Gardening 101: Choosing the right spot for your garden
Where should you put a garden? Actually, it is easier to say where you should not put it. Do not put it under a tree. When trees are in leaf, they block out too much sunlight for a vegetable garden. Feel free to put your compost bin under a tree, or put your garden tool shed there, but don't put your garden in a tree's shade. Ideally, your garden's location should have eight or more hours of sunlight per day. When it comes to sunlight during the growing season, more is almost always better as long as you can keep your plants adequately watered.
However, when selecting your garden's location, do not put it in a constantly wet area because too much moisture is just as bad as too little. Most plants don't like to have their roots wet constantly, so they do not grow well in soaking wet soil. Also, avoid a frost pocket, or low point in your yard where cold air flows downhill and stays there overnight. Plants that are located in a frost pocket tend to be late blooming in spring and are also killed by frost in the fall before plants located in a warm, sunny location are. Finally, make sure that you select a garden location where you have enough area to adequately space a number of plants. You're going to grow all manner of plants, aren't you? So don't overcrowd them.
How much space will you need?
The amount of space you need for your garden depends on how many plants you intend to grow and what those plants are. For example, if you like coleslaw and want to grow cabbages, you need to allow at least one square foot per cabbage plant. This will be fine when the cabbages are young, but as they mature and grow larger each plant will need a little more space. You can provide this by harvesting alternate plants to give the largest cabbages a space of about 30 inches by 30 inches when fully grown.
If you want to grow a tomato plant, allow a circle of about 30-inches diameter around a plant that is staked and trained upwards. If you do not stake your tomatoes, they will yield earlier, but spread out to about 4 feet and you will lose a few to slugs and snails. While the plant is young and a few inches high, plant lettuce or basil inside your 24-inch circle. As your tomato grows, harvest the lettuce or basil.
Here's a list of plants and the spacing that they require. I tend to grow intensively, so the spacings given here are minimums. To plant this closely, you will need to have very good soil with adequate nutrients and a layer of mulch to prevent the soil from drying out. We'll tell you how to grow each type of plant in future columns.
Artichokes - Provide a circle of about 20 to 28 inches in diameter per plant.
Asparagus - An asparagus bed to feed a family of four should be about 4 by 8 feet.
Beans - grow bush beans spaced about 4 to 6 inches apart. Grow pole beans spaced about 6 to 8 inches apart.
Beets - After sowing beet seeds into the soil, thin the seedlings to about 3 inches apart. Then, harvest alternate beets for salad greens and let larger plants develop.
Celery - Celery likes moist ground. Allow about 6 to 8 inches between plants.
Carrots - After sowing the seeds, thin the seedlings to about 3 inches apart. A good trick here is to mix the tiny carrot seeds with a little sand to help spread the seeds out. Alternatively, you can buy seed strips to cut down on waste.
Cauliflower/Cabbage/Broccoli - Allow about one square foot per plant.
Corn - Corn is a very heavy feeder so you'll need to allow at least one square foot per plant. You'll also need to keep it moist, fertilize heavily, and protect it from raccoons.
Cucumber - Grow on vertical trellises, planting about 6 to 8 inches apart.
Eggplant/Peppers - Provide a circle at least 12 to 18 inches per plant.
Leeks - Allow 4 to 6 inches per plant in heavily fertilized soil.
Lettuce - Provide at least one square foot per plant. Then harvest the plants alternately and allow older plants to grow.
Winter squash/Melons - Winter squash and melons sprawl, so you might want to have five or six plants in a 4 by 4 foot area and allow them to sprawl in every direction. I have found melons up to 20 feet away from the root.
Tomatoes - as mentioned above, grow them vertically. My plants have grown as high as 12 feet and 4 feet diameter.
Turnips - Sow the seeds directly into the soil and thin to about 6 inches apart.
Zucchini - Plant one or two plants in a 4 foot circle and offer zucchini free to neighbors or leave them on tables at the East Ferry Deli and Slice of Heaven.