Thinking of building a vegetable garden? You can save money on food by growing your own crops. How wonderful it would be to have fresh vegetables all season long, something you could enjoy thanks to your hard work! Of course, successful vegetable gardening demands commitment. Agriculture is more than just planting seeds and waiting for them to grow into crops. Vegetable gardening is more than just planting vegetables.
Top tips for a successful vegetable garden
- Choose a flat, sunny location with well-drained soil. Vegetables need a minimum of 6–8 hours of sun. Full sun is best.
- Prepare your soil well before you plant. Thoroughly remove all weeds, dig to loosen the soil, and amend with compost and fertilizer as needed.
- Choose vegetables that your family likes to eat.
- Keep vegetables well watered.
- Harvest your vegetables as soon as they are ready.
- Plan your garden so it will produce vegetables all year round.
- Enjoy your garden! Observe and tend it regularly.
Choosing your site
Look for full sun exposure
Vegetables need at least 6-8 hours of sunlight each day to grow properly. Full sun is ideal. Some root vegetables and leafy greens can handle a little bit of shade, but vegetables that have to produce fruits, like tomatoes and corn, need full sun. If there is not enough sunlight, then the vegetables will not be as healthy and will be more likely to have pests and diseases.
Be aware of shadows from buildings or trees. observe how large a part of the area would be covered in shade and for how long each day. Shadow patterns will differ depending on the time of year. If your yard doesn’t get enough sunlight, you can grow vegetables in containers and move them around to get the most sun exposure.
Make sure water is available
Water your vegetables regularly to ensure they have a steady supply of water as they grow. If you don’t already have one, you may need to install a hose spigot or drip irrigation system before planting.
Look for good soil
Pick a spot for your garden that is level and has good dirt that doesn’t have any rocks or weeds in it. Avoid shallow or compacted soils. You can amend your soil to improve it. If your soil is not nutrient-rich, you may want to consider planting in raised beds.
The best way to take care of a garden is to make it easy to get to. If you can, put it near your house and somewhere you’ll see it often.
Preparing the soil
Work with soil when moist but not wet
Clay soil is found in many parts of Santa Clara County. It is heavy but fertile, and it retains water well. When clay soil is at the right level of moisture, it will easily break apart into a granular structure that is perfect for growing vegetables. Clay soil should be worked when it is slightly damp, but not too wet. After it rains or you water your site, wait a day or two for the soil to reach the right level of moisture before you start digging.
Some sites in the county have sandy soil. This soil is easier to dig when it is neither waterlogged nor completely dry.
Dig or rototill soil
You should loosen the soil to a depth of 6 to 10 inches, which is the depth of a spade or digging fork. When the soil is appropriate for digging, the clay soil will break into clods as it falls. If you hit a layer of gravel (subsoil), try not to bring it up.
When possible, it is recommended to hand-till the soil instead of using a rototiller because a rototiller can break down the soil structure further than desired.
Break up large, dry clods
Loosen the soil with a rake, and then break up any large clods that remain. If you’re making a bed for vegetables for the first time, you might need to rake and loosen the soil a few times to get a uniform texture throughout. If the dirt is hard and dry, wet it and then start working it down.
Improving the soil
The ideal soil would have a balance of sand and clay, not too heavy or too light. It is best to use the best soil that you can find, though no soil is perfect. Soils that are either very light or very heavy can be improved with organic amendments to help with either water retention or drainage.
Modifying clay soil
If you want your clay soil to be excellent for gardening, make sure to regularly add organic matter. Organic matter can help improve the structure of heavy clay soils by separating the clay particles and making the soil more crumbly. This can help improve water and root penetration.
Modifying sandy soil
Soils that are light and sandy are generally not good at holding onto water or organic matter. This, in turn, promotes microbial activity, which helps to improve plant growth. Increasing the amount of organic matter in light soil can help improve plant growth by promoting microbial activity and increasing the soil’s water-holding capacity.
Amounts and types of organic matter needed
In order to be effective, a large amount of organic matter such as humus, compost, or well-rotted manure is necessary. Around a third of the volume of soil is often what is desired, and less than 20 percent is often seen as not being effective. This purpose can be served by many different plant materials and manures. If you’re a homeowner in Santa Clara County, composting is a convenient way to dispose of your organic waste.
When you are preparing a vegetable bed for the first time, you should spread 2 to 4 inches of compost over the prepared garden area and mix it into the top 1 foot of soil. One method for separating metal from debris is to sift it with a garden fork. Compost breaks down in the soil over time. Approximately one inch of compost should be added to planting beds annually during preparation.
Soil amendments that have a higher carbon-to-nitrogen ratio than compost are not as effective. Examples are peat moss, straw, or shredded bark. If you use one of these materials, you must also add extra nitrogen fertilizer to the soil to help it decompose. Some other amendments have a relatively lower carbon to nitrogen ratio. If you’re using one of these, you won’t be able to plant for 3 to 4 weeks while the material decomposes in the soil.
If you want to know more about the quality of your soil, you can have a soil test done.
Benefits of raised beds
- Easier to garden in
- Better drainage
- Lets soil warm sooner in the spring
- Keeps soil from being compacted by being walked on
- Saves water by keeping it on the plants and off the paths
Materials for raised beds
Beds that are raised above ground level can be made from any material that can hold soil. For example, using chunks of broken concrete (“urbanite”), pavers, bricks, or logs as edging for raised beds is a good idea. You can also use metal stock tanks as large containers if you add drainage holes to the bottom, or cut the bottom out entirely.
