If you live in the suburbs and have dreamed about having a vegetable garden, then don’t wait any longer! Recent gardening innovations have made it easy for families to grow fresh, organic vegetables in suburban backyards. Once you have started growing your own vegetables and you experience the convenience of harvesting dinner out your back door, we suspect you will continue adding onto your garden year after year!
For suburban gardens, the trick is to forget the old style of row-based gardening. It simply takes too much space, and when you live in the suburbs, space is at a premium. Rather, use Square Foot Gardening method. With this method, three 4×8 foot garden beds can fulfill most of the vegetable requirements for two adults and two children.
Don’t have a sunny back yard? Don’t worry! Most vegetables will survive in partial sun. In fact, in some of the hotter parts of the country, full sun may be too much sun.
The first step is to create your garden beds. “Garden beds” can be as simple as marking off a section of your yard for growing vegetables. Rocks make fantastic borders. If you have poor soil or drainage problems, raised beds are the way to go. You can make your own using 2×6 untreated lumber, or there are plenty of commercial options available. The most important point, however, is once your beds are marked off – don’t walk on them! This compacts the soil and makes it difficult for plants to thrive.
When sizing your beds, we recommend a minimum width of three feet. Four feet seems about optimum, however, because most gardeners can easily reach in two feet from either side of the bed. Space your beds three feet apart. Any closer could cause crowding, because as the plants grow, they will spill over the sides of the bed.
Each bed will need to be marked off in 1 foot sections called “planting squares”. Use twine connected to stakes, or build a simple wooden grid insert using 1 inch strips of wood.
At the same time you build your beds, we recommend implementing a composting system. Again, keep it simple to get started and then fine-tune as time goes on. One of the best ideas I’ve seen for suburban yards is a long trench dug along the back fence for collecting fallen leaves. Rather than bagging the leaves, they are raked into the trench, watered, and left to decompose into leaf mold. Pile the leaves deep rather than wide, and then next year, create a new pile next to the pile from the previous year. It will take a year or two for the leaves to decompose. Start harvesting compost from the first pile added as soon as it is a brown, crumbly texture and is not recognizable as leaves. Apply the compost to your garden beds periodically – this is what keeps the soil healthy and capable of producing vegetables full of nutrients.
For yard clippings and kitchen scraps, we recommend bins made out of lumber and chicken wire. If you are handy, you can make your own. Or, commercial options are available. Be sure to skip composting of any yard clippings treated with pesticides or herbicides.
Controlling pests is a priority. Rabbits can be a big problem for suburban gardens. Clearly, the most effective solution is a fence around the yard to keep the rabbits out. If that isn’t possible, then try chicken wire fencing around each bed. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it just has to keep the rabbits out.
Although not absolutely necessary, we do recommend installing drip tape or hose on each bed for irrigation. You can buy supplies at your local hardware store. Consider buying a timer, too. They aren’t very expensive, and with a timer, you can basically forget about watering. For the ultimate irrigation system, install rain barrels. Your vegetables will appreciate the unchlorinated water, and you’ll save money on your water bill and benefit the environment.
Even before your garden is ready, you can begin planning what you want to plant. If you are looking for an interactive planning tool, check out the garden planner at EZGarden.com. Based on your vegetable preferences and serving goals, it generates a garden plan tailored to your climate that provides step-by-step planting, maintenance, and harvest instructions.
Good luck, everyone, and welcome to gardening!