Vegetables should be planted by anyone that enjoys eating fresh vegetables and gardening.
It is a myth that a large area is needed.
Vegetables can be grown in any fertile soil as long as there is sufficient sunlight and moisture. Vegetables can be tucked into flowerbeds, grown in pots or grown as a separate garden.
Gardens are usually classified as either raise or flat but combinations are often used.
On acreages of farms where land is plentiful, flat traditional Prairie gardens prevail. Vegetables are planted in rows that are spaced two two three feet (.6 to one metre) apart. The land between the rows is kept weed-free through mechanical cultivation.
Advantages: Relatively easy maintenance as only the rows need to be hand weeded. The plants are not crowded and have room to grow. Insect and disease problems do not spread rapidly as the rows are far apart.
Disadvantages: A large area is needed to produce a small amount of vegetables. The garden will need to be watered often as exposed ground dries out quickly.
Raised gardens can be permanent or temporary. In permanent ones the soil is held in place, above ground level by a frame that is usually made of wood, plastic, rock or cement. The height of the frame depends on the gardener. The deeper the soil the more space the plant’s roots have to grow. Beds can be any length. The width should be less than five feet (1.5 metres) to enable the gardener to reach the middle without stepping on the soil.
Temporary raised beds are made each year by shovelling the soil to beds. These can be long mounds or shaped similar to permanent raised beds. To avoid erosion the top of the bed is narrower than the bottom.
Advantages: People never compact the soil in raised beds by walking in the garden. Plants are usually planted close together which eliminates extensive weeding. The sun warms the sides of the bed as well as the top, resulting in warmer soil in the spring and summer. Temporary beds can be shaped differently each year.
It doesn’t matter what type of soil is in the ground. New soil can be brought in and contained within the frames or in mounds. The frames can be raised to waist height for gardeners who can not bend over.
Disadvantages: Raised beds require more moisture as the warmer soil dries out quicker. Temporary beds are very labour-intensive in the spring. Their edges crumble if they are too steep.
The shape of seed bed will determine the amount of plants that will grow in the garden.
Single rows that are planted far enough apart than the foliage will not touch at maturity.
Advantages: They are easy to seed and weed. Plants have room to grow. Pests have a harder time to travel from one plant to the next.
Disadvantages: Soil that is exposed to sunlight dries out quickly and needs to be watered often.
Wide rows can either be seeded as single rows placed close together or broadcast seeded over a width of between one to two feett (.25 to .6 metres). To ensure that the seeds are properly placed, a guide can be used.
Advantages: Wide rows take up less room as more plants are grown in one row eliminating spaces between rows. This also means less weeding as the weeds will have to compete with more plants in one area. Less water will evaporate as vegetable foliage will shade the ground between the plants.
Disadvantages: More care is needed when seeding to ensure that plants are not too crowded. Some gardeners plant one seed per hole in a chicken wire grid. If too many seeds are used the plants will need to be thinned to allow each plant space to grow and develop.
Square foot gardening as described by Mel Bartholomew, the author of Square Foot Gardening, is practiced in raised beds but the same techniques can be used in flat ones.
Square foot gardeners plant in squares. Beds can be any length but no wider than four feet (1.2 metres) across to ensure that all areas can be reached without stepping in the bed. Suggested depth of raised beds is between six eight inches (15 to 20 cm).
Gardens are marked in foot grids. The grids can be made of permanent materials or temporary stakes and string. One type of seed is planted in each square with one, four, nine or 14 seeds used per square depending on the size of plant at maturity. Crops can be repeated within the garden but they should not be close together which helps reduce insect and disease infestations. Once a crop has been harvested the ground can be replanted, depending on the time of season.
Mel recommends that all plants be hand watered to ensure they receive the correct amount of moisture. He also recommends the following soil mixture: one-third peatmoss, one-third compost and one-third coarse vermiculite.
Advantages: The grid system makes for easy distribution of seeds. Hand watering ensures that each plant gets the correct amount of liquid.
Disadvantages: Hand watering is labour intensive. Higher sides on the bed will allow for longer root crops.
Organic additives such as clean compost or well-rotted manure should be added to the soil of a vegetable garden every year. It will ensure a constant supply of nutrients and a soft loose texture.
Which ever method is used, vegetable gardening brings pleasure outside as well as on the table.
Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist and educator living in Rocky Mountain House. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org