Planning a Vegetable Garden for Beginners

Growing your own vegetables makes more sense today than it has done for a long time in the past.

With the price of fresh and frozen vegetables continually rising in the stores, the gardener has some small hedge against inflation if he can provide all or part of his family’s vegetable requirements.

It is true that the price of seeds is also rising; but even a dollar for a packet of seeds represents excellent value, and many cost much less than that.

There is also enormous pleasure to be gained from seeing your seeds germinate, and from harvesting and eating the results of one’s own labors.

harvesting and eating veggies grown in my own garden

And, too, with methods of growing continually adapting, and new varieties being specifically bred for small spaces, the vegetable gardener today can produce far more from even a tiny plot than the gardeners of forty years ago.

Other advances have been made which make the work of the home vegetable grower that much easier to carry out.

Seeds are nearly always treated in advance now by the supplier with fungicides or other materials against many of the pests or diseases that are traditionally likely to attack that particular crop in its early stages.

Modern tools are light and easy to use as well as being easy to clean, and come in a wide range of sizes and materials. This means that no one can claim that any spade or fork or other piece of equipment is too heavy or cumbersome for them to use.

uncommon varieties of well-known vegetables
Even the smallest garden should have room for some of these vegetables.

Plastic pots make raising plants indoors much easier as they do not need crocking and the frequent watering that clay pots used to require. And there are many other handy aids such as small electric propagators, peat pots, and pelleted seeds, all of which make raising vegetables that much simpler and more likely to succeed.

It is a definite fact that shop bought vegetables taste dull compared to your own. Commercial growers of vegetables have to choose varieties which keep and travel well and tend to crop in uniform sizes.

These are far more often than not needs which are incompatible with good flavor. In your own garden, you can go for varieties with the best flavor as the keeping time will often be only a few minutes as they are carried indoors to the cook.

Also, you can grow all manner of unusual vegetables and uncommon varieties of well-known vegetables that you would never find in the shops.

With good garden management, you should be able to keep your family in fresh vegetables the whole year round. Although you may need a couple of season’s practice before you achieve maximum cropping potential from your plot.

Even the smallest and most unpromisingly shaped site can probably accommodate a vegetable garden.

A tiny space will suffice to grow lettuces and radishes and a few carrots; runner beans can be grown up against an end wall; tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and herbs can be grown in pots or tubs or even on a sunny kitchen windowsill.

Lots of vegetables are attractive enough to grow amongst your flowers; beetroot with its purple striped foliage, chicory with its blue flowers, or scarlet flowered runner beans trained in a wigwam shape.

The edges of the flowerbeds can be lined with low growing herbs in true cottage garden style.

The only real requirement to be fulfilled, assuming that your soil is currently good enough for flowers and grass. Or in the case of a new house, a healthy looking jungle of weeds is that the vegetable garden should have an open sunny position.

There are very, very few vegetables which will tolerate shade, and it is especially important that the early spring vegetables should receive as much sunlight as is possible.

If you are able to supply the sunny spot, the other necessities can be manufactured. There will need to be some protection against cold winds; a hedge or fence on the side from which the prevailing winds blow will serve this purpose.

If it is to be a hedge, make sure there is a space of at least 2m/6½ft between it and the edge of the vegetable bed, or else the hedge will use up the moisture and nourishment which should be going to the vegetables.

Do you have space for a greenhouse and/or a cold frame or frames? Both of these will more than repay the time and money spent in putting them up, and can make vegetable gardening an even more absorbing pursuit than it is otherwise.

If you are going to have them, select a site where they will receive the maximum amount of sunlight.

If you have a greenhouse, a frame is essential, as it provides the intermediate stage between the seed germinating in heat and the young plants being set out in the open—the job it performs is called ‘hardening off.

Set aside a suitable corner for a bonfire and compost heap. Also try to make room for a small seed bed where vegetables which need to be transplanted can be raised under the most favorable conditions.

Records

When you sow your seeds, whether it be under glass or in the open ground, make a note of the date and fix a label at the end of each row or seed tray giving the date, the crop and variety. If you keep a more permanent record in a book, you will know in later years the average length of time for germination to take place in your area.

The first and last dates that sowings of particular crops can be made in an average year, which varieties succeed and which crops find life a struggle in your garden, and much other useful information. This will all save you time and space and probably money in future seasons.

Do not try to grow too many varieties in the first year, or indeed in any year, and do not waste time raising far more plants than you could ever hope to use.

Although it is always wise to have some extra plants or seeds to replace germination failures or losses due to bad weather. Do not stick to the same old varieties year after year either as that way, you will never find the most successful sorts for your soil and location.

