5 Must-Know Tips for Planning a Vegetable Garden

Good planning is essential to a successful vegetable garden. Vegetables have specific requirements, and you must choose your site carefully to ensure a bountiful harvest. Here are the basics you need to consider before you select your seeds.

1) Test Your Soil
Drainage is the soil's ability to absorb moisture and let excess water drain away. You can test soil drainage by digging a hole a foot deep and a foot across. Fill the holes with water, and time how long it takes the water to drain away; two to three hours after the hole has emptied, refill it, and again time the interval it takes for it to empty. Then calculate the rate of drainage by dividing the total depth of the water (24 inches) by the total number of hours it took for the hole to empty two times.

Related: Vegetable Seed Guide

2) Consider Sun and Shade Requirements

In general, plants described as requiring "full sun" (most vegetable plants fall under this category) need at least six hours of exposure to direct sunlight daily. "Part sun" or "semi-shade" plants flourish where periods of direct sunlight alternate with periods of shade, or where the sunlight is filtered by an intermittent canopy of branches or a trellis overhead. "Full shade" describes a spot where direct sunlight never penetrates, due to shadows cast by dense evergreens or solid man-made structures, such as a high wall or porch roof.

3) Understand the Difference in Seeds
Open-Pollinated (OP):
These plants come from a parent of the same variety and they can, in turn, produce offspring of the same variety. This is called "coming true from seed." The seed from open-pollinated varieties can be collected from the plants you've grown and saved to grow again next year.

Heirloom Vegetables: Heirlooms are open-pollinated varieties that have been cultivated for at least 50 years. They are often more flavorful, colorful, and interesting than hybrids, but they may lack disease-resistance or require staking.

Hybrids: These plants are the result of cross-breeding to produce offspring with certain desirable traits, such as disease-resistance or uniform color or size. Their complicated genetics mean that the seed inside the fruit you grow one season will not produce a plant like its parent. Each year, you will have to buy new seeds of this variety if you want to grow it again.

Related: 13 Easy-To-Grow Vegetables

4) Consider Easy-to-Grow Varieties

If you are beginner gardener, learn about some heartier vegetable varieties for a successful harvest.

5) Map Out Your Plants
Sketch out your plan on paper. Use graph paper and draw to scale, keeping in mind the mature size and habit of each kind of plant. Site larger plants like corn and tomatoes where they won't cast shade over shorter plants. Choose compact varieties if you have limited space. Start small: You can always dig more beds or enlarge existing ones in subsequent years.

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