Vegetable gardening has seen a revival in the past few years. There are as many reasons for growing your own produce as there are people planting. Some of the more common reasons include food safety (knowing who produced your food and how), economics (although it is debatable whether growing your own saves you money), fresh food, and just the fun of it!
Many people have never grown a vegetable garden before. If you fit into this category, you have a great opportunity to plan success from the beginning. Even if you already have a vegetable garden, you might need to reevaluate your garden’s location.
One of the most critical conditions that your vegetable garden needs is adequate sunlight. Plants need sunlight in order to convert energy from the sun into carbohydrates (food) for their life processes. Plan on 6 hours at the very minimum – 8 to 10 hours would be ideal. Leafy greens, root crops and some cool-season vegetables can tolerate a little less sunlight.
When choosing your location, pick a site that is close to the house and close to a water source. During the dog days of summer, you will be more apt to work in your garden if it is nearby and checking on it is not a huge chore. Also, you want to make sure you can get water out to your garden. Depending on rain or hauling water in watering cans is not a good plan!
Many of the soils in Westmoreland County will be very good for growing small vegetable gardens. Be careful not to choose a site that remains wet for long periods of time – a lot of times these soils will be grey in color. I would highly recommend taking a soil sample before planting your first garden and then, about every three years after to monitor the fertility. Soil samples can be submitted to Virginia Tech and are $10 per sample. By taking a soil sample, you will know exactly how much lime and fertilizer to apply to your individual site, thus optimizing plant growth and production. Even if you want to use manure or other organic fertilizer sources, a soil sample will help you decide how much to use.
Soil will need to be loose, so plan to till at least 6 – 8 inches deep. Avoid tilling wet soil. I know this may be hard this year, since our soils are very wet right now.
When choosing how big to make your garden, start off small especially if this is a new adventure. Better not to produce enough than to be overwhelmed and quit!
Some other factors to take into consideration include perennial weed problems (do you have wiregrass in the area?), nuisance wild animals, prior soil contamination and tree roots (which will pull water away from your vegetable garden and make tillage difficult!).
Growing your own food can be a rewarding project. By choosing a great location now, you will give your garden many advantages and avoid some common pitfalls. Keep in mind that Westmoreland County has a number of produce stands where you can supplement your harvest with fresh, local produce! For more information about vegetable gardening, contact my office at 493-8924.
Stephanie Romelczyk is the Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent for Virginia Cooperative Extension in Westmoreland County.