Planning

It is important to know just how big your vegetable plot is. This will be necessary in order to work out what you have room to grow, and whether you have the capacity to cultivate those vegetables, which need a very long growing season to reach maturity. Draw up a scale plan on paper and mark on it the direction of north.

vegetables in various shapes and sizes
A small plot should be able to provide plenty of variety and flavor in vegetables for a family of four.

When you have done this, make a list on another piece of paper of the vegetables you would like to grow, and then find out whether you can grow them in your garden by checking against the cropping chart at the end of this article.

This is to ensure you’ll be able to work out how much space you will need for each row (and on either side of it), and whether you think the amount of time the row will be occupied justifies your growing the crop.

The number of growing days is given here as a guide to help decide whether the space can be spared for a particular crop; but if you live in a cold area, or in the north of England or in Scotland, it may be that there are one or two crops you cannot grow at all.

Certainly there will be some that cannot be managed without a greenhouse and/or frame. Ask around in your area to find out the average number of growing days; otherwise experts on online gardening forums should be able to help.

Following the Plan

When the first season’s plan is worked out, attach it to a clipboard, and put it where you can refer to it often.

Each year place the following season’s plan on top of the previous one, in order that you do not forget the rotational order (see details on rotation here).

It is also worthwhile keeping records of weights of crops, or of fertilizers used, in order to check their suitability and value for your land.

Take a pride in your vegetable patch. if it is weed free and bug free, not only will it provide the best possible conditions for your plants to grow and crop in, but it will be a pleasure to look at and work in, and its care will become something to look forward to rather than a chore.

Cropping Chart

Crop Width between rows Distance between plants in row Growing days
Artichokes, globe 120cm/4ft 90cm/3ft 90-120 (permanent)
Artichokes, Jerusalem 75cm/30in 25cm/10in 120-150
Asparagus 75cm/30in 75cm/30in 80-120 (permanent)
Beetroot 35cm/15in 13cm/5in 50-70
Broad beans 25cm/10in 15cm/6in 80-90
Broccoli 75cm/30in 60cm/24in 60-100
Brussels sprouts 90cm/36in 90cm/36in 100-110
Cabbage 50cm/20in 40cm/16in 60-150
Cardoons 60cm/24in 45cm/18in 100-120
Carrots 25cm/10in 5cm/2in 60-85
Cauliflowers 60cm/24in 45cm/18in 60-100
Celeriac 35cm/ Min 30cm/12in 90-120
Celery 60cm/24in 23cm/9in 100-140
Chicory 30cm/12in 20cm/8in 90-120
Cucumber 4 to m2/yd2 in frame/under cloche 55-75
Eggplant 60cm/24in 55cm/22in 80-90
Endive 40cm/14in 30cm/12in 50-90
French beans 45cm/18in 20cm/8in 60-80
Good King Henry 40cm/16in 20cm/8in 80-120 (permanent)
Kohlrabi 38cm/15in 23cm/9in 60-75
Leeks 45cm/18in 15cm/6in 130-150
Lettuce 25cm/10in 20cm/8in 45-80
Marrows 120cm/48in 90cm/36in 50-60
Mushrooms 21 +
Mustard and Cress 15cm/6in 5cm/2in 14-21
Onions 30cm/12in 15cm/6in 100-165
Parsnips 45cm/18in 13cm/5in 120-150
Peas 60cm/24in between double rows 20cm/8in 65-90
Peppers 45cm/18in 40cm/16in 100-120
Potatoes, early 60cm/24in 45cm/18in 90-110
Potatoes, maincrop 90cm/36in 60cm/24in 100-130
Radishes 15cm/6in 10cm/4in 20-60
Rhubarb 60cm/24in 90cm/36in 60-100 (permanent)
Runner beans 30cm/12in 23cm/9in 60-70
Salsify 25cm/10in 20cm/8in 80-110
Scorzonera 30cm/12in 15cm/6in 90-120
Seakale 40cm/16in 35cm/14in 100-130
Shallots 35cm/14in 25cm/10in 60-75
Soya beans 25cm/10in 9cm/3in 60-90
Spinach 30cm/12in 15cm/6in 40-70
Spring onions 25cm/10in 10cm/4in 30-60
Swedes 45cm/18in 23cm/9in 100-130
Sweet corn 50cm/20in 45cm/14in 60-100
Tomatoes 75cm/30in 75cm/30in 75cm/30in
Turnips 35cm/14in 15cm/6in 30-60
Watercress 50cm/20in 15cm/6in 40-70

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