There are few things more satisfying than whipping up a new recipe with produce you’ve picked from your very own fruit and vegetable garden. Not only will a fruit & veggie garden help you access fresh, nutritious and organic foods with ease but it is also a massive cost saver. We could all do with saving a little extra on our grocery bills right now and growing your own produce costs very little time and money. Plus, you’ll be picking up a fun new hobby along the way.
The first step on your journey to becoming a real produce prodigy is to consider the space you have to work with. Before you can get the satisfaction of digging in and watching your plants sprout to life, you need to set yourself up for success by mapping out an area of your garden where your plants can thrive. We’ve broken down all the information you’ll need into four quick and easy sections. So, let’s get started!
Evaluating your garden: factors to consider before planting
The first thing you’ll need to do is survey the area that you have and make a note of a few key factors.
1. What is the shape and size of the area you have to work with?
Fruit and veggie gardens can be created no matter how small or awkwardly shaped the layout of your garden, so don’t be disheartened if you feel that your space is holding you back. You can even start your first vegetable garden from a container if you live in a flat and don’t have access to a garden at all.
So, with that in mind let’s explore the different types of vegetable gardens you can create with your space.
As mentioned, container gardens are great for those who may not have access to a garden but do have access to a balcony. This method is also great if you are working with an awkwardly shaped garden with lots of corners or concrete paving.
Essentially container gardening allows you to plant your produce in pots, hanging baskets and any other type of container you can find. Not only will this allow you to access fresh produce using little space, but it also allows you to maintain flexibility. You can customise your soil to give your produce the best environment to grow in and you can move your containers around to ensure they get plenty of sunlight.
The disadvantage of using a container garden is that you will be limited in the type of fruit and vegetables you can plant. For instance, potatoes will not be able to grow in a small container garden as they require more space. However, tomatoes, strawberries and peppers are great options for this type of garden.
A similar space-saving solution is window gardening. If you don’t have any outdoor space (like a patio) at all, then this method is perfect for you. With this method, you just create a mini garden to sit on your windowsill. You could use hanging planters, or mini containers. Some people even use empty jars or tin cans, so this is an accessible and budget-friendly option.
Once again, your choice of plants will be limited here. However, herbs, microgreens and cherry tomatoes all grow well in these conditions. The great thing about windowsill gardening is that it not only freshens up your space but it also is a great introduction to gardening for beginners. Even kids will love to get involved. To learn more you can check out our post on how to create your own windowsill garden.
Do you have a small garden with limited ground space or is it completely paved in concrete? Don’t worry. Vertical gardens will still allow you to get your hands dirty and grow your own delicious veggies. You just need a trellis or some hanging planters.
This method allows you to take full advantage of your space by growing upwards and is also easier to maintain than traditional gardens. Strawberries, peppers, lettuce and other leafy greens are all great to grow in vertical gardens. To learn more about this type of garden you can check out our post on its benefits.
Raised bed gardens
A popular option that’s great if you have plenty of space to work with, raised beds are large raised containers (typically made from wood) that sit in your garden and allow you to plant larger vegetable crops. They have good drainage (but more on that later) and are easy to manage compared to traditional gardens that require a lot of weeding, etc.
Even if your space is an awkward shape, you can build raised beds in different shapes and sizes to fit. Carrots, broccoli, raspberries and onions all grow well in raised beds. To learn more about this type of garden, check out our post covering everything from design inspiration to how to get started.
2. What aspect is the area and how much sunlight does it get?
Before you plant your garden, whether that be directly into the ground, using a raised bed or another space-saving alternative, you should check the sun exposure and the aspect of the area you will be using.
The aspect refers to whether your garden faces north, south, east or west. It’s important to know because it will impact how much sun your garden will get. For instance, a north-facing garden will receive less direct sunlight than a south-facing garden. Knowing the aspect of your garden will help you determine which crops will be best suited to your space.
If you have a shadier north-facing garden crops like raspberries, blackberries and leeks will be good choices as they require less sunlight to grow. However, if you have a sunny south-facing space we would recommend planting things like tomatoes, peppers and grapes that thrive in warmer, sunnier environments.
3. Are there obstructions in the way?
To ensure proper drainage and allow your plants to grow evenly, the area in which you are planting should be even and balanced. You should remove any obstructions that would prevent this. It is also important when planting directly into the ground to remove any rocks, tree stumps or other obstructions that could prevent your plant’s roots from getting deep into the soil. Once all of the obstructions have been removed you will be left with healthier soil that should have better aeration and drainage.
