Location is a key factor in planning a food garden

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The adage of “location, location, location” also applies to food gardens, for, if not in the right place, your plants may grow too slowly to yield properly. Plants weakened by poor location – just like stressed humans – lack a healthy immune system.

If you are planning to put in your first food garden this year, give some thought to the fundamentals of location before you turn that first spade of soil. Then again, maybe you want to go for raised beds as well. That way you don't have to do much soil digging with the spade in the first place.

Exposure to sunlight is your main point to consider. Only a location that is fully exposed will offer plants all the sun they need but, unfortunately, a great majority of our gardens don't have this option and they are not fully exposed. Exposure from due south is, obviously, the most desirable because it gives light more hours of the day than any other, while east-facing is, probably, second-best because the morning light dries the dew off leaves, reducing disease potential. Third is west-facing, because plants can suffer from extreme heat of direct exposure on summer afternoons. Exposure can be altered by man-made elements that block the sun for part of the day, such as a house, garage, fence or your neighbor's stored RV, trees, trellises, etc.

You also, as far as possible, should be avoiding trees, if only so your garden does get the exposure needed. Trees large and small influence the soil around them and the canopy will not only shade a garden space, its leaves may fall into the soil to influence its chemistry, while the roots of older trees can become an underground barrier to digging, particularly if they have fine feeder roots at the surface. Even where a tree has recently been cut down, a dense root system may remain as a barrier to cultivation.

Trees can be useful but they also can be the cause of lack of water for plants, as many trees can be very thirsty and thus draw the water from the surrounding area.

Never forget that the food garden is part of a larger landscape. Unlike ornamental plants that need only look good, your veggies must produce a crop, too. Position them properly and you will be rewarded. But if the plants consider your choice a bad location, no amount of work or money will ever coax them to yield a crop. So, look for the best location, soil condition and shelter for your garden.

Also, you do not have to hide your vegetable garden either and properly cared for and mixed with herbs and flowers your back vegetable garden can also be extended to the front, as long as you do not have to worry about thieves.

Some reckon that food gardens are only beautiful in season, and that they can be an eyesore the rest of the year. But, as said, that can be overcome by looking after the spaces properly and also mixing veg with herbs and flowers.

That a kitchen garden can be beautiful and a garden you can live with and live in and live from was borne out by the M&G Garden 2011 at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2011.

You may also want to consider the proximity to water for nobody really wants to drag hoses every day to water a food garden. When the garden is located close to a tap, the hose is always handy to water the garden as often as necessary. It can also feed a water-conserving drip system on a battery timer. If there's no tap nearby, it may be a good idea to install one before starting the garden. Also consider rainwater harvesting and thus the use of rain barrels.

Depending on whether you have digging dogs, invading deer or thieving non-feathered magpies, the garden should be defendable and you may have to look at different ways of protecting your crops.

Many creatures find your vegetables just as delectable as you do, and with food prices rising thefts from allotments and gardens could become more common than they are already. In deer country, the importance of specialized fencing is undeniable and the same is true as a defense against the non-feathered thieving magpies referred to earlier. In the latter case, if you can legally do it, the use of coils of barbed wire on top of a six foot fence might be an answer against those wishing to climb over and help themselves to your produce. This is, however, no defense against him who comes armed with wire cutters. If it is, however, just the family dog, you may need no more than a cute picket fence.

Other creatures also like to dig in your garden, such as foxes, cats and squirrels and while they may, in the same way as a dog does not, necessarily go after your vegetables themselves the digging can devastate the plants and thus your harvest.

Pigeons like to feast on all things green, by way of leaves, and thus cabbages and such like will, more than likely, require netting strung over them, and you will also need slug barriers and traps against slugs and snails unless you are happy enough to use slug pellets to kill them.

© 2011