Vegetable gardens were a staple for most of human history and throughout much of American history. But in the 1950s, their reign ended. For several decades, vegetable gardens were seen as more of a nuisance than anything else. It wasn’t until the fresh, local food revolution of the 2000s that the vegetable garden has come back to prominence. One of the first steps to making a successful garden is knowing the best location for a vegetable garden. To do so, an individual needs to know what they want to grow, their soil composition, their sun exposure, and the amount of precipitation.
How to Find the Best Location for a Vegetable Garden
The ideal place for a vegetable garden includes the following:
- At least 6 hours of sun exposure each day
- Soil that is nutrient-rich and loose
- Access to water and fertilizer
- Plenty of soil drainage or a form of irrigation so water doesn’t pool around the roots
- Plenty of air circulation
- Level ground
- A place that will compel you to get out there and tend the garden!
The first six bullet points ensure any vegetable garden has the basic necessities for encouraging growth and minimizing unwanted mold, mildew, or bacteria. Failing to have sunlight, drainage, or airflow can result in vegetables that rot, are stunted, or simply fail to grow at all.
But the seventh one is the most important.
You need to pick a place that will make you want to go out and garden, as opposed to all of the other things on your calendar you could be filling your time with.
When considering sun exposure, gardeners will need to consider potential obstacles. Any object: trees, houses, bushes, walls, etc. cast a shadow. And shade is the enemy of many vegetables gardens. This is because shade prevents plants from getting their lovely sunlight.
Shade can also facilitate disease and other unsavory issues. People should observe their yards and figure out which areas receive the most shade and sunlight.
If you aren’t sure where the best sunny spots are in your yard, you can try using Google Earth to check out how the sun lands on your property throughout the year. This isn’t going to be perfectly accurate, but it can help give a better sense of the play of light across your yard throughout the year.
Of course, those tasty tomatoes, exciting eggplants, and firey peppers want as much sun as they can get in order to produce the most fruit possible. But not all vegetables are like that, and many prefer at least partial shade.
Gardeners really want to work with their land and conditions, as opposed to trying to force plants into places where they won’t grow well. For many plants, too much sun is bad. Choose your plant varieties based on how much light an area of your yard will get at any given time. HarvesttoTable has a fantastic list of vegetables that grow in shady environments.
Take advantage of your shady areas, and grow a garden anywhere!
Soil Quality and Testing
Before you plant your garden, you most likely want to get your soil tested. If you live in an urban area, you may not want to plant your garden directly in the existing ground. Sadly, the aftermath of decades of leaded gasoline and lead paint use can still be found in many city soils. Lead is often found in high levels in the soil of cities and inner suburbs. Gasoline, oil, and other toxins may be present, as well.
And if you live in one of these areas, you should consider excavating out the old soil or using raised garden beds for your gardens. This will ensure that the soil your vegetables are grown in is fresh and clean, and free of contaminants.
You can get lead test kits on Amazon, and with these, test the quality of your existing soil.
Once you’re comfortable that your existing soil is ok, you should then test the soil to determine its balance. The main nutrients to check for are nitrogen (N), potassium (K), and phosphorous (P), but there are several other micronutrients that matter, as well.
You can purchase an on-the-ground test kit for your soil, but you’ll get much better results by using a kit that gets analyzed in a lab.
Also, don’t forget, different vegetables require varying levels of nutrients and moisture, and a moisture meter can be helpful in keeping track of all of this.
Water and Fertilizer Needs
Having readily-available access to water and fertilizer is very important to get your garden off the ground, so to speak! Often it can be smart to water your plants every day, especially in the beginning stages of gardening, or if you’re undergoing a drought. Make sure you have a garden hose that can reach where you need to go. A garden hose reel can be helpful in these cases!
Alternately, consider putting together a self irrigation system, and automate your gardening troubles away!
For fertilizer, you’ll want to pick up appropriate organic fertilizers for the vegetables you’re growing. Tomato fertilizer will differ from, say, beet fertilizer.
Also, you may be able to skip the fertilizer altogether if you use high-quality compost from a compost bin or compost tumbler! If you’re getting into gardening, having a compost heap of some sort is a must.
Next, look for flat ground. This ensures the vegetables receive equal amounts of sunlight, shade, and irrigation. The biggest problems come from water flowing over uneven ground. Erosion can cause seeds to be washed away. Plants can drown, and others might become dehydrated and die.
Some reasonable variation in level is fine, but if you’re planning on a slope of any significant grade, you may run into issues. You could consider terracing the slope, which will ease erosion issues and give you more flat ground to work with.
Once that’s done, you should aerate your soil before planting. You can do this pretty easily by tilling the soil or using a simple pitchfork.
The last step in choosing a plot is to make sure the location isn’t too hard to get to! You’ll regularly be watering, weeding, harvesting, fertilizing, and working with your garden. You don’t want to have to trudge through muddy swampy fields and tall mountainous peaks just to get to the garden.
Try to keep in as easy as possible to get to and service, and you’ll actually use it!
Putting it Together
The ideal location for a vegetable garden is, therefore, a spot with some shade, lots of sunshine, and far enough away from the house that it’s not shaded, but no so far away that you can’t water it!
Why away from the house? Houses and other buildings cast way too much shade and are one of the worst places for vegetable gardens. Anywhere that a tree might cast a lot of shadows is another spot that should be avoided.
You want to pick a spot that will encourage you to go out and tend the garden rather than do the million other things you could be doing, like using Facebook, watching Netflix, catching up on emails. You get the idea.
You need a space that will compel you to get out there and dig, as opposed to staying inside and saying “I’ll get to that tomorrow.”
Best Direction to Plant Vegetable Garden
People tend to forget that vegetable orientation matters. This doesn’t mean that the veggies need to be prepared for class, but instead that they need to face the right direction. Vegetables and greens should not be planted so they are oriented east-west to one another. When this happens, they tend to shade one another and prevent each other from receiving adequate sunlight. Instead, gardeners should plant their vegetables in north-south orientation.
Also, you want to plant your vegetables so that the taller plants will be behind the shorter plants. This is especially true if you’re working in a small raised bed design. You don’t want the taller plants in front, soaking up all the tasty sunlight, and stunting the growth of the shorter plants.
Lots of people forget that while they own a property, they may have objects under their soil like sewer pipes, water pipes, irrigation, electrical lines, etc.
Depending on location, there might be wires and pipes running underneath the front or backyard that are connected to important utilities like sewage and the power lines.
Individuals who live in urban areas, especially neighborhoods, should contact the local utility companies and providers to check for lines. This can be done by calling the company and requesting the information. Some places have the right number listed in the phone book under the heading “Call Before You Dig.” or DigSafe.
Conclusion: Just Do It!
Vegetables don’t require a ton of work once they’re going, but tending to a garden, and choosing the best location for a vegetable garden can be challenging. People interested in making their own vegetable gardens should find a location with plenty of water, sunlight, and nutrient-rich soil. Gardeners should also make sure the ground is flat, that there is not too much shade, and that there are no utility wires or pipes below the ground.
But most importantly, pick a location that will allow you to actually tend your garden. The critical part of getting a garden growing is going out and working in the soil! Try to remove the obstacles that make it more appealing to flip through Instagram than dig through the garden, and you’ll have the most success.
Now, get out there and plant those parsnips!
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