Vegetable garden layout: look for good sun, level site, adequate size

(Julie Notarianni - For The Washington Post)
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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Pick a site that is sunny, with at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight daily, and will stay that way (no young trees in the vicinity). Vegetables hate shade or competition from tree roots.

Try to avoid steep sites, where shoring and erosion become issues. Poor drainage can be addressed with raised beds, but a consistently wet site will be hard to fix.

A garden that measures 25 by 25 feet is a good starter size. It's big enough to allow lots of growing area but not too large for one or two gardeners to take care of. This is a typical size for a community garden, though you would want a larger garden for space to grow potatoes, asparagus, strawberries and blueberries and to house a tool shed and a composting area.

Paths keep feet out of growing beds and lend an aesthetically pleasing structure to the garden. Three problems to avoid: Paths with sides that are not parallel; raised bed edges that slope (use a level); and too much space devoted to paths at the expense of growing beds.

In a 25-by-25-foot garden, paths should be 24 to 30 inches wide and arranged so that the growing beds are no wider than four feet for easy access from all sides.

Raised beds have essential drainage and provide deep, rich soil for root vegetables such as beets, carrots and radishes. The paving can be as simple as wood chips or straw, to be replenished annually. Avoid grass paths, which will need constant mowing and edging. Gravel is attractive but in time will collect enough soil to support weeds.

Edging will maximize the growing area and make it easier to maintain raised beds. You can use six- or eight-inch-wide wooden planks, set on edge and pegged with wooden stakes. Some gardeners build these raised beds by first constructing wooden frames: The planks are screwed together and reinforced with corner supports. Most organic gardeners avoid pressure-treated timbers, which contain poisons that can leach into the soil. Cedar is naturally rot-resistant, though more expensive than untreated pine. Pine boards will last several years and can be replaced easily. Salvage yards may offer used cedar economically, but avoid old wood that has been painted, which may contain lead, or treated with creosote.

Design your garden to allow room for a small sitting area and places for containers and decorative pieces, such as a birdbath or a sundial.

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