Considerations for First-time Backyard Organic Vegetable Gardeners
Article by Harvey Gregoire
With food prices continually edging higher and concerns about food contamination by pesticides, genetically modified organisms, and disease-causing bacteria, many people are starting to create backyard organic vegetable gardens. Having an organic vegetable garden can potentially save families hundreds of dollars per year on the grocery bills. First timers often decide to plant a vegetable garden without taking the time to really plan their gardens and can have somewhat disappointing results. Factors to be taken into consideration include: location, space available, soil quality, labor required, local climate, and what types of vegetables to grow. Before any seed or young plant is planted in the ground it is important to plan out the size, shape, and location of the garden.
Since most vegetables require 5 to 7 hours of full sunlight per day to truly thrive and produce, the location of a backyard organic vegetable garden should be determined by the amount of sunlight the site gets per day. Anything that will cast a shadow over the garden can limit productivity, and the amount of space that is available will determine the size of the garden. Another consideration is soil drainage, since vegetables planted in a site that does not drain well may be subject to root rot after a substantial rain or accidental over-watering.
The quality of the soil for a backyard organic vegetable garden must be determined since topsoil is often removed or destroyed during the process of homebuilding, especially in subdivisions. Clay and sandy soils can be amended with topsoil and organic matter like compost, although clay will require much more tilling and effort to work in the topsoil and compost. Clay soils do not allow water to percolate down and can sometimes inhibit drainage, so that would be a factor to consider. Rocky soils can raise havoc with tillers and garden tools. As most vegetables thrive in a neutral soil, it is also important to test the soil for acidity & alkalinity. Testing kits are available or a local cooperative extension may assist with soil testing. Sometimes the backyard soil is just too poor and would require too much amending to support a backyard organic vegetable garden. In such cases many people choose to work with raised bed gardens where they have more control over the quality of the soil, and the amount of effort required to get started. There can be higher upfront costs, but could well be worth it in terms of time and effort expended.
Before choosing what vegetables to plant, backyard organic vegetable gardeners must also take into account the local climate, as that will affect how well the vegetables grow and produce. Although most vegetables will grow just about anywhere, planting times may need to be staggered. Some may require longer in a grow box or greenhouse to get a better head start before being planted in the garden and may not grow as large or produce as much over the season. Once again, a local cooperative extension or reputable nursery will know what vegetables are best suited to the local climate and information is readily available in books, magazines, and on the internet.
How much of which vegetables to grow needs to be thought out. First- time organic vegetable gardeners often plant more of some varieties than can be easily used by the family and shared with neighbors and friends. Local food banks and organizations that feed the hungry will often accept excess produce. How much time can be devoted to the garden – weeding, checking for and getting rid of pests, etc. – during the growing season, as well as harvest time, must be considered.
Backyard organic vegetable gardeners, especially first timers, need to do some upfront thinking about their garden before they ever put spade to earth. Experienced gardeners can sometimes make their gardens better by doing some rethinking themselves. Autumn is a great time to begin planning for the spring planting season, starting a compost pile with fallen leaves, and doing the necessary research and testing.
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