Friday, May 6, 2011

Where are you putting that Vegetable Garden?

Back in January I wrote a column on having a vegetable garden, hoping the idea of all those fresh vegetables would inspire my readers and help solve our  country’s obesity problems.  Now there’s another good reason to start raising vegetables – food inflation.  The price of fresh vegetables at the super market are getting as painful as the price of gas, so let’s look at the essential requirements needed for a successful vegetable garden.

Picking a good site is of course the first step, and sunlight is the most important aspect of the site to consider. That may seem obvious, but I've seen many a garden shaded by a barn or a big maple tree in the early morning or late afternoon. The more sunlight your garden gets, the better and faster just about any vegetable will grow.

When you think about where to put the garden, there are a few other things to think about besides sunlight.  Here in New England where late spring and early fall frosts are always threatening the plants that need a long growing season, picking a protected site for the garden can make a big difference.  Vegetables like melons, winter squash, and sweet potatoes may require as much as 90 days to ripen.  And of course tomatoes, which we all grow, not to save money but to get that real home-grown flavor, are the most susceptible to frost.

Our first garden on Locust Hill was up behind the barn, surrounded by open meadow.  It was so unprotected that we could easily get a killing frost in June and once had one in mid-August. We hardly ever got anything but green tomatoes.  It took us almost ten years to move that far away garden down to the back yard. By doing so, we gained almost a month to our growing season as it was beautifully protected from frost - the garden shed on its north side, a retaining wall to the west and the house (not so close as to block the sun) to the south. 

Obviously good soil is another important ingredient for a successful garden  and was actually the reason we put our first one where we did.  Our other choices had terrible soil - clay fit for a potter's wheel and rocks enough to build a stone wall.  But unlike limited sunlight, poor soil - too much clay, sand, rocks - can be turned into good soil.  Adding compost and manure will turn the worst soil into something vegetables  thrive in.  Planting Swiss chard in a different area each year can do wonders as its roots spread and dig down for five or six feet, aerating the soil.  Then they decay over the winter adding humus and nutrients.

Having the garden in the backyard had many other advantages.  The previous garden had been "out of sight" and also "out of mind." It was easy to neglect, easy to forget to weed or water or even harvest the beans. Having the dinner's vegetables ten steps from the kitchen was a boon when suddenly I needed a few chives for the salad or  a cucumber for a sandwich.

It also eliminated the problem of deer and woodchucks and other wild critters that had plagued the other garden, since our dogs bark their heads off whenever unwelcome wildlife is tempted to invade.  And that brings me to another important ingredient of a successful garden - a good fence. Possibly if you live in a suburban community, the wild critters that would plague my garden wouldn't bother yours, but I think even suburbia has rabbits, chipmunks and nowadays probably more deer than are found out in the country.

I have my fingers crossed that two columns on the delights of growing your own vegetables will inspire you, even if it's just to grow a few tomato plants in a big pot.

1 comment:

  1. Everybody here seems to grow something - and if they don't grow it, they go and pick from roadside plants! Today we put the wee basil plants be bought in an urn on the terrace, with a handsome cherry tomato plant in the middle. Petunias will go in wall planters tomorrow. 5 other 'san martino' (plum) tomatoes planted elsewhere. Bit by bit... Our original garden got too shady (palm, apricot and orange trees make a lot of shade between 'em), so now we do all the veggies in narrow beds in front of the stone walls - it worked well last year and should be better this year because we learned a lot... and brought back some nice string lattice from the U.S. for things to climb. I love seeing your photos and reading your blog!