Health and sustainability benefits alone have meant that more of us than ever are currently in the market for growing our own veg. As well as potentially saving you a small fortune in rising vegetable costs, this life choice can see you serving tastier food, and significantly reducing your carbon footprint in the process.
All of that said, edible gardening isn’t a walk in the park. Before it’s well established, an edible garden does require a fair amount of work to get going. Not to mention that many of us spend as much as $200+ to establish and oversee a large-scale growing operation. This is time well spent and money that you can very quickly make back if your growth goes according to plan. But, what happens if you sink that expense, and dedicate all of that time, only to find that your patch doesn’t provide you with anything come the end of the season?
It’s a frightening reality, and unfortunately, it’s one that many first-time growers will find themselves facing at least once. The main thing to do in this situation is to realize that no self-growing efforts are wasted, and the chances are that even your failed attempts have some important lessons to teach.
In this article, we’re going to talk you through how to give your vegetable garden the best chance of success, and also what to look for if you find that your plants fail to grow for more than one year in a row.
What do you need to create a fruitful vegetable garden?
Before we get stuck into what could be going wrong, let’s consider what a fruitful vegetable garden requires. After all, finding out where to start and what you need is the best way to provide your plants with a fighting chance. Luckily, the popularity of home-grown produce right now means that there are plenty of guides out there to help in this respect, many of which will go into more detail than we’re going to here.
Generally speaking, though, a fruitful vegetable garden requires a few key things, which include –
- Plenty of sunlight
- Access to water
- Rich soil
- Pest protection
You’ll also want to stock up on a basic grower’s toolkit to help you plant and maintain your veg, which should include –
- Tools like a hoe, rake, and shovel
- Decent garden gloves
- Seed trays
- A kneeling pad
- A hose or watering can
- A selection of seeds or starter plants
The amount you spend is up to you, and you can start a vegetable garden for as much or as little as you like. In those first years, you may find it more lucrative to spend little, and update items as you go, or as you begin to uncover your preferences. Generally speaking, you’ll find that it’s not worth spending huge amounts, at least not until you’re enjoying regular, fruitful crops that are saving you substantial amounts of money elsewhere.
Troubleshooting your unsuccessful crops
No matter how much you’ve spent on your prep, a failed vegetable garden can take its toll because of the effort that you’ve put into planting those crops in the first place. If you’ve only experienced this failure for one year, then take heart in the fact that small changes are typically all that’s required. If, however, you’ve experienced a few years of failure across at least some of your crops, then there may be a more deep-seated issue that you’ll need to address.
Begin doing so before your next planting by troubleshooting the following common problems –
- Location: Planting in the right location is key to fruitful growth. This is common sense, but a lot of people fail to realize that, depending on your crops, that prime location might not be what you assume. For instance, veggies like beets, lettuce, and carrots may thrive better in shady spots out of direct sunlight, while cold-weather food crops like kale and cauliflower may prefer north-facing beds than traditional south-facing options.
Generally speaking, however, common crops like tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers all require direct sunlight from south-facing beds. Sunlight is so crucial to these crops that you should even avoid things like shade from overhanging tree branches, either by getting trees trimmed or seeking tree removal in extreme cases with multiple trees. It can also help to maximize sun exposure wherever possible, meaning that something like a trellis may help your tomatoes thrive even if they haven’t until now.
- Soil condition: Unversed gardeners don’t always consider soil health, but this has more of an impact on your plants and vegetables than you might think, especially when it comes to nutrition and moisture retention. For instance, clay-heavy soils can be lacking in nutrients and also hold moisture more than most crops require. If you’re having continual germination issues, or are failing to grow productive crops, then it’s always worth reassessing here.
Investing in a high-quality fertilizer for raised beds, or regularly composting your crops, can help them to stay happy, healthy, and more likely to reap rewards in any soil. It’s also worth picking your crops depending on your soil type, which you can generally test just by touching the soil. You should find that crops like lettuce, chard, and green beans grow best in clay soil, while onion, garlic, and potatoes may do better in sandy soil conditions.
- Overwatering (or underwatering): Watering is key to growing anything in your garden, and overwatering or underwatering can each prevent your crops from producing. Even before germination, soil that’s too wet can rot your seeds and stop them from ever growing. And, of course, dry ground can have the same results when seeds are unable to sprout.
While you’ll need to check the watering requirements of your unique crops, you should generally aim for watering every 10-15 days, or less if you live in a rainy climate. The main thing to look for is whether your water is permeating the soil to get to your crop roots, which you can check by digging down to a spade’s depth. Ideally, you want to find moisture to a depth of at least 30 cm.
- Crop crowding: You naturally want to make the most of your growing patch, so it’s not unusual to cram as many seeds into that tiny area as possible. Unfortunately, crowding your crops makes it harder for them to germinate, and increases the chances of crop failure even on plants that grow. Even if you think you’re planting far enough apart, perennial plants take up more space with each season, meaning that you may end up with overcrowding later on.
Overcoming this costly issue requires basic research when you’re first establishing your garden, especially if you’re using perennials like rhubarb, spinach, or watercress. Most often, these crops will have clear planting distances outlined on their packets, and those will account for yearly growth. As a rule, most gardeners should aim to keep around four inches between crops like beans and spinach, and six inches between bushy crops like Swiss chard and leaf lettuce.
- Weather woes: Sometimes, even the best growing efforts can end up wasted due to incremental weather. Hot daytime temperatures paired with cool nights are especially notorious for flowering issues for peppers, while excessive rainfall can quickly waterlog entire edible gardens. While we all have to accept those losses some seasons, however, there are steps you can take to avoid this setback.
Mulching soil is useful for helping to regulate plant temperatures, and for ensuring moisture absorption, and is worth doing at the start of the season. Equally, regular watering during ongoing hot spells is key. You could also help your chances of success by simply picking crops depending on the general climate in your location, especially considering things like typical summer rainfalls, the risks of early frosts, and the temperatures that you tend to experience overnight. If your climate is inhospitable, then you may benefit from using additions like polytunnels, which make it easier to maintain steady warmth and preferable growing conditions.
Addressing insect issues isn’t always easy, especially given that you won’t want to spray insecticides on your crops for both health and sustainability reasons. Luckily, some natural prevention techniques are healthier and equally effective. For instance, growing things like marigolds, chives, and basil across your edible garden can help to keep pests at bay. Equally, equipment like floating row covers and stakes can make it harder for insects to reach your plants. Timely harvesting can also make a huge difference.
The fact that you’re reading this article means that you’re obviously invested in your growing journey. Put these troubleshooting points into action, and your hard work could start reaping rewards at last.