Where to Grow a Fruit and Vegetable Garden
Choosing the perfect spot for your produce garden can mean the difference between unhappy and flourishing food crops.
How and where you grow your vegetables depends on your soil, site, and exposure. Large gardens and community plots can offer ideal conditions, especially with a greenhouse, but there are raised-bed options for smaller gardens, and crops that can be grown in sunny beds and borders.
If you have enough space and good, well-drained soil, consider growing vegetables in traditional beds, sited to take best advantage of your exposure. The best width is 4 feet (1.2 m), which allows you to work without stepping on and compacting the soil. For this reason, it is a good idea to lay boards or build a path between the beds to walk along, ideally wide enough for a wheelbarrow. To make the beds more attractive, which may be important on smaller plots, add elements such as brick paving, or surround beds with herbs or stepover fruit trees.
If your soil is poor, growing crops in raised beds may be the simplest solution. They are easy to build, and if filled with high-quality topsoil, they can provide ideal growing conditions for a wide variety of crops and herbs. Raising the soil helps it to warm up more quickly in spring, giving your crops a head start. It also improves drainage, although you will need to water and feed more often. Raised beds also add interest to your garden and bring your crops up to a more comfortable working height.
In cooler areas, crops like tomatoes and eggplant grow best under cover in a greenhouse or polytunnel. If you can fit one of these in, you will find it invaluable. The warmth and protection provided means a growing season from early spring until temperatures and light levels fall in late autumn. You can sow early crops under cover, give seedlings a head start, and protect tender plants.
Greenhouses and tunnels should be located in full sun, away from trees and overhanging branches, but also in a position that is not too exposed. Installing power will allow you to run heaters, lights, and propagators, and having a water supply nearby is also useful.
Containers are suitable for growing a wide range of fruit and vegetables and are a useful solution in smaller plots where border space is limited or if the soil is poor or unsuitable. They also allow you to grow crops in ideal positions or close to the house for easy picking. You can use any container, provided it has drainage holes in its base: from traditional terra-cotta and glazed earthenware to all sorts of recycled materials, such as tin baths.
Plants grown in containers require feeding and frequent, regular watering, particularly in hot, dry weather. Where space allows, use larger pots since these retain moisture better and provide more growing space. Smaller containers are portable, allowing you to move plants as needed, maybe to avoid full sun or shade. Most vegetables can be grown in containers, but also consider dwarf fruit trees, fruit bushes, and strawberries.
Consider these types of containers for your fruits and vegetable plants:
- Window boxes: For those with minimal growing space, window boxes are a useful option and bring produce within easy reach. Dwarf or cascading varieties are the best to grow, including lettuce and tomatoes. Herbs are also good, especially for your kitchen windowsills. Always ensure boxes are firmly secured to prevent them from falling, especially from upper windows. Window boxes are handy for herbs.
- Growing bags: These provide a flexible way to grow vegetables and are sold prefilled with compost and ready to plant, or empty to fill yourself. They can be used inside or out, and for a wide range of annual crops, such as tomatoes and zucchini. Deep bags can also be used for root crops, such as potatoes. Discard or refill with fresh soil or compost each year. Growing bags make patio crops easy.
- Hanging baskets: Hanging baskets offer similar benefits to small containers and allow you to use walls or fences as growing spaces. Cascading and low-growing crops are the most suitable, but for the best crop, don’t over- plant. Position the baskets in sunny, sheltered spots away from wind, attaching the brackets securely. In summer, water daily, and feed every week. Hanging baskets are ideal for crops.
If you don’t have space for a greenhouse, a cold frame or mini-greenhouse is the next best thing. These are ideal for raising seedlings and protecting plants in cold snaps. By opening them up on warm days, you can harden off plants ready for planting. Mini-greenhouses are perfect for growing tomatoes and peppers and can be folded away at the end of the season when crops are finished, or used to protect tender fruit.
Walls and Fences
To help maximize your yield, make use of walls, fences and other upright structures in the garden, including pergolas, to grow climbing vegetables and to train fruit, such as red currants. As long as they are sited in a sheltered spot, these provide useful places to grow plants vertically without taking up valuable ground space. Walls are especially good for tender plants, like peaches.
Before planting, attach trellis or wires to walls and fences to provide support and to make it easier to train stems. Improve the soil at the base of the structure with well-rotted organic matter, especially near walls. Regularly water any plants growing under overhangs.
Exclusive vegetable-only beds are not necessary because you can grow many crops in flower beds and borders. Some plants, such as globe artichokes, winter kale, and Swiss chard, are ornamental in their own right. Mixed planting is an excellent way to make a small garden productive and provides interest when flowers have faded. The mix of plants also helps “hide” crops from pests and attracts beneficial and pollinating insects.