Planning a Garden
There are a number of factors that should be considered when deciding on the design and location of your new vegetable garden.
Not sure where to start your vegetable garden?
Choosing your position
The position/aspect of your vegetable garden is vital to obtaining a successful and productive plot. The position, irrespective of whether it is a potted vegetable garden or small or large ground based garden affects how much sunlight, natural rainfall, wind and competition from other plants the garden is exposed to. Too little or too much of any of these can have adverse effects on the success of your crops.
When planning a vegetable garden, it is also wise to consider the aesthetics of the chosen location (if that's important to you). If the best location for you happens to be in the middle of an existing garden feature, you can look at vegetable garden designs that enhance the existing layout. You don't have to have the "standard vegetable garden box". If this applies to you, take a look at the garden design links.
If you don't have room and need to grow your fresh veggies in pots take a look at the growing in pots page. The rest of this page looks at ideas for those who have backyards or bigger areas available.
Once you've chosen an appropriate position consider the aspect. Which direction is it facing? Is it likely to be sheltered for long periods by close by buildings? In summer, the sun will be high in the sky, but as the seasons alter, the lower sun may result in insufficient sunlight reaching the garden bed/s. Ideally in the Southern Hemisphere, gardens facing east around to the north and in the Northern Hemisphere, the opposite.
Is the proposed position sheltered from natural rainfall? If it is, then the garden will be dependent on you regularly watering it.
Is the garden going to have to compete with lawn, large shrubs or trees? Any of these will mean that your vegetables will be fighting much larger plants for the available food and water.
The shape of your chosen garden bed will also determine the direction it runs. If it's a circle or square, this is not as important, but rectangular beds should run east-west where possible. Why? have a look at the diagram below to see the diffence it makes.
In this example, the centre bed shown is a rectangle bed running east-west. The right hand bed, a rectangle running north south.
The N-S bed, being narrower means that the taller plants on the right will shade the others for a longer period. The E-W bed, having a wider edge facing the sun, will be exposed to more sunlight for a longer period as the sun moves through it's arc in the sky, assuming that your rows run parallel with the bed. This effect increases and decreases through the seasons as the sun sits higher and lower in the sky.
Now this all assumes that you have a flat area that you can convert to a vegetable garden and obviously, not everyone has.
This picture is food growing in the extremes, a terraced rice paddy in Asia. There's no reason why a smaller version of this can't be done at home if you have a very hilly site.
If your land has a gentle slope, your beds can run down the slope, but care needs to be take to ensure you don't have water and fertiliser run off.
Vegetable Garden Construction
There are endless methods you can use to establish your garden beds. Your first decision is whether to have a raised bed vegetable garden or ground level. There are advantages to both, so the decision is basically down to personal preference. You might consider the following though:
Can you afford the materials to raise the garden bed?
Your Soil Type
Do you have good drainage? (we talk about this on the soil page)
If you can't manage lots of kneeling and bending, then a ground level bed probably wouldn't suit you.
What if you don't have a choice about the space you can use?
Well this is quite common. It's alright to talk about the best place and conditions for growing vegetables, fruit and herbs, but lets face it, not everyone is going to for example, rip up their front lawn to grow food (although I would!)
Don't despair. You may not have the ideal position, but as long as you get some decent light, not necessairly direct sunlight, and you can ensure a good water supply (either from rainfall or supplementary watering) you CAN still grow your own vegetables.
The basic rules are that leafy greens will tolerate less light than other plants. In general terms, plants that flower to produce fruit, like tomatoes, capsicums, chillies, cucumbers etc, all really do need some direct sunlight.
So your front lawn lives to see another day? Do you get good sunlight at the front of the house, or on a porch or deck? Try growing plants like miniature tomatoes like these Tommy Tumblers featured at the bottom of the tomato page
The best approach is to give it a go, trial and error. See what you can grow and then tailor your crops to suit what you like to eat and can realistically grow. There's no point in trying to grow a vegetable that has poor yields if you can buy it cheaper from a good source, such as a farmers' market etc. Use your space to grow what you can grow well and supplement your food needs.