In a small garden, it is practical to grow vegetables in raised beds.
Normally, this involves building a wood frame to hold the soil up to 10 inches
above level ground but it also can involve just mounding the soil. These raised beds need to be narrow enough so that
all parts of them can be reached from outside the bed since, once built, they
should never be walked on. There are well tested and successful schemes
for growing in raised beds such as "No-Till Gardening" and "Square Foot Gardening"
which are described next but just using a raised bed with a lot of compost
and staying off it goes a long way to success. Here is an article on managing garden soils
and another on creating a new garden.
Sources of Information
There are some great sources of information on vegetable gardening on the web such as the videos listed on our video links page or this series of videos by Claire Burgess.
Often, problems with weeds discourages new gardeners. As long as you remember that the
soil is full of dormant weed seeds and bringing them to the surface causes them to germinate you
will win the battle. Here is some help dealing with weeds.
The Ontario Horticultural Association has produced a very useful booklet on rain barrels which
can be downloaded from their site. Here is a video on creating swales to intercept and hold runoff.
Sun and Soil
A successful and productive vegetable garden needs a lot of sun (at least 6 hours/day). It
also must always remain moist and never dry, and never soggy. Almost all vegetables and fruit
prefer neutral or basic soil, so if you have acidic soil you may have to add lime. It is the life
in the soil that provides its fertility and tilth. For example, you can read here about the major role that fungi play.
Encouraging Pollinators and Wildlife
You would be amazed at how much your production will depend on attracting pollinators to pollinate your
crops and birds and other creatures to protect them from insects. The Plight of the Bumblebee. Here is an interesting article from Canadian Geographic on bees "The Plight of the Bumblebee"
It is not necessary or desirable to dig your vegetable garden every year as is the custom
of many home gardeners. Tillage destroys the natural layered structure of soil, causes problems
with erosion and brings up dormant weed seeds. Once the garden is created in the first place, organic
matter and mulch can be regularly added to the surface as it is decomposed and brought into the soil
by organisms living there. This feeds the soil which in turn feeds the plants. Techniques for no-till
gardening have been described by Ruth Stout and Masanobu Fukuoka. Another practical description of the technique
is by Emilia Hazelip and is called Synergistic Gardening.
Her gardens were made by taking soil from
the paths and building narrow raised beds covered with mulch. Vegetables are planted by pulling away the
mulch and replacing it after planting. The soil is never dug or walked on and high productivity is achieved
without chemical fertilizers and with a fraction of the work of traditional methods. Once weeds have been
removed for the first while, weeding in subsequent years is minimal. Water use is also reduced significantly. Another
similar technique is called Lasagna Gardening described by Patricia Lanza. Her book has a subtitle "No Digging, No Tilling, No Weeding, No Kidding!"
which about says it all.
Square Foot Gardening
Square-foot gardening is a raised bed technique made popular by Mel Bartholomew. It employs an blended growing medium mixed from two 4 cubic-foot bags of course vermiculite, one 3.9 cubic-foot bag of compressed
peat moss, and 8 cubic feet of compost of four or five varieties. The mixture is thoroughly dampened
before planting. This method essentially ignores the
native soil, thereby eliminating many weeds and problems of poor soil quality. Every time there is a harvest
a small addition of compost is made to maintain the fertility of the medium. Plants are sown or transplanted into
a one foot square grid, marked on the surface of the raised bed with sticks. Plants are added to the squares according
to their individual space needs. Mel claims that square foot gardening uses "20 percent of the space, 10 percent of the
water, 5 percent of the seeds, and 2 percent of the work".