Starting a New Vegetable Garden
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With an increased amount of time at home these days, there is an increased interest in gardening.  It is such a great way to get outdoors and get some exercise while growing some neat and interesting plants. 

For many, the start of a new gardening experience can be stressful. Still, I encourage anyone with interest to dive right in.  There is no better way to learn than by doing it and no reason to be afraid of failure.  I have killed plenty of plants over the years, and that’s just part of the learning process.  As long as you learn something to improve upon for next time, it is all good experience.

Over the next few weeks in this column, I plan to focus specifically on the establishment of new vegetable gardens to set you up for success and avoid common pitfalls.  I have found that a great many gardening questions come up as both new and experienced gardeners establish a new space.  A well-setup and planned out vegetable garden can alleviate years of struggle with a poorly placed garden plot.

The first, and often most obvious, step in establishing a new vegetable garden lies in site selection.  Nearly all of our common vegetable crops require full sun to thrive.  Full sun is characterized by six or more hours of direct sunlight per day.  However, I would recommend finding the sunniest spot possible; the more sun, the more productivity for most crops.  Consider 6 hours of sunlight per day to be the bare minimum. 

Finding the best full sun location often seems fairly simple, but it pays to take into account the surroundings carefully.  During the afternoon, when does the mature shade tree just west of the new garden plot begin to cast shade?  You may be surprised how a seemingly full sun sight will barely meet the minimum at times due to shading from a building or tree. This time of year, deciduous trees are bare, but shadows from branches still work for estimation of growing season shade. 

As a general rule, space your garden away from trees and shrubs a distance at least as tall as their height and up to 1.5 or 2 times their height, if possible.  Not only does this move your garden out of potential shade, but it also reduced completion from the roots of woody plants.  Also, consider the mature height of surrounding vegetation to avoid future shading.  As large shade trees mature, their canopy can often be two times wider than their height.    

Perhaps you don’t have the space for a traditional, in-ground garden?  Then container gardening is a wonderful option.  Nearly every vegetable crop can be grow successfully and productively in containers.  Locations for containers require similar, full sun for happy healthy veggies.  One beautiful thing about containers is that they are totally movable.  So, some strategic placement throughout the day can sometimes grab the full sun your plants need and make use of limited space and sunlight.  

Containers do require more watering than an in-ground garden as the soil medium dries out quickly in pots.  Placement close to a water source (or a long hose) is essential to make watering quick and easy.  On the positive side, many of the common and most popular vegetables require well-drained soil, and pots create nearly ideal conditions.  Although they need additional water, they can often out produce a poorly drained in-ground garden, making containers an excellent solution to poorly drained garden soils.

Growing vegetables is one of the most rewarding garden activities I have done over the years.  Homegrown produce is fresher, often more nutritious, and offers a greater variety than the grocery store.  It is a wonderful activity for the whole family, teaching kids (and adults) a ton about where their food comes from and the science behind plant growth and development.  Join me next week as I discuss the vital task of assessing and amending your new garden soil prior to planting the first crop and selection of the perfect container if you choose an above-ground garden.