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Planning the vegetable garden


Eating from the garden has to be one of the greatest pleasures of gardening. Whether you make a meal exclusively from the vegetable garden or simply clip a few chives to garnish a can of soup, growing your own fills you with pride and accomplishment.

When planning the vegetable garden there are a few important considerations to avoid a frustrating and fruitless season. The first consideration is location. Choose an area which receives a minimum of six hours of sunlight. The land should be reasonably level and the rows planted in a north-south orientation to make maximum use of sunlight. Allow for plenty of space between the rows or raised beds so you have easy access to the plants. Weeding is not very much fun when you have to straddle, tippy-toe and stretch on a hot July day.

The second consideration is the soil. Vegetables will thrive in rich, sandy loam soil which is high in organic matter. If this does not describe your soil, you will need to add some amendments prior to planting. Compost and/or manure are a must for the vegetable garden. Each year you should return to the garden plot all of the unused green matter which the garden produced, and then some. This means that when the tomatoes, squash, potatoes etc. have been harvested, the plants and damaged fruit are collected, composted and returned to the soil. Another step is to add fertilizer, such as 8-4-4, at the rate of 1kg per 10 square metres prior to planting.

The third consideration and the one requiring the most effort, is deciding what to grow. Rather than trying to have a little bit of everything, consider what you realistically can cope with based on your time, space and pest problems.

I have found that the most rewarding vegetables and edible plants to grow with the greatest return on investment are potatoes, beets, basil, nasturtiums, garlic, coriander, spinach, tomatoes and squash. Over the past few years I have discovered that these plants are well suited to my soil, space and available time. I also try new vegetables each year. Last year's prize for My Best New Vegetable goes to Belgian Endive. (In a future Garden Tip, I'll have more information on how to grow this unique and tasty crop and have fresh greens all winter!)

Having the soil ready early is the most important consideration when planning for early season vegetables. Peas, lettuce, spinach and radishes can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked and will be harvested in time for a follow-up crop such as beans, leafy greens, beets and carrots. Peas and beans are legumes which benefit the soil by adding nitrogen, so these crops are ideally rotated with non-legume-type vegetables such as beets or carrots.

Vegetables can be planted as seeds or as transplants you produced yourself or purchased from the garden centre. Use fresh seed because seed will lose its vigour over time and some, such as plants from the onion family, will not germinate after one year. Avoid disappointment and set-back by investing in new seed each year.

I like to combine the use of seeds, transplants and permanent crops in my vegetable garden. This way, there is always something to look at, poke at or cultivate rather than everything coming up at once after weeks of anticipation. Asparagus and strawberries border two sides of my garden and give me plenty to work with until the seeds germinate and the transplants are planted. I border the north side of the garden with a planting of sunflowers. These provide food for birds and are an excellent sculptural component for the garden. I have raised beds in the remainder of the space and fill these with beets, squash, onions, nasturtiums, coriander, basil, other root crops and new experiments. This garden is fenced to keep out rabbits, groundhogs and voles, which are my primary pest problems. In a non-fenced portion of the garden, I rotate potatoes, tomatoes and for the first time this year, various varieties of beans.

I plant leafy vegetables and herbs, such as spinach, arugula and lettuce, closer to the house for quick access from the kitchen. I also plant edible crops in with the ornamental garden. Garlic, nasturtiums, coriander, purple basil and bronze fennel are attractive additions to the flower garden.

Each year there will be successes and failures in the vegetable garden. It is important to chalk these up to experience, try something new each year and enjoy the fruits of your labour.


Daisy Moore, 1999.



Other spring garden tips:

(click on the tip you want to read)


Designing Gardens

Fertilizing the Garden
Ready for Spring
Starting Seeds Indoors
Pruning Trees and Shrubs
Dormant Spraying
Planning the Vegetable Garden
Planting Early Vegetables
Early Season Care of Perennial Beds
Plants for an Early Spring Show
Cut Flowers for the Home Garden
Growing the Perfect Potato
Lawn Care in Early Spring.....GRUB DAMAGE!
Spring Lawn Care
The Garden in May
Gardening with Native Plants
Sources of Native Plants
Shade Gardening
Planting Gladiolus and Other Summer Flowering Bulbs
Weed Control
Thatch in Lawns
Weeds or Wildflowers
Improving Your Soil
Marvellous Mulch
Selecting and Planting Shrubs
Planting Trees and Shrubs
Window Box Gardening
Growing Tomatoes
Fertilizing the Vegetable Garden



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Daisy Moore 2005