Raised beds are often made of wood. Redwood and cedar last a long time because they are naturally rot-resistant. Composite decking is another good option. Do not use wood that has old paint on it as it might contain lead which could contaminate the soil.
The sides of the bed offer a good place to fasten markers or stakes for trellises when made of wood. If gophers are a problem, ½” wire hardware cloth can be nailed or stapled to the bottom of a wooden bed before it is filled with soil.
Dimensions for raised beds
You can build raised beds to any shape, length, or width you like. However, keep in mind the length of your arms. It can be difficult to care for plants in the center of the bed if it is more than three feet wide. The ideal width for a bed is between 3-4 feet, as this makes it easier to plant and take care of. However, beds can be as narrow as 12 inches if space is limited.
Soil for raised beds
You can use any good potting mix or modified soil to fill a raised bed. Native soil can make up one-third to one-half of the mix, with the rest being compost or other organic matter. If high-quality loam topsoil is available, you won’t need as much organic matter. If you purchase soil, request a soil mix specifically for growing vegetables in raised beds from your nursery or landscape material center.
For best growth, the soil should stay evenly moist. It’s best not to alternate between wet and dry conditions, as this can sometimes lead to issues with growth.
How often to water
The amount of water your plants need will change depending on the time of year, the type of soil they are in, the weather, and the type of plants. Seedlings will need to be watered more frequently when they are young or if the weather is hot.
Check the soil moisture often. Use your fingers to feel the soil in a small hole. When plants are small, dig one to three inches deep. For larger plants with deeper roots, such as mature tomatoes, dig six to eight inches. The soil at the bottom of the hole should not be dry. If it is dry, you need to water.
In order to grow successfully, plants need 17 different elements in varying amounts. Nitrogen is the nutrient that plants need in the largest amount. Almost all Santa Clara County soils and washes have low levels of nitrogen, which dissolve easily in water. Nitrogen is the only nutrient that county soils generally lack, so it is the only one farmers need to add regularly.
Choosing a fertilizer
Garden centers have a lot of different kinds of fertilizers that are either made from chemicals or plants and animals. These fertilizers are designed to give nutrients like nitrogen to plants. On the label, nitrogen is the first number listed. A package labeled 10-10-10 and one labeled 10-0-0 will both contain the same amount of nitrogen. Use the package directions to figure out how much to use.
7 of the Easiest Crops to Grow
If you are new to gardening, you should start with crops that are easy to grow. The crops listed below require less maintenance from farmers, leading to higher yields. Here are some of the best vegetables to grow for newbie gardeners:
Tomatoes do not need a lot of attention and care to produce fruit. Some varieties will thrive even when neglected. Tomatoes can be grown in a wide variety of locations and the plants do not get too large, making them ideal for small gardens, container gardens, or vertical gardens. Tomato plants can be hung in baskets, planted in-ground, or in pots. Cherry tomatoes, in particular, are so easy to grow. Since tomatoes’ plant stems are quite soft, they will need support in the form of a stake or cage.
This vegetable does best in warm, sunny spots, but it tends to spread like weeds. The author is suggesting that cucumber plants typically produce a high yield, so if you have an abundance, you can gift them to your neighbors. Cucumbers grow best in small gardens, container gardens, and vertical gardens, just like tomatoes. The cucumber plants need a structure to climb on.
Carrots are a great option for new gardeners. Carrots do well in both sunny and semi-shady areas, and they don’t require a lot of care. They will even do well in soil that is not in perfect condition. Carrots will grow best in soil that drains well, but they can also grow in soil that is dense and heavy. Carrots are not only nutritious, but planting them can be a fun activity to do with the kids. Harvesting carrots can be just as fun as any other vegetable. If you want your kids to take up gardening as a hobby, then planting carrots is a great way to start them off.
Love radish? This vegetable is easy to grow, which is fortunate. Radishes make a salad or appetizer more crunchy and add a light flavor to soup and stew. You can grow radishes easily, even if you start from seeds. Plant radishes in a container garden, a raised garden bed, or directly into the ground. Radishes love sunny to partially sunny environments. The plant does not need to be watered daily, but the soil must always be moist.
Green beans come in many different varieties, and they are all very easy to grow. Be sure to check what varieties of green beans are available to you, depending on your location and the amount of space you have. Some varieties of green beans are climbing plants, while others are bush types. Generally, green beans grow easily from seeds. These plants prefer the full sun and well-drained soil. Green beans are best grown in home gardens.
Zucchini and other types of squash grow rapidly in warm weather. They can be grown in containers or in-ground. Zucchinis are just as easy to grow from seeds as beans and radishes, and the plants produce a lot of edible fruit and blossoms. Zucchinis prefer good moisture so water these veggies regularly. Zealous plants such as zucchini enjoy balmy earth so to garner the most yield, plant them later in the warm season.
To make your vegetable garden look more leafy and full, try growing lettuce and other types of leafy vegetables. Lettuce matures every 3 to 4 weeks. If you want to have fresh lettuce available to you throughout the entire year, you can plant different varieties so that they will take turns maturing. You don’t need a traditional garden to grow lettuce, it will do just as well in a container garden.