Are you thinking of turning part of your garden into a vegetable patch? It's a great idea, because even with a small plot you can independently produce—and more or less throughout the whole year—at least part of what you need to stock your kitchen fridge. It’s all about efficiently organising your spaces and work.
Today we provide a rundown of how to manage a vegetable patch: the effects of the moon and the seasons, how to organise crops, and how to fertilise and irrigate them.
The moon: how does it affect vegetables?
Predicting the influence of the moon on vegetable growing is an established tradition, but it is not scientifically proven that the moon really has any effect on crops. So you should be aware of the lunar calendar when scheduling your sowing, transplanting and other routine tasks on the vegetable patch. In particular, if you want to know when to plant vegetables, a sowing and transplanting calendar will tell you which is climatically the best time to sow or to plant seedlings.
In fact, every type of plant needs both a minimum temperature to germinate and an average temperature sufficient for growth. That’s why the best time for planting vegetables depends on the local temperature in your region. Therefore, the moon has less impact on your vegetable patch compared with the climate, choosing suitable varieties of vegetables, the quality of seeds and seedlings, the soil characteristics, and correct fertilisation and irrigation.
Nevertheless, according to the lunar calendar, a waxing moon favours the above-ground growth of plants. By contrast, a waning moon stimulates the underground part of the plant. So during the moon’s waxing phase it is better to sow fruit vegetables, flowering vegetables and seed vegetables (such as tomatoes, courgettes and peas), leafy vegetables and, even though they are a root vegetable, carrots. Whereas, during the waning phase you should sow bulb, tuber or root vegetables such as onions and potatoes; as well as artichokes and asparagus which, strictly speaking, are flowering and stem vegetables respectively.
How to organise a vegetable patch
If you still need to organise your vegetable patch and have maximum freedom in deciding which part of the garden to devote to crops, opt for a fully sunlit area, away from the shade of trees, hedges, low walls, buildings and so on, but close to a water source and, if possible, near to the tool shed. The ideal orientation of the beds is north-south, so that all the plants receive plenty of sunlight.
Before sowing and transplanting, till the soil of your vegetable patch. How? We talk about it this in our vegetable patch preparation guide. You will need a spade, a hoe or—if you prefer motorised assistance—a rotary tiller, such as those in the Efco range of compact rotary tillers and medium power rotary tillers.
How to divide up a vegetable patch? Which plants to grow in the vegetable patch depends on your tastes, the local climate and the space you have available. In any case, in organising your vegetable patch you should practice crop rotation: crops of the same family (nightshades, alliums, brassicas, etc.) should not be planted in the same location multiple years in a row, but rather moved to another section of the plot. Crop rotation not only maintains soil fertility, but also prevents the spread of diseases.
Another factor that influences the health of your vegetable patch is companion planting, which refers to the influence between two or more crops growing simultaneously in the same space: whereas some plants benefit from this mutual proximity, others do not work well together.
So, what is the best way to organise your vegetable patch? Here are our suggestions:
Position the vegetables correctly: consider exposure to sunlight, any sources of shade (including the shadows cast by taller plants); plan your crops for the next few years using the crop rotation method and taking into account beneficial/harmful companion plants.
Don’t sow/transplant everything at once: if you adopt a staggered approach you will have a steadier succession of harvests throughout the year, thereby avoiding gluts and shortages.
Don’t sow or transplant too densely: each species needs its own space and plants compete with each other if grown too closely, resulting in a disappointing harvest.
Grow tall plants (tomatoes, peppers, green beans, etc.) using supports in order to optimise space, especially if it’s limited.
In the vegetable patch you can grow and harvest not just vegetables, but also fruit: take a look at our blog article on how to plant and grow strawberries.
How to fertilise the vegetable patch
By using manure and seasoned compost (not fresh), organic fertilisers in pellet form, mineral fertilisers or synthetic fertilisers you can provide the plants in your vegetable patch with essential nutrients, namely macroelements such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (the “NPK” triad), and trace elements.
In fact, if a soil is poor in nutrients, i.e. not very fertile, the harvest inevitably suffers. What’s more, by fertilising crops as they are growing, you replenish the nutrients that are gradually absorbed by the vegetables. Be careful though! Too much fertiliser can weaken plants, harm production and create an imbalance of nutrients in the soil.
So, when and how should you fertilise the vegetable patch?
The ideal time is in autumn/winter, by incorporating fertiliser into the soil when you till it.
In spring, perform a second round of fertilisation a couple of weeks before sowing/planting seedlings.
For more demanding plants (such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and courgettes), periodically bury some NPK fertiliser between the rows.
Remember that crop rotation also helps to keep the soil fertile.
To improve the soil in your vegetable patch it might be useful to correct its pH, which is a factor that affects fertility: vegetables perform better in soils with a pH value between 6 and 7.5. In this article we explain why and how to acidify soil.
When to water the vegetable patch
Water is essential for all plants, including those in the vegetable patch: if they don't get enough from rainfall, you need to water them yourself. That's why, when deciding where to place your vegetable patch, there should be a water source nearby.
When should you water the vegetable patch? How much water is needed depends on the type of plant, its stage of life, the season, and the ability of the soil to retain water. Here are some tips for regulating the watering frequency of your vegetable patch:
Give the vegetable patch a good soaking when sowing/transplanting.
Use less water for subsequent irrigations.
In the production and maturation phase, which generally coincides with the hot season, the amount of water should be increased.
In late autumn and winter, limit watering to a minimum.
Also on the subject of when to water your vegetable patch: it is better to irrigate in the morning using water at room temperature (to avoid thermal shock). Even in summer, the soil is cool in the morning, and the vegetables will have plenty of time to dry out. On the contrary, if you irrigate in the evening, the vegetable patch will stay humid overnight, creating an unhealthy microclimate conducive to the spread of diseases.
Make sure that you don't overdo the water. If it stagnates—which tends to happen in clayey soil—it prevents the roots from breathing and accelerates the development of pathogens. In addition, excessive watering makes your vegetables less flavourful and durable.
We mentioned that watering should be minimised during cold spells. It is not the only precaution to bear in mind, because vegetables need protecting in winter. To find out how in detail, read our tips for keeping the vegetable patch healthy in winter and our low-down on how to build a DIY greenhouse.