, and mulches to your garden area?
Climate and Weather
How well do you know your climate? What is your average monthly rainfall for each month of the year? Does your area usually have regular rainfall during the summer months? Are there months when you’re likely to need to irrigate? How many sunny days do you have every summer? What is your average high temperature each month? What are your summer highs? What are your summer lows? When is your average last frost date in the spring? When is your first average frost date in the fall? Don’t know the answers? Ask a neighbor or friend who has been gardening for a long time or contact a local government agency.
Will your garden have at least six hours of direct sunlight per day in the spring? How about in the summer and fall? Is it possible that you’ll have too much sun for your vegetable plants?
A seedling’s sun exposure requirement is indicated on the seed packet or nursery label. Full sun is 6-8 hours of direct sunlight each day. Next, plant your garden to follow the sun. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. The Eastern morning sun is mild and the western afternoon sun is considerably hotter, especially in the summer.
Row orientation. Experts advise the best way to give plants the most sun exposure during the northern hemisphere’s growing season is to plant rows of vegetables running north to south. Personally, I plant my rows going east and west and plant taller plants on the north side of the garden and shorter plants to the south.
Access to Water
Almost every annual vegetable that I have ever seen requires at least one inch of water per week. In most areas, at certain times during the gardening season, the rain will not be sufficient to provide that one inch of water per week, so you’ll need to supplement the water needed for optimum productivity.
Watering for too long creates an open invitation for fungus. Water too little, and roots become shallow. If you’re watering too high off the ground, half the moisture will be lost to evaporation.
Water is a precious resource for any gardener. Consider collecting water for your garden with rain barrels that have garden hose connections. You can build your own rain barrel or shop top-rated rain barrels.
The best time to plant is either in the early morning between 5 and 10 a. m. and in the evening just before dark. (Though some experts say to never water in the evening because warm wet soil and foliage attracts insects, fungus, and disease.
Avoid watering lightly or more often because it promotes shallow root growth. Be sure to water deeply and about 1-2 times per week only so that the water reaches the root. Soaking the soil to 5 to 6 inches encourages deeper root growth and creates more resilient plants.
Don’t water overhead. Water the base of the plant rather than the foliage because wet foliage invites fungus. Also, less water will evaporate because you’ll be watering the root zone making it more available to the plant roots. For best irrigation methods that conserve the most water, use a drip irrigation system rather than a sprinkler system.
To conserve even more water, mulch beds and containers with several inches of organic mulching material cool the soil and retain moisture. Watering soil that hasn’t been much can splatter mud on plants and cause runoff. An added benefit is that mulching also cuts down on the need for weeding!
Flatten a Garden Slope
Sloped garden areas are unique challenges including difficulty maneuvering on the sloped ground, establishing plants on it, and controlling erosion. You may want to use the land for perennial ornamentals or perennial vegetables, berries, or even orchard trees, rather than cultivating annual plants on it, but in many cases, the recommended steps below may make annual gardening possible.
Next select plants. Grow perennials or suitable groundcovers whenever possible between annual beds to act as soil anchors, slow the speed of the water running down the slope and reduce the force of impact of raindrops on the soil surface.
When you plant, orient rows or plants on contours perpendicular to the slope and alternate plants in rows so that individual plants are staggered and prevent water from running in a line straight down the slope. When cultivating, leave small channels between rows to collect water and allow it to drain slowly into the soil.
Many people would direct water off the slope with one or more French drains or perforated drainpipes located halfway down or at multiple levels on the slope. They create a trench at least 6 inches deep and wide that runs perpendicular to the slope and leads to a ditch, rain garden, or another suitable outlet. They place perforated pipe in the entire length of the trench and fill the trench with clean, coarse gravel. If the soil is particularly silty, they might line the trench or wrap the pipe and gravel in landscaping cloth or filter fabric to prevent clogging.
I think that a better choice is to use berms and swales Instead of using a French drain to redirect water. Berms and swales help slow and direct heavy rains to soak into the soil rather than being directed down and off the slope. The longer it takes for water to meander down a hill, the more it will soak into the ground.
A swale is a shady spot, a sunken or marshy place, or in other words, a shallow channel with gently sloping sides. A swale may be either natural or human-made. Artificial swales are often infiltration basins, designed to manage water runoff, filter pollutants, and increase rainwater infiltration.
A berm is a level space, shelf, or raised barrier, usually made of compacted soil, separating areas in a vertical way, especially part-way up a long slope. It can serve as a terrace, road, track, path, a fortification line, a border/separation barrier for navigation, good drainage, industry, or other purposes. Berms also control erosion and sedimentation by reducing the rate of surface runoff. The berms either reduce the velocity of the water, or direct water to areas that are not susceptible to erosion, thereby reducing the adverse effects of running water on exposed topsoil.
If a slope is very steep, install terraces or a retaining wall. Terraces break the slope up into multiple nearly flat steps. A terrace can be made from earth, rocks, timber, or other materials. Each “bench” should have a slight slope perpendicular to the hill’s slope to direct water to one side or the other. Also, consider putting in steps to make maneuvering down the terraces easier. Just be sure that you’re not using treated lumber if you are growing vegetables because any leaching from the lumber is toxic to the plants and to you too.
In addition, spread mulch over the soil around plants. Mulches such as wood chips or shredded bark slow runoff while also conserving soil moisture, regulating soil temperature, and contributing nutrients as they break down. Don’t depend on just mulch to keep soil in place on a very steep slope, however. The mulch may just wash off after severe rains.
Plant Where There’s Rich Organic Soil
Plant your garden where you have good soil that is rich in organic material. The organic material improves the ability of the soil to retain water and the rate at which water is absorbed.
Improving the soil condition is an easy fix. Add organic soil amendments including manure, compost, sphagnum peat moss, or grass clippings. The best time to add most of these is in the season before planting the garden rather than during that season. If your garden is small enough, consider topping the surface of the whole garden bed with compost and then plant into the soil. Once the plants start growing, cover the compost with mulching material. Use foliar sprays and side-dress plants with amendments during the growing season for an added boost. If you continue adding organic material of different types, every time you plant, you will be amazed at how much your soil will improve.
That said, some hard, rocky, or hardpan soils can’t be readily used, and building up an area by creating a raised bed may be necessary. This is also a choice that many gardeners choose because of the convenience of a raised bed.
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