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By: Nikki Tilley, Author of The Bulb-o-licious Garden
How big a vegetable garden should be is a common question among people who are considering taking on this task for the first time. While there is no right or wrong way to go about determining the size of your vegetable garden, the general answer is to start small. For starters, it’s probably a good idea to figure out what you want to plant, how much you want to plant, and where you want to plant it before you do anything. Garden sizes also depend on the availability of space and how suitable the landscape is for growing plants.
Normally, a garden of about 10 feet by 10 feet (3-3 m.) is considered to be manageable, provided your landscape permits the space. You should try sketching out a small diagram noting the area of each vegetable to be planted. If something a little less is preferred, try working vegetables within smaller sized plots. Since there are many vegetables that are also considered ornamental in appearance, there’s no need to hide them from view. In fact, nearly any vegetable can be grown right into your own flower beds as well as in containers.
While you want your garden to be large enough to suit your basic needs, you don’t want it to be so big that it eventually becomes too demanding. Most people don’t have time to deal with all the maintenance and attention a larger vegetable garden requires. As the saying goes, temptation is the root of all evil; therefore, plant only what you will actually need or use. Resist the urge to plant too many crops; you’ll end up paying for it later with backbreaking maintenance such as weeding, irrigating and harvesting.
For example, if you only want tomatoes and cucumbers, then try incorporating these plants into containers. There are numerous varieties to choose from; the bush cucumbers and cherry tomatoes, for example, not only do well in containers but can look quite lovely, too. Putting your cucumbers and tomatoes in containers will cut out unnecessary work that would otherwise be involved if you chose to plant these crops in a plot with other vegetables that you may not even use.
An alternative approach might include the use of small raised beds. You could start out with one or two beds of your chosen vegetables. Then when time and experience permits, you can add another bed or two. For instance, you could choose to have one bed entirely for your tomatoes and the other for your cucumbers. The following year you might want to try your hand at growing squash or beans. By adding more beds, or containers, this expansion is easy.
If you plan accordingly, your garden will require less maintenance and will result in more productivity. As it is ultimately your garden, the size will depend on your individual needs as well as those of your landscape. Anything is possible; don’t be afraid to experiment. Once you have found a manageable size and layout that works for you, stick with it. In time you will find that you get better and better and so do your vegetables!
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Read more about General Vegetable Garden Care
While some plants are more hardy and forgiving to beginner gardeners than others, all plants have specific growing needs that you must meet. Here are some elements to know as you're choosing plants to grow in your apartment garden:
Besides the aesthetic appeal of raised beds and container gardens, they also provide good drainage for the soil within the bed. The most popular height for raised beds is 11″. (This is the height of two standard “2 x 6″ boards, which actually measure 1.5″ x 5.5”.) This height provides sufficient drainage for most crops. For best results, there should be another 12″ or more of good soil below the bed. This gives your plants at least 18 – 20″ of soil. (The soil in raised beds is usually a few inches below the rim of the bed. This is because soil compresses after several waterings. Having the soil level down a few inches is useful because you will likely want to add a few inches of mulch.)
Raised beds drain readily and warm up earlier in spring. This means you can set out transplants sooner and extend your growing season.
Since raised beds are well drained and the soil is above ground level, the soil within the bed warms up earlier in the spring. This enables gardeners to set out transplants sooner which helps extend the growing season. A cold frame can be set on top of the bed during early spring to protect young seedlings and transplants from late frosts and strong winds. The cold frame can be lifted off the bed once the crops become established, and moved to another bed to help protect successive plantings.
If you are young, fit, and full of energy, then bending over or kneeling down to tend your garden may not be an issue. But if you are prone to back strain, or if you have any mobility issues, then a taller raised bed will make gardening easier.
In our garden, since the ground is sloped, the beds vary in height from 8″ – 24″. Since we are ‘mature’ gardeners, we really notice the difference in working the various beds. The 24″ beds are much easier on the back when tilling the soil, setting in transplants, weeding and thinning, adding mulch, and harvesting.
Container gardening in elevated planters is another option for gardeners with limited mobility. These gardens can be tended while sitting in a wheelchair. However, the same principles apply in container gardens with respect to soil depth requirements, top-dressing amendments such as compost, fertilizer, and mulch. And taller plants grown in container gardens usually require staking or tying to trellis. For more information, read our article about Wheelchair Gardening Tips.
The taller you build your raised bed, the more volume it will hold. As the soil is watered it becomes heavier and this exerts pressure, which may cause your bed to bow outward in mid-span, near the top. If the bed is taller than 12″ and longer than 6′, it will likely require a cross-support in the center of the span, across the width of the bed, to keep the sides from bowing.
Manufacturers of raised beds often supply these supports, but if you are building your own beds, then you may want to include this feature. The cross-support can be made using wood, composite plastic or aluminum. We use aluminum 1/2″ flat stock and cut it to length with a hacksaw, then drill the ends for screws. It is a simple job, and the aluminum stock is available at most hardware stores.
So you want to plant a survival garden for you and your family, but you’re not sure what the best victory garden size should be. This is the biggest decision new gardeners will have to make after first determining where to plant their garden. The two decisions are often interconnected.
The phrase “war garden” and “victory garden” grew out of World War I and World War II domestic efforts to increase food production to help war efforts. For preppers, victory gardens represent a coordinated effort to create greater self-reliance.
