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When choosing the location for your home vegetable, herb or fruit garden, there are a few important criteria to consider before you get out your shovel, order seeds or buy starts. Finding the right spot is your first key to success.
• Sunlight: Most edibles require a minimum of six hours of full sunlight to be successful. Without it, most crops will be expensive, time-consuming, frustrating failures. Yes, some edibles like many leafy greens and native understory berries like Vaccinium ovatum will do fine in shadier spots. But, if you’re looking for tasty tomatoes, piles of peas, or sugary melons, you’ll need a spot with full sunlight.
• Accessibility: Edible gardens require a lot of attention. Throughout the growing season, you will need to water, weed and harvest consistently and often more than once a day. If you’re lucky, your sunniest spot will be close to your kitchen door and near to a water source as well. If it isn’t, choose the sunny site and be prepared to travel a little further to your potager.
• Soil: A large portion of your edibles will spend their lives below the soil, drawing nutrients and water from it. This means that your carefully tended crops will encounter any potential toxins in the earth. Ideally, gather a soil sample and have it lab tested before you begin. This will not only help you eliminate or work around a location infused with toxins like lead or arsenic, but it also will provide you with what kind of inputs like lime and other nutrients are required to maximize your crops.
• Year-round or seasonal: Is your goal to grow edibles from spring to fall or are you planning to keep some home grown goodies going all year long? Remember: the angle of the sun changes through the year, so even the sunniest summer spot may be frozen up come winter. Too, if you are gardening in a location that has a harsh winter, you’ll need to be sure your chosen spot can be covered with a cold frame or hoop house structure to retain heat and protect plants in the chill.
• Big or Small: The more space you allocate to your edible plants, the more food you are likely to harvest. Too, you’ll need to set aside the time to care for larger plots. Remember: today’s food gardeners can easily grow a tomato, cucumber or even zucchini in a pot. Newer cultivars have been raised with smaller garden spaces in mind. And, adding vertical growing environments like trellises can increase your yield, without adding a lot of additional work, even on a tiny patio or deck. So, even a small sunny deck can be the perfect site!
• Visibility: In some neighborhoods outdated covenants disallow homeowners from growing food in plots visible from the street. Check for any regional restrictions before you plant. If they do exist and your best location falls within them, try working with your community to change the rules. Illustrating the educational benefits and beauty of modern edible gardens is often enough to bring about change. If it isn’t, try tempting your neighbors with an offer to share the bounty!
• What do you want to grow? Some crops are perennial (live for years and years), some grow in place for many months before harvest, while others are annuals. If your goal is to grow perennial strawberries, raspberries, asparagus, artichokes or blueberries, know that the plot you pick will be dedicated to them indefinitely. If you plan to grow a long-season crop like garlic, know that it will stay where you plant it for almost ten months before harvest. And, if annual crops like lettuce, carrots and beets are your favorites, remember to pair and rotate plantings wisely to reduce pest and disease build-ups.
• Designing for mixed interest & beauty: Keep in mind that food gardens benefit from mixed plantings. Adding in evergreen herbs will give you tasty flavors year-round, attract seasonal pollinators and provide beauty even in the dead of winter.