If you’ve decided to grow your vegetables, there are certain tasks that are essential. Other tips and tricks will help to increase your yield or the overall health of your plants. In the following article, we’ll explore six things you should be doing amidst your rows and vegetable plots that will help your garden shine brightly beneath the sun.
1. Pick Your Battles
If you’re new to gardening, it’s vital that you not bite off more than you can chew. Many first time gardeners are overly ambitious and find that the size of their garden overwhelms them from the start. Depending on what you want to grow and the lay of your land, you’ll want to pick a spot that measures about four feet by eight feet.
If you want to grow fruit-bearing vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers or members of the pea and bean family, your garden should receive at least eight hours of direct sunlight a day during the growing season. For those who want to garden but have lots of shade in their yard, you can still produce delightful edibles. Leafy greens, such as spinach and lettuce or members of the mustard green family—kale, chard, collard greens—thrive in less sunny conditions, as do many aromatic herbs.
2. Plot Your Plot
Before the growing season begins, it’s imperative that you have a good idea of how you’ll lay out your garden. Along with overall plot size, you need to consider what crops you want to grow. Each species has its own spatial needs to produce its best.
In addition to considering how far apart to plant your garden’s inhabitants, give some serious thought to structure. Will you plant in rows? Is your garden plot a rectangle or some less regular shape that fits your landscaping limitations, such as a semi-circle, a curved border plot, or a corner garden? How will you access your plants and extract weedy invaders?
Most experts advise at least 18 inches between rows, which gives you ample space to maneuver. If you want to space the plants more closely together than is advised, they will still happily grow and produce. What it means is that you’ll have to hunker down and pull weeds by hand. They also hint that you’ll want to think about how tall each of your crop species will grow. Situate tall or vining plants that require supports on the north side of the garden.
3. Companion Planting
Companion planting principals have been used by many cultures throughout the chapters of the human story following the Agricultural Revolution. There are many reasons to use this type of approach to your vegetable garden, but they don’t always treat with the same concerns.
For example, the Three Sisters model used by indigenous North American peoples incorporates corn, beans, and squash into a garden plot. By modern, Western mores, these species are not necessarily scientifically ideal companion species. However, in the indigenous model and many like it work empirically—observably.
Consider investigating models of companion planting, depending on which vegetables you wish to grow. While you should be aware that some claims are more credible than others, it is true that specific plants seem to thrive near each other while others compete for identical resources. When searching for texts and manuals on the topic, steer clear of the vague realm of companion plants. Instead, search for intercropping and plant association.
4. Herbs and Flowers as Pest Deterrents
When you grow food in your garden, it’s inadvisable to use harsh chemical agents to deter pests. The good news is that there are many flowers, herbs, and other plants that bugs don’t like. Garlic, chrysanthemums, rosemary, basil, borage, clover, lavender, mint, and marigolds, to name only a few, all contain human-safe chemicals that insects avoid. Many of them are also excellent companion plants—such as clover, basil, and marigolds—because they actively improve the soil for their plant neighbors.
This is a practice that has many benefits, from reducing methane production to reusing materials that account for almost 75 percent of landfill volume. However, in your garden, it goes to work in ways you can see. For heavy or clay-based soils, it improves drainage, makes the soil easier to work with, and reduces compaction, providing plenty of elbow room for growing plants.
In sandier soils, it provides cohesion and improves nutrient retention while acting as an erosion deterrent. Compost also makes your garden friendlier to beneficial insects and earthworms, which will actively improve soil quality and prevent incursions of pest species. Nitrogen fixing bacteria and those that boost the immunity of your plants also love compost, which will ensure robust growth with fewer blights and low-yield issues all season long.
6. Protect Plant Stems
If you’re growing plants such as tomatoes, home-grown plant whisperers will tell you to save your paper towel or toilet tissue rolls. This cardboard—or waxed paper cups, alternatively—will come in handy at planting time. Just cut them so they can be fitted around the base of the young plants, with a few centimeters firmly anchored in the soil. This simple practice deters insects that feast on the tender stems at the surface level, giving each plant a chance to succeed. You can also do this with sweet pepper plants.
Now Go Out and Grow!
Perhaps the greatest advice for those new to gardening is that it should be a joyful enterprise. Growing a subsistence garden need not be a chore, even if it is hard work at times. Following these helpful tips and branching out in your research will give you methods through which you can enhance the quality of your produce and the beauty of your garden plot. Whether small or large, Audrey Hepburn’s proverb holds true—to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.