December 2010

Managing an urban vegetable garden

Planning a garden: the way to successful results.

Arnold Brouwer
Director Programa Huertos
Educativos
Cochabamba

Once you’ve picked a sunny comfortable area near the house for your vegetable garden, it’s time for planning. Setting up a good plan will save a lot of time later on.

Depending on the size of the garden you will need pathways to circulate between the garden beds. There are two types of pathways. Wider paths (50-70cm) allow you to enter the garden with a wheelbarrow, while narrow pathways (25-40cm) are used between beds to allow you to do activities like irrigating, weeding, and harvesting.

The ideal width of a garden bed is 1,20m so you can reach the middle from either side without having to step on the bed. It’s better to avoid stepping on the beds because the best garden soil is loose, besides nutrients and plants also need air in the root area of the crops.

There are many different ways of planting in a garden bed. Since we have a small urban vegetable garden we are planning to grow crops for domestic use. We need a variety of crops which can be divided in four types: leaf, root, fruit and leguminous crops.

Fruit Root Leaf Leguminous
Tomato
Cucumber
Pumpkin
Radish
Onion
Beetroot
Lettuce
Swiss chard
Cabbage
Broad bean
Pea
Green bean

The plants in the four categories all use nutrients in different quantities and grow in different root zones. Leguminous crops are also called ‘green fertilizers’ as they revive the soil - they bind nitrogen from the air and store it in their roots.

It is important to rotate between crops; once we harvest a leaf crop, we put in a root crop, followed by a fruit crop and end with a leguminous crop which will revive the soil. We can also decide to work in garden beds with associated crop systems. This means we use crops from different categories together instead of using just one crop per bed. Apart from the different types of crops it is good to have a look at the difference in production time and growing season between crops. All gardening books and websites have tables with these data on crops. Taking into account the length of the growing season in your area you can make a plan with winter and summer crops, rotation and association. The better you think this step over the more you will profit from a healthy organic garden. And remember, a healthy plant is less prone to pests and diseases.

To be continued in the next Cochabanner: Sawing and planting the garden (4-10)

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