Finding the right spot for your vegetable garden is important for successful growing. When you’re choosing a site, you should consider the things that affect the plant’s growth, including sunlight, water and soil.
New gardeners: start small. Be realistic about how much time and space you have available and don’t start with a garden that may be more than you can manage. If you have the space and right conditions, you can consider a container vegetable garden, a small area with just a few plants, or a larger garden with a variety of vegetables.
SUNLIGHT AND WATER
Most vegetable plants need sunlight in order to produce vegetables. When selecting a site, find an area that gets at least 6-8 hours of sun per day. West or south-facing sites are preferred. Some crops such as radishes, kales, Swiss Chard or lettuce may be able to be produced in an area that receives part day of shade.
Before you select a site, observe the area for few days to determine the amount of sunlight it receives. Take time to observe and make notes in order to locate the garden in the best area of your landscape. Is there sun in the early morning? Is the site in the shadow of neighbouring trees, shrubs, fences or other structures? At noon, is the entire area in full sun? What are the light conditions at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.? Keep in mind if you are observing sun patterns in winter or early spring that the sun will be more directly overhead in summer, somewhat changing where sunlight appears during the growing season.
Plants require adequate water for growth and food production. Be sure to establish your garden where you have access to a water source.
The soil needed for growing vegetables should be nutrient rich and well-drained. A quick and easy drainage test is to dig a bucket-sized hole and fill it with water. Water should be completely drained from the hole within 24 hours. If there is still standing water, you should either select a new site or consider options such as raised bed gardens or improving the drainage by contouring the beds, allowing excess moisture to move away from the site.
Do a soil test before you plant. The pH should be in the range of 6.2 to 6.8 (slightly acid soil). Soil tests can be purchased online or at most hardware stores. The results of your soil test will indicate the necessary amendments such as fertilizers or organic matter that are needed for good vegetable production.
Be sure to avoid areas of possible soil contamination. Prior to choosing the site, investigate what might have been in this location previous to your garden. If you live in an older home where the potential for lead is higher (lead paint was used on older homes), do not locate your garden near the home or have the soil tested for contamination.
NOTE: WALNUT TREES
Planting a garden near a black walnut tree (Juglans nigra) is not recommended because all parts of the tree produce a chemical called juglone, which is toxic to certain vegetables, especially tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and peppers. There are some vegetables that are not affected by juglone. These include snap and lima beans, onions, beets and parsnips. If you do have a sunny spot near a walnut tree and want to grow plants that are susceptible to walnut toxicity, consider a raised bed in which you provide new soil for plant growth.
If you face challenges locating the ideal site, do not despair. There are many gardening options such as container gardening or elevating the garden above ground level and creating a raised garden. Wherever you find a sunny location, there is the possibility of growing vegetables.