4. Is the soil quality good enough?
The next thing you will need to think about is preparing the soil. This is not something you will really have to worry about if planting into a container or vertical garden, as you will be able to buy soil directly suited to whatever your plant needs. However, if you are planting directly into the ground you will need to run some tests to get an understanding of what type of soil you have. This will help you to determine what exactly you will be able to plant. To learn about how to test your soil you can check out our post all about soil pH levels.
If the soil in your garden has a pH level between 6.1 to 7.0 then you will likely not have to make any changes as this soil is already suitable for a wide variety of plants. However, if the pH is between 7.1 to 8.0 it means that your soil is alkaline and will struggle to provide the proper nutrients to grow things like peppers and currants, which prefer slightly acidic soil.
How to cultivate soil that’s perfect for growing
If you are not happy with the soil in your garden, there are a few things that you can do to improve its quality and adjust the pH levels to suit the preferences of certain fruits and vegetables.
If after testing you find that your soil is too acidic you can add lime to it to reduce the acidity. The most popular way to ‘lime’ soil is by adding agricultural limestone. Just follow the instructions on the package or those given to you at your local garden centre. Be careful not to add too much as it could result in alkaline soil which requires its own solutions to fix.
If your soil has too much alkaline you can add sulphur. Acidifying fertilisers that contain aluminium sulfate or ammonium sulfate will do the job. Note that these are best applied during spring, as the heat will help it to react properly with the soil. You can also use organic matter like coffee grounds, mulch, compost and pine needles.
Once your pH level is sorted there are a few other things you can do to improve the general quality of your soil, making it ideal for growing. For instance, it helps to dig through where you will be planting with a fork to help loosen the soil. This will break up clods of soil that have stuck together, improving aeration and drainage before you begin to plant.
For further information on understanding your soil, you can check out our post on different soil types on our knowledge hub.
The secrets to effective watering and drainage
Watering and drainage are essential elements that need to be considered to prepare a healthy garden. While the methods for ensuring correct watering and drainage practises may vary slightly according to the type of garden you choose to create (as discussed above), the core elements remain the same.
Drainage is the term used to describe how water flows through soil. Poor drainage can result in your soil becoming waterlogged, leading to issues like root rot and even suffocating your plant’s roots. That is why it is so important to ensure that water can drain properly through your soil. But, how do you check that your soil has good drainage?
Well, there is a simple test you can carry out to check that water drains from your soil correctly, just follow the steps below.
How to check for drainage
- Dig a hole 30cm deep into the soil where you will be planting your fruit or veg.
- Fill the hole with water and let it drain completely overnight.
- Come back the next day and fill with water again, using a stopwatch to time how long it takes to drain completely.
- Once this has been completed refill again, this time measuring the depth of the water every 30 mins until it has completely drained away.
If your soil drains about 2.5–7.5 cm an hour it will have good enough drainage for planting your fruit and veg. It should be able to hold enough moisture to keep your plants happy and healthy during warm summer days.
However, if your soil was draining much faster or slower than this, then you will need to take action to improve it before you can begin planting. If your soil suffers from fast drainage we recommend adding compost to increase its ability to hold water. Whereas, if your drainage was much too slow you could install drainage pipes to help get rid of access water.
It’s also important to consider what crops you’re planting and what their individual watering needs are. If some of your plants require lots of regular watering, it’s best to position them together to make it more convenient and also to ensure that no extra water spills over affecting those plants that require less. You can also improve watering by adding mulch, which will help retain moisture for thirsty fruit and veggies.
How to pick plants that will flourish in your garden
Here is some inspiration for the crops that you should consider according to your space.
If you have a small space you can grow the following plants from small planters:
For those that have decided on creating a vertical garden, these are the plants that will work best:
- Climbing beans
- Melons (small varieties only, like the golden midget watermelon)
Are raised bed gardens more your thing? Well, here are some fruit & veggies you may want to consider:
For those that like to plant straight into the ground, these fruit & veggies will grow well:
We hope this article has given you enough information to get started planning a vegetable garden. Do you already have the perfect spot all mapped out in your mind? Once you’ve decided on the size and location of your planter think about what tools you’ll need along the way. Plus, we also have an incredible selection of tools on our website to help you get going.
Keep an eye out on our knowledge hub for more guides on creating the perfect fruit and vegetable garden. We’ll be covering everything from how to find the best seeds for your garden to companion planting.