Having considered the pros and cons of building a home vegetable garden, and deciding to move ahead, one of the most important things you must settle on is the size of your project. Right at the outset, you need to remember that having fun with your garden is a number one priority. If the new vegetable garden becomes more of a burden than a happy endeavor your chances of success will quickly diminish, and starting out too big is a real problem. Remember, you can always add to the size of your garden if you find that the whole family is really enjoying it.
One of the first questions you need to address is what you want to grow. If everyone in the family loves corn, you will need a lot more space than planting a few rows of peas, beans and tomatoes. Get a hold of some seed catalogs and go through them page by page to get an idea of what everyone likes. This is really a fun process to go through, especially in the middle of winter as you plan for the upcoming season.
For a family of four, a growing area of about 150 – 200 square feet is a good size to start with. This will give you room to plant several types of crops without requiring an awful lot of work. If you are just starting out, you should also consider building raised vegetable garden beds. They are attractive, highly productive and make the whole gardening experience very easy.
Because the beds are above ground, they will thaw much quicker and allow you to get a head start on the planting season. They are also very easy to maintain once your crops start to grow. Weeding is greatly reduced because you will have put good clean soil into your box right at the outset and weeds will have a reduced chance at grabbing a foothold. A really good practice is to use organic black mulch on top of the soil. This will absorb the warming rays of the sun and heat the soil very quickly early in the spring. Your melons, cucumbers and tomatoes will love this! As the season progresses, the mulch will all but eliminate weed development.
Another great benefit to raised beds is their versatility. You could build four beds, each 4’ x 12’, and effectively manage what you want to grow. Who doesn’t like fresh tomatoes? If you put eight plants in one box, you will harvest plenty of tomatoes for a family of four, and probably have enough left over to do some canning or freezing! Plant various types of lettuce in another box and after harvesting mid way through the season, you can replace the lettuce with a crop beans. A half box of sweet peppers combined with a half box of carrots will be very productive. Onions, garlic, herbs, etc. all will thrive in raised beds. And if you really want to get kids involved in gardening, give each one their own box, no matter what the size, and let them grow whatever they want.
If you choose not to build raised beds, just pick out a sunny, level location, crank up the rototiller and prep the soil. Good drainage is critical in any vegetable garden so mixing in a little peat moss and sand to the newly turned dirt will pay dividends down the road.
Here is a tip that not enough gardeners do. Plant asparagus! If your family likes asparagus, it is a crop well worth growing and requires very little maintenance. It is one of the first vegetable to emerge in the spring and a couple of 12 foot rows will provide you with at least a month of delicious eating. A new asparagus bed requires a bit of patience however. It takes about three years for a bed to become fully developed, but once established it will be very productive for decades! Asparagus is a perennial so you won’t have to replant it year after year. Just keep the bed weed free, add a bit of compost every year, and you will be set for a very long time.
With proper care and keeping the weeds under control, a small vegetable garden can be very productive. Whether you choose to build raised beds or lay out a 150 square foot plot, a family of four will be nicely reward with significant yields of fresh organic vegetables. A word of caution however. Successful gardening is so much fun that expansion is almost inevitable!
Photo by Lori L. Stalteri, www.flickr.com