To Pot or Plot?
The first decision when planning a new veggie garden is whether you want a fixed permanent layout or a changeable one that allows you to adapt. Brick or paved paths and raised beds look good and provide a strong element of structure, but they are long-term (and expensive) fixtures that you will need to live with for years. A garden with fewer permanent features can be changed from year to year according to what you decide to grow. Honestly for me, I like a permanent fenced-in garden, with soil and compost that improves each year because it is nurtured and tended. But, the layout within the garden, is totally changeable and evolves each year with our changing tastes and learnings from the previous year.
If you choose a totally informal look- planting veggies among flowering plants and shrubs, for example- beware that informality toes the line and easily tips into messiness or a haphazard look. Recently harvested crops tend to leave unsightly holes in a flower boarder unless they are quickly replaced, which ultimately is more work and defeats the purpose of an informal look...
If you're planning a dedicated vegetable plot, it will probably make sense to design a slightly more formal (don't worry it doesn't have to look manicured, just be well thought out), structured layout with either a permanent or semipermanent bed system. While you are planning, think about compost and water solutions (rain harvesting perhaps) and how much sun the area gets throughout the year. Thinking these things through in advance can save you lots of time, money and effort later on...
In traditional kitchen gardens, you'll usually see vegetables planted in neat rows. There's nothing wrong with this- it's an efficient use of space and it makes sowing and planting easy. However, it has it drawback: walking cup and down the rows to water, weed, harvest, etc will tramp down the the soil and compact it. This can be prevented in part by placing planks between the soil to evenly distribute hour weight and help avoid it from becoming compacted, especially when it is wet. Or, you can maintain light, fluffy, nutrient rich soil by creating a bed or raised bed system with more permanent paths that allow easy access but keep your off the soil. Ultimately, you need to think about the area that you have and what is best for you. In my case, I have a permanent, fenced garden structure, that has been filled, tilled and tended with compost. Inside the garden structure however, the planting is somewhat more free form (organized chaos in other words) and evolves each year. The soil, compost, and water solutions, as well as natural pest management solutions are permanent- which saves me time each year when prepping the area before planting. I just weed, clean up stray leaves and twigs, gently till the surface, layout my crops and then go- but more about that on another day.
Finally, decide what you want to plant in the ground and what you would like to pot. I plant my larger, heartier veggies in the garden, and then pot all of my salad greens, herbs, and citronella. (Yes, you can grow citronella, which is a natural mosquito repellent, and move the pot to where ever you need it!) The reason I choose to pot these, is that some are more delicate (parsley, cilantro, basil, tarragon, dill, etc), others attract pests and animals (salad greens, chives, oregano, thyme), some grow like weeds and can take over your entire garden (mint and rosemary), and finally if they are potted, you can simply bring them indoors during the winter and give them a home near the window (many herbs can survive happily indoors in the winter as long as they get enough natural light). Honestly though, if you are tight for space, you can grow most veggies in a pot, container or patio bag- and there are some major advantages too, such as the ability to move them and control the quality of the soil. The only veggies I would avoid when growing in containers are perennials such as asparagus, heavy veggies such as brussel sprouts, and brassicas such as broccoli or cauliflower.
So now, hopefully you are motivated to start your planning. and informed about some of the decisions you need to make before putting anything into the ground.
The next article in this series will get into greater detail on getting started, remember to come back and check it out! Sign up for our newsletter to have new articles delivered directly to your mailbox.