It’s funny sometimes how no matter how much planning and research you do on a subject you still discover all sorts of things from your personal experiences along the way. This year marks my first “serious” attempt at growing my own vegetables and despite trying to absorb as much information as possible over the last few months there are a number of discoveries I’ve made that have forced me to significantly modify the original plan I had for my vegetable patch. Today I want to tell you why I made these changes, and highlight a few concepts that you, like me, may not have considered…
Length Of Time Till Harvest
Some vegetable crops are ready to harvest within a matter of months. For example, many salad crops like scallions, radishes and lettuces may be picked a matter of weeks after germination. Contrast this to other crops such as cabbages, purple sprouting brocolli or turnips, which may remain in the ground for 6-12 months depending on when you plant them and the weather in your part of the world.
One mistake I made initially was not taking this factor into account. It can be mildly frustrating after harvesting fast-growing crops to find out that you don’t have enough space to plant what you want because of slower-growing crops either side of the gap.
As a result one smart idea is to carefully read the instructions on the back of your seed packets – or take the time to buy and read a decent vegetable gardening book – and then take the “time to harvest” into account when planting out. Consider placing your rows of crops in order so that all the longer-lived crops will be at one end of your vegetable plot while those crops that will be harvested sooner are at the other end. This will gives you a larger patch of available soil sooner and more options for what you can put in the vacant area, rather than trying to work out what crops might fit in the irregular gaps left between longer-living plants.
Adult Plant Height
Some plants, like peas and calabrese, attain only a short adult height while many tomatoes and sweetcorns will grow to be much, much taller. Depending on where the sun falls on your vegetable plot, you may find that the taller plants absorb most of the available sun, and cast shade on the shorter plants. These shorter plants may well then suffer from stunted growth as a result and smaller, later crops.
Once again, refer to your trusty book and your seed packets to get a better idea of the maximum height your crops are likely to attain, together with the direction of sunshine throughout the day, and consider planning your vegetable plot so that the shorter plants are positioned closer together where they will receive less shade from the taller varieties.
An alternative solution is to try and buy “dwarf” varities so that they attain a shorter maximum height and thus cast less shade. For example, grow small bush tomatoes or – as I am doing – grow the Minipop variety of corn which grows to nowhere near the height of standard corn.
Direction And Longevity Of Sunshine
We’ve mentioned earlier how it’s wise to “know your plot” and have a good understanding of where the sun falls at what time of day, and, even more, so which areas are likely to be shady for at least part of the day. While some crops like peppers and corn like strong, direct sunshine for as much of the day as possible, other crops such as land cress are happy with partial shade. Once again, use these factors in helping you make decisions about which of your crops are going to grow best in which locations.
Amount Of Work
Some vegetable plants require far more work and effort than others. Rhubarb, for example, will pretty much take care of itself. Potatoes, too, apart from some digging (which you don’t absolutely have to do) will look after themselves in many cases, with their thick, densely-packed leaves helping to drown out invasive weeds.
Other crops, though, like peas, with their small leaves and open structures, can easily become overrun with weeds if you’re not constantly hand-weeding them.
When it comes to planning out your vegetable garden, consider how much work a crop is likely to be and, consequently, not only where the most practical place for them is, but also how best to arrange your rows. As a stark example, I planted my peas and mange tout rows far too close together this year and find that tiptoeing down the middle to weed them makes me feel like I’m trying to walk the highwire, constantly waving my arms around to maintain my balance and not fall flat on my face!
Frequency Of Harvest
In general, a pumpkin or butternut squash plant will grow all Summer long and then you’ll harvest all the fruits at the end of the season over a short period of time. Contrast this with a tomato plant that may produce crops over weeks and weeks, and it’s clear that while you’ll need regular, easy access to your tomatoes, your squashes will require far less “hands-on” work. Even more so, consider how you’re likely to be harvesting salad crops frequently which you can grow in succession for a summer-long supply.
As a result, it’s worth considering planting your “higher maintenance” crops in the easiest-to-access parts of your vegetable plot while those crops that pretty much take care of themselves can be put into the more out-of-the-way and harder-to-access areas.
There really is no perfect solution to planning out a vegetable plot. Even more so when you take into account regular crop rotation so your plant will need to change each year. But I hope this article serves to give you a little food for thought. There will always be compromises to make but the moral of the story is don’t just randomly decide to place a certain crop in a certain place without reason. Instead put some thought into the elements discussed above to try and make your life a little easier and your vegetable growing a little more successful.
Richard Adams is the publisher of Eco Living Advice.