Growing your own vegetables is something that many people think about doing but often they don’t know where to start. Or they do start, but quickly become discouraged because their plants die, are eaten by insect pests or deer, or are overtaken by weeds.
The best advice I can give is to start small, be patient, and don’t expect perfection on your first try. Maybe you will want to start with just a single packet of green beans for your first garden. Maybe you will want to start with a dozen vegetables.
Whatever you choose, keep in mind the amount of work your vegetables will require. And try not to schedule your vacation the same week your vegetables will be ready to pick. Don’t overcommit and you won’t risk becoming overwhelmed or losing interest.
Consider Sunlight When Siting Your Garden
There are a lot of trees in Northern Virginia and they cast a lot of shadows.
Most vegetables need a minimum of 6 hours or more of daily sunshine to grow well. Some vegetables, like onions need 10 hours or more.
If your garden spot only gets sunshine for half the day you will not be able to grow big onion bulbs like you see in the grocery store, but you may still be able to grow green onions.
If it is impractical to cut down trees or find a sunny place on your property you may still be able to grow vegetables that tolerate less sun…
- carrots, etc.
Plants grown in shadier spots tend to be long and leggy with weak stems and some plants (especially those with heavier fruit like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant) will likely need to be tied to stakes to keep them from toppling over.
Consider Slope and Erosion
Nature, through natural erosion over the eons, has created a lot of steep slopes in our area.
Soils in our native plant communities are protected by plants that absorb the energy of falling raindrops. Their intertwined roots also help hold the soil in place. In addition, soil microorganisms create gooey, sticky organic compounds that hold soil particles together.
When you remove the natural vegetation to plant your garden, or build a house, you are likely to have soil erosion.
When bare soil is hit with heavy rainfall the energy of the rain drops creates small explosions that cause soil particles to splatter about. This causes the soils natural porosity to clog and the water has no place to go except downslope, and as it goes it takes a small amount of soil with it.
This is why you will usually see a silt fence around construction sites. Silt fences limit the eroding soil from going offsite and into our rivers and streams.
In your garden erosion may wash away your seeds and plants, not to mention take away your valuable topsoil.
To counteract erosion you should site your garden on the most level part of your property possible.
Unfortunately for a lot of us a good flat spot just isn’t available. That doesn’t mean we can’t garden but that we just need to make more effort to protect our garden soil from erosion.
We can do this by covering the surface with mulch to absorb rainfall energy, or by making small terraces or using raised beds where we make the soil surface flat, thereby slowing the runoff of rainfall and giving it more time to infiltrate into our soil.
Always make your rows across the slope and not up and down the slope.
LOCAL GARDENING RESOURCE: Prince William County Master Gardeners
RECOMMENDED VEGETABLE PLANTING DATES FOR NORTHERN VA (pdf)
This Prince William County Master Gardener chart shows you which dates to plant and harvest 29 different vegetables in our Virginia Piedmont region. You can print it out and refer to it throughout the growing season.
—Links to the Prince William County Master Gardeners Website