Vegetable Site Q and A

What would be the ideal site for a vegetable garden?

Most vegetables need to be in the sun for as much of the day as possible, so the ideal site is an open one, where vegetables are not shaded by buildings or tall trees. However, it should not be too exposed, for winds, even light winds, prevent plants from growing as well as they might. In very exposed gardens some sort of windbreak should be erected or planted. A level site is certainly preferable to a sloping one as it is much easier to work. On a sloping site cultivate across, rather than down the slope: this will minimise erosion. Poorly drained sites are unsuitable for vegetables and herb growing unless the drainage can be improved.

Vegetables are not growing well in my windy garden, but I am reluctant to plant windbreaks of trees or hedges, as they will create shade and take moisture and nutrients from the soil. What alternatives are there?

Special windbreak materials, made of synthetic netting, are available, which can be battened to posts. Although fairly costly, a 1.5-1.8 m (5-6 ft) windbreak around your plot would give dramatic results. Make sure the posts are anchored firmly in the ground (corner posts may need to be reinforced) as the netting takes a tremendous strain in high winds. Netting, which filters the wind, makes a far better windbreak than a solid wall or fence, which can create damaging turbulence on its leeward side.

Why is it important to rotate vegetables in a garden?

The main reason for rotation (growing particular vegetables in a different part of the plot each year) is that certain soil pests and diseases, such as clubroot and eelworm, which are exceptionally difficult to control, attack plants belonging to the same botanical family. If these plants are grown for several successive years in the same piece of soil, the pests and diseases can build up very seriously. The four main groups of vegetables to rotate are brassicas (cabbages, cauliflowers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, turnips, swedes, Chinese cabbage); legumes (peas and beans); onions (including leeks, shallots, and garlic); and potatoes and tomatoes. Grow plants from these groups on the same ground only one year in three or, preferably, four. It is sound gardening practice, wherever possible, to avoid growing any vegetable on the same ground in consecutive years.

I’m laying out a vegetable garden for the first time, and wonder what size of bed is most suitable?

Traditionally vegetables were grown in large plots, often 6-9 m (20-30 ft) wide and as long as the garden allowed. The vegetables were arranged with a lot of wasted space between rows. Today we know that vegetables can be grown far closer than traditional spacing without any adverse effects; indeed, there is a trend towards abandoning rows and growing vegetables with equal spacing between the plants in each direction. This compactness lends itself to smaller, narrow beds, say 0.9-1.5 m (3-5 ft) wide, which can be any length you like. The small beds look very attractive, and all the work can be done from the path without treading on the ground; the narrowest beds, in particular, are easily covered with low polythene tunnels.