Designing a productive and aesthetically pleasing garden can be complicated. Doing it correctly involves more than placing a seed in the ground, watering it and watching a corn plant come up. We must determine what our goals are.
If you want a vegetable garden and you live in town, aesthetics is key. Traditional vegetable gardens aren’t exactly designed to be ornamental. However, we can choose plants that are dual-purpose and don’t sprawl out of control. Even plants that do can be contained effectively and look pretty at the same time.
Take cucumbers for example. Growing them on a fence keeps the vines confined and out of our yard. It also makes fruits easier to harvest.
Some crops like corn and peas take up huge amounts of space. They might not be the best choice for folks possessing small yards. Tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and many herbs might be the best choice for those situations.
If having a pretty garden is essential, incorporating flowers along with the vegetables can be effective. There are also plants that can help control garden pests. I’ll leave that for another time.
Some of our garden plants are perennials. Strawberries and asparagus are good examples. This can pose a problem unless we plant them separately from our annual vegetables. Perennials should be in an area that is not intended to be tilled up every year.
Light is another consideration. It’s helpful if tall plants are planted toward the north side of the garden. That way they don’t shade shorter crops.
All garden plants can’t be planted at the same time either. Soil temperature is very critical. Okra and melons shouldn’t be planted until soil temperatures are well into the 60s. This won’t happen until the ground dries up and all danger of frost has passed. Cabbage, broccoli, celery, carrots and most greens can be planted now if the ground is dry enough to work. May peas should probably have been planted by now.
It’s also helpful to plan the garden so that it can be sequentially planted. In other words, it’s nice if all the warm-season crops are planted together so that we’re not constantly tromping around and risking damaging plants that are already growing.
Some plants in the garden can be directly seeded and some must be grown from transplants for maximum efficiency. Generally, tomatoes, peppers and okra should be started from transplants. Corn, beans, beets, spinach, carrots and radishes are grown from seed.
Another important factor to consider is how pests and diseases will affect our garden over a long time. We need to rotate our crops and not plant them in the same spot year after year. Insects and diseases are often species-specific and will build up in the soil. I realize that this might violate our tall and short plant rule, but sometimes sacrifices must be made.
Gardening is fun, and most of the rules aren’t hard fast. However, it’s helpful to plan. I think it’s always important to think ahead and manage the space effectively.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.