But where to start?
1. Choose a location
The first thing you need to do when deciding to put in a backyard veggie box is to determine what space you have available. Veggies do best with as much sun as possible; and, if this isn't possible, full morning sun is better for your box than afternoon sun. A south-facing spot close to the house is where gardeners often like to put their boxes, since the veggies get extra protection from the house and lots of sun.
Also think about your daily view outside and where you spend your time outside. There are conflicting theories on where to put your box based on this. One theory says put it in plain view so you will see it and be inspired to work on it, and the other says to put it out of view so it doesn't look bad on the years you decide not to plant anything. I am in the camp to put it in plain view and in a place where you spend time outside. Then you can weed or water as you pass by instead of it being a chore.
Have some garden that could be spruced up? Think about some perennial edibles as landscaping. These are fruits and veggies that come back year after year. A great low option in a full sun area is strawberries. These send out runners with new plants every year, and kids love picking the ripe fruits. They give fruit all summer long, and into the fall. Mid-height are asparagus. Did you know that these plants will produce every spring for up to 20 years? A great higher option is blueberries. We have also had great luck with golden raspberries. These gems give twice annually. Artichokes are an unusual-looking perennial that can actually be placed in an area with deer and survive. Currants are also delicious and deer resistant, and can be part-shade. Or how about replacing a decorative tree with a fruit tree? Figs, persimmons, pluots, and plums do great in our area. Or do you have any blackberry plants back there? Learn how to trellis and manage the canes to keep them from becoming a nuisance, since they are delicious.
A backyard herb box is another perennial spot that could stand to be close to the back door, if you have sun there. A bit of fresh rosemary, thyme, sage, and oregano will go a long way in your cooking. Keep some mint- in a pot- and it makes summer drinks sparkle. Annual herbs like basil and chives are worth replanting every year (they die with the frost).
2. Determine the Size and Number of Boxes
Make sure you think about how far across you want to reach into the box, and space between your box or boxes. As a rule of thumb, three feet should be enough so that you can still move between your boxes when they are overloaded with zucchini and tomatoes int he heat of summer. I also don't like to go wider than four feet across, so we can reach in two feet from each side. You never want to step on your dirt. You could keep them at three feet wide for smaller arms. We used to use old half wine barrels as veggie boxes; they are a great size.
3. Choose your Box Materials and Set it Up
Are you going to buy a kit? Half wine barrels? Another reused object? You don't need to go much deeper than 6", though a foot or more in depth is common. How about Trex or redwood? All of these work. The only real recommendation I have is not to use pressure treated wood, or wood with old lead paint on it, since the area will be kept moist and any chemicals in the wood will get into the soil and your food.
If you are going to build a box, they will cut the wood for you at Home Depot, and show you which screws to use, or which corner brackets. You don't even really need a bottom; weed cloth under the dirt will do just fine.
4. Choose your Dirt
Ah, dirt. So much to say about dirt. I read about a mix of a third vermiculite, a third mixed compost, and a third peat moss and am happy with it. We add compost every year, the the peat moss and vermiculite keep it fluffy. We also have to turn the soil every year to break up roots.
I have a friend who changes out her soil every year or two, and swears by the mix at Orchard. Another book I read says to use ages horse manure as your base, and add other types of compost as you add the plants (by "types" and "mixed" for compost here, all I mean is that the source of compost is not all from one thing-- different veggies and foods and manure all mixed in give more nutrients to the soil). They give away aged manure for free at Sienna Ranch if you want to give that one a try (it's in the back of the parking lot).
Every gardener you ask will give you a different answer about what to use. They will all agree it is the heart of your veggie garden's success.
5. How are you Going to Water?
You can irrigate. If you add a veggie system to your existing irrigation, I recommend giving it its own program. When it is hot, you will want the water to go on daily. When it's cooler, you can miss a day or two.
Some say to water by hand for this reason. The thought is also that you will look at the veggies every day as you are watering, and pick weeds, or harvest, or thin seedlings, or whatever else needs to get done.
If you add irrigation, think about if you want to use drip or sprinklers. The sprinklers can also be bubblers in the middle, or a middle circle sprayer, or half arcs on both sides. The shape of your box will largely determine the spraying needs of your box. I get frustrated with sprayers when my chard grows big in front of the sprayer and blocks the water from getting to the plants in back. I get frustrated with my drip lines when I am planting and need to plant at the exact spot where the water comes out of the drip line.
If you have more than one box, make sure you put easy shut-off valves on each box for your irrigation. This way, you can easily water some boxes and not others, depending on what you have planted.
6. Seeds or Starts?
The best advice we got our first year gardening was to buy starts. Yes, they are more expensive. But they have also sprouted already and you will get the spacing right (there is a tag on them that says how much space to leave between plants and they have already been thinned out) and it is very satisfying to watch them grow.
Seeds do, however, give you more variety. There are often six or eight types of tomato starts at the store, but twenty types of seeds. As you get more experience, too, you can save seeds from your best plants in your little microclimate and grow these every year.
When you buy either seeds or starts, think about what you like to eat. Who cares about your gorgeous tomato plants if they make your face break out in a rash? Don't like cucumbers? Plant something else instead.
7. Pest Control
There is nothing sadder than waking up to check on your newly planed box of starts that you and the kids spent all day shopping for, and planting, and having had slugs eat every plant down to the nub overnight. Okay. There are many things more sad. But this is avoidable. There is a natural product called Sluggo that you sprinkle around and it keeps them away. Some swear by leaving open beer cans around for the slugs to drown in.
Read about companion planting. This is the idea that some plants compliment each other and like to be planted together. The Native American planted corn, beans, and squash together for a reason. You often see marigolds with tomato plants.
8. Kids in the Garden
My kids love to help in the garden. They are 3 and 6 now, and point things out to me in other people's gardens. It is so satisfying to have the neighbor kids come over and pick strawberries, or eat a warm cherry tomato on a hot day.
I like to give my kids real garden jobs, like turning the soil, carrying things, and harvesting. We try to make them eat everything they pick (to discourage green things being picked-- they are quick to learn when something is ready this way). I also keep some jobs to myself, like watering (in a drought), and I did most of the pruning when they were young (although they were able to do a lot with scissors instead of shears at a young age).
I have a kids' sized wheelbarrow for them, and little hand tools, and a small shrub rake. The actual items, but smaller sized, work well for us. They each have their own real garden gloves (Orchard sells these) and I have three kneeling pads. In the tool corral at Home Depot, they sell a waist apron made of canvas for under $1 that is nice for holding supplies. I have found that my kids love dressing for a job nearly as much as they like doing it.
I hope this gets you off to a good start! Folks at the nursery are incredibly helpful, and it is so satisfying to have your family grow food at home. Pin It