By Vicky Dorvee, Colorado State University Extension
There are few more sunshiny optimistic processes than the planning of a vegetable garden. It’s when the minds’ eye and the minds’ nose imagine robust green stalks sporting earthy-smelling ruby tomatoes, aromatic basil bushes and orange domes of frilly sweet carrot crowns.
When garden planning is executed well, homegrown food brings great joy. Now is the time to relish that gratifying preparation, and here are a few tips to help you along the way.
If you’re new to growing veggies, there are some basic first steps. Evaluate what areas in your growing space get six to eight hours of direct sun a day and have decent, well-drained soil. All is not lost if you don’t have one or both of these conditions. Many vegetables grow in less-than-ideal sun situations, and even the toughest soils can be amended over time.
Installing raised garden beds no more than 3 to 4 feet wide makes it easier to start with rich soil, to plant early in the season because the beds warm up quickly, and to avoid soil compaction by reaching into rather than stepping into the beds.
If you’re feeding your household, plan on allotting 100 square feet of garden space per person. But, maybe you’d also like to give away some of your harvest to those in need, in which case you should apportion extra room. The CSU Extension Grow & Give program is an excellent resource for donating your produce (visit GrowGive.extension.colostate.edu.)
Place your new garden near a water source. With a handheld hose, run it low and slow. Low so it’s close to the soil to avoid wet leaves, which can lead to diseases, and slow because the force of the water can move seeds around. Drip and soaker hose irrigation offers the most efficient delivery, putting the water directly at soil level to reduce evaporation.
Veggies don’t have to grow in the ground — container gardening achieves three goals: placing plants for optimum sun, controlling soil quality and extending garden space.
Experienced vegetable gardeners can consider what has grown well in the past and where to place each crop this year. Rotating placement reduces soil-borne pests, soil diseases and soil nutrient depletion.
Have your trees grown to the degree that they now shade gardens that were once sunlit? It may be time to carefully trim them or to relocate your veggie beds. Consult a licensed arborist for larger pruning jobs.
And now the best part — what to grow. Is a tomato fresh off the vine your idea of heaven? Are cukes and zukes a staple in your diet? Why not have them just outside your door? Any fun, funky veggies you’re curious about? If you’ve the means, try some of those, too.
Block planting allows you to grow more in a smaller space, save water and reduce weeding. Take into consideration what garden real estate each plant will fill by reading seed packets and plant labels. You’ll be surprised how much you can grow in a small space.
For loads of resources regarding growing vegetable and herbs, including the topics mentioned in this article, visit cmg.extension.colostate.edu.
For more information on this and other topics, visit extension.colostate.edu or contact your local CSU Extension Office.
Vicky Dorvee is a Colorado State University Extension Master Gardener in Boulder County.