To determine the best victory garden size for you, I have pulled (and adapted) text from the original ABC of Victory Gardens guide. This was published during World War II by the Department of Agriculture. This guide advised its readers to “Make your plans carefully and grow a victory garden even if it is a small one.” Because location and size go hand-in-hands, you must also determine…
The ideal location, is of course, right in your own back yard, if that is possible. Next best is that empty lot next door, if you are fortunate enough to have one there. Ask the owner for permission to use it. Regardless, don’t go too far away from your home. Remember that you will have to carry your tools and other material each time you want to work. The fact that your garden will require watering is another reason to locate it as near your home as possible. A handy water faucet to which you can attach a hose is much preferred to running back and forth with a watering can. If the summer is dry the availability of a hose will be absolutely necessary.
Plenty of Good Sunshine
It’s the sun that makes vegetables grow, so be sure that your garden is well away from trees. They will not only keep the sun away, but their roots will steal moisture and nourishment from the ground. A simple rule to follow is to keep your garden as many feet away from a tree as the tree is high. For example, if the nearest tree is twenty feet high, keep the edge of your garden at least twenty feet away from its trunk. The same rule applies to any nearby shrubs or bushes.
Good, Deep Topsoil
Good topsoil is just as important as sunshine. You cannot grow crops where the soil has been removed or where it is only a few inches deep. A depth of at least 8 inches is desirable. It should be quite free of rocks and stones or you will find it very difficult to work. It should be comparatively level or the soil is apt to wash away. A lawn that has been turned over makes one of the best soils. Whatever the nature of your topsoil may be, it can be greatly improved by your own efforts.
Most level or slightly sloping plots of ground will have good drainage. Low lying ground that remains wet for any considerable length of time after a rainstorm is not satisfactory. Ground that is always swampy and wet is, of course, no place for a vegetable garden.
There are factors to be considered before you decide how big your garden should be.
FIRST – How big is the available space? You may not want to use all of it, but you may also have to be satisfied with a smaller space than you would like. You can have your garden in two sections if that is the only way to get sufficient space for your plans. The closer these sections are together the easier they will be to attend.
SECOND – How experienced are you at gardening? While there is nothing mysterious or difficult about growing vegetables, a beginner will not be able to work as fast as an experienced gardener. You may find later that you are unwilling or unable to do the necessary amount of work to bring the crops through to their ripening stage. Remember, too, that a modest garden will supply you with a surprising quantity of vegetables. Of course, if too much ripens at once (and you don’t can it) you can always share it with your neighbors (but it does mean extra work).
Review the plans of various size gardens that follow and select one that you can successfully handle. If you are experienced, you need little guidance. Undoubtedly you will plan one big enough to meet your current needs as well as supply you with a surplus for canning or storage. We also advise the beginner to stick to the easy-to-grow annuals and leave the perennials, such as asparagus, strawberries, and rhubarb to the experienced gardener. Of the annuals it is well to leave out of your plans such vegetables as cauliflower, watermelons, and celery because they are somewhat more difficult to grow.
THIRD – Plan to grow the things that you and your family like best. Radishes are fine for people who like them, but why grow them if you don’t?
FOURTH – Plan to grow a succession of crops. This is the most important reason for having a definite plan on paper before you start. It is the only way to insure a steady supply of fresh vegetables all season. Where space is limited, such a plan will also help you get two or three quick-growing crops from a single row.
The following small and medium-sized plans can be used in any space measuring 150 to 400 square feet. Do not hesitate to change the selection of items to suit your own individual tastes. The vegetables identified here are comparatively simple to grow. It is assumed, of course, that you will do a good job of soil preparation and cultivation after your crops start to grow.
This is a much larger garden than looks on paper! Measure the space off outside and see how really big it is. Do not plan this size if you are a “weekend” gardener and must do all of the work by yourself. It will take the spare time of two people. For convenience in planting, the garden has been divided into two sections. Most of the late maturing crops are in the second section.
Now that you have your victory garden site planned out. The next step is preparing the soil for that garden.
Much of this post came from the ABC of Victory Gardens pamphlet distributed widely during World War II. We have made the complete pamphlet available for download in PDF format. Click here to get a copy.
If you’re new to gardening, consider a copy of Mel Bartholomew’s best-selling book All New Square Foot Gardening. Then, when you’ve inevitably produced way more vegetables than you can eat in a season (a common beginner’s mistake), you’ll want a copy of the USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning.
It’s the go-to source on canning, and it’s inexpensive. You can get a pressure/canner cooker to accompany canning supplies and Mason jars that run from the high-end All American 930 to the more reasonably-priced Presto 8-Quart cooker.
See our list of popular vegetables below for some general guidelines.
Plant more of what you know your family likes to eat, and don’t be afraid to branch out a little into some more exotic varieties even if your household includes some picky eaters. Turning gardening into a family affair often convinces veggie haters to try new foods.
Consider your climate, too. For the most part, we have mild winters here in Georgia, so my family’s garden will produce almost year-round. If you live in a part of the country that experiences especially cold weather, however, you may not be able to depend on a winter harvest and will instead need to can or freeze part of your late-summer yield.
If you plan to preserve any of your harvest for the winter, add a few extra plants of each crop. Here is a list of popular vegetables and an estimate of how many plants to sow for a family of four: