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    Garden Planning: Vegetable Garden Ideas

    Authored by Leah Chester-Davis

    Raising your own vegetables is one of the most rewarding gardening experiences. Few things deliver joy like harvesting vegetables from plants you have nurtured and tended, unless it’s tasting the fresh-from-the-garden flavors in your own culinary creations.

    If this is the year you’ve decided to grow a garden, these tips will put you on the road to home-grown goodness.

    Consider your available gardening time

    It’s easy to get carried away when looking at seed catalogs or plants at the garden center so think about how much time you have to spend in the garden. If you’re just getting started, set yourself up for success by starting out small. You can always add more later. By keeping your garden manageable, you can enjoy the work and the fruits of your labor without getting overwhelmed.

    Consider the garden site

    Pick a sunny spot. A vegetable garden needs plenty of sun, at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight daily. Avoid areas near shade trees or shrubs that may not only block the sun but compete for nutrients and water. Likewise, avoid sites near a house or other structures that may cast shade. The site you select also needs to be flat to optimize water, rather than it running downhill and away from your garden. If you don’t have an optimal garden spot, consider growing vegetables in containers on a sunny patio or other spot.

    Pick a site near a water source. A vegetable garden requires water. The last thing you want to do is to haul or carry water. Proximity to a water source not only makes watering convenient, it also helps ensure you’ll stick with gardening chores on the hottest days of summer. Drip irrigation or soaker hoses may be what you need to keep the garden watered when rainfall is scarce.

    Decide the best garden type for you

    A few options to consider, depending on your property, may be containers, raised beds, or traditional, in-ground gardens, or a combination of them all. They each have merit and you can have gardening success with each. 

    • Containers: Many vegetables can be grown in containers provided the containers are large enough, have a good potting mix, and are sited in the sun. 
    • Raised beds: One of the most durable woods for constructing raised beds is cedar but a wide variety of materials can be used. Avoid using treated wood that may leach chemicals into your soil. If you don’t have time to construct raised beds, a number of options are on the market. Some are available on legs, which can be particularly useful for those with physical limitations. Other options are pre-made metal garden beds. Add organic material such as compost to the soil in your raised beds.
    • Traditional, in ground: If you have the space and don’t want to spend time constructing raised beds this may be the way to go. Even with an in-ground garden, it’s possible to create a raised bed effect by working and mounding the soil to create a bed rather than a row. This will allow you to plant several items in the bed. Or you can stick with the traditional garden rows.

    Get your soil tested.

    A soil test can help you determine what you may need to add to your soil. In most states, soil test kits are available at your county Extension office and are either free or available for a nominal fee. In the absence of a soil test, the University of Tennessee Extension recommends using two to three pounds of 6-12-12 fertilizer or its equivalent per 100 square feet of garden area. Spread the fertilizer over the garden bed and then work it into the top six inches of soil

    Make a list of what to plant

    This is a fun part of gardening but can be challenging when you see beautiful picture-perfect produce in seed catalogs or online. Consider your family’s favorites and include on your list what you can reasonably care for. If you are just getting started, consider about five different vegetables your family enjoys and then plant two to four plants of each of those vegetables. If you have the space, time, and interest to add more, select additional plants based on whether you intend to consume the fresh produce or whether you want to have extra to preserve by canning or freezing. 

    • Select recommended varieties. Every year All-America Selections releases names of varieties that have performed well across the country. Buy either seeds or healthy transplants at your local nursery or garden center. Look for plants that have good green color and healthy leaves, stems, and roots. Avoid plants that are yellow, wilted, and leggy or spindly. 
    • Both cool-season and warm-season plants can turn your garden into a producer for much of the year. 

    Plant at the proper time

    Cool-season plants, such as broccoli, kale, and spinach, are typically planted in spring or fall and thrive in cooler temperatures below 70 degrees. Warm-season vegetables, such as tomatoes, beans, and squash, need to be planted after the danger of frost has passed and when the soil temperatures have warmed up. They love hot summer temperatures.

    Another way to extend the harvest is to stagger planting dates, known as succession planting, over a period of a few weeks. If you wish to have an abundance of lettuce over a longer period, for example, plant lettuce seeds every week or two for a period of a month.