Planning a Vegetable Garden Design That Works for You
When it comes to planning a vegetable garden, especially if this is your first, it pays to consider your space, your time, and your needs.
The first consideration is space. Do you have a yard, or are you limited to a balcony, patio, or deck? If your space is very limited, then you might want to consider container gardening.
This is a good choice for a single person, an elderly person, or anyone who would like a variety, but not large quantities. The advantage to gardening in containers is that weeding is kept to a minumum, the pots won't take up much space, and they can be moved in cold spells or storms to a safer place.
Yields will be less than vegetables with more room to sprawl, but it is a good choice when your space is limited or you are not physically able to "get down in the dirt". It does however, require more of an initial investment in pots and soil suitable for container culture.
Tomatoes will have to be cherry or patio type varieties unless you have room for a very large pot. You will also have to water more frequently as the soil in the pots will dry out faster than the ground soil would.
If you choose to have a container vegetable garden, be sure to locate the pots near a source of water, or it will become tedious carrying the water around.
They can be at ground level or up on tables or racks, whichever works best for you. Your garden space will need good light for at least 6-8 hours per day.
So the advantages to a container garden include:
great for limited space
easier for elderly and disabled
smaller yields for one person
pots are mobile and portable
The disadvantages to a container garden include:
more cost for materials
need watering more often
size of vegetable types are limited
Backyard Garden Designs
When planning a vegetable garden that is planted at ground level, in the more traditional style, you will also need at least 6-8 hours of sunlight per day. Morning sun is the best choice if it is available. It needs to be clear of trees and roots.
Depending on your landscaping, you might want to go with a long strip garden, which is easier to tend, or a rectangular, square or crescent/half circle shape.
Whichever you choose, keep it relatively small for your first time. A 4 feet wide by 4-8 feet long is plenty of room for a first garden. Much larger could get out of control quickly, and become a chore to tend.
So the advantages to a traditional in ground garden with good soil are:
Least amount of cost in materials
More space for large plants and sprawling plants
Can have walkways to get to vegetables for harvesting
Will produce heavily for large families
The disadvantages to a traditional in ground garden are:
Requires more tending, weeding, and digging
May need many soil amendments
Requires getting down to ground level
The raised bed garden falls between the two. It has less weeds than an in-ground garden, but more than a pot. It will warm up faster than the in ground garden in spring, but not as fast as pots. It won't get as hot as a pot will, but pots can be moved to partial shade.
Pots and raised beds dry out faster, so need watering more often. In summer the soil will get hotter--which could stress the plants in hot climates.
My area has gophers, and they can be a real headache. They would be a good reason to consider a raised bed as well.
Raised Bed Gardens
If you have no area you wish to dig up, or very difficult soil, you might consider a raised bed when planning a vegetable garden, especially if this is your first garden.
Difficult soil would include very rocky, shallow soil, dense clay soil that won't drain well, or very sandy soil that drains too quickly and dries out.
The amendments required to bring the soil into reasonably good gardening soil would be somewhat expensive and require quite a bit of labor.
You will have an easier time tending a raised bed garden, as it will not be competing with the grass. It can hold quite a few vegetables, especially if you use some tomato cages for the larger plants, and a trellis or pole for climbing plants to go vertical.
Raised beds can be constructed of untreated lumber like 2x4's or 2x6's or cinder block. You can also make two 4x4 areas to make it easier to reach the centers.
Leave about 3 feet between them for the wheelbarrow and walking space. If you cannot walk all the way around the raised bed, then it should be no more than 3 feet wide or it will be difficult to reach the other side.
You will need them to be at least 6 inches deep, but you can go up to about 12 inches if you plan on larger plants. For more on this process see the page on how to construct a raised bed.
So take into account your particular yard and the light availability, the soil type, the cost, and your willingness to tend the garden.
Also the number of family members that will eat the produce, and how many will help with the garden. (Your kids might surprise you by their enthusiasm to grow things).
Weigh all these elements and make the choice that is right for your family when planning a vegetable garden.