Location! This is the most important factor that will determine your success.
Sunlight is critical. Vegetables and herbs need at least six hours of full sun a day. the more sunlight the better. There are a few vegetables and herbs that can tolerate between four and six hours of sunlight, but the majority of veggies and herbs want lots of sun.
Other factors to consider are access to water, space, protection for winds to prevent drying and damage, quality of the soil and slope (flat or gentle sloped).
Space! Large space or tiny space - all are perfect for creating a productive vegetable and herb garden. We recommend starting small and then expanding. A few pots on the deck or a small plot in the yard is very doable. Small decks or tiny garden spaces can increase yield by many techniques such as vertical gardening or square foot gardening - all squeeze lots of plants into small spaces. You can even add veggie plants to your existing gardens - and if you have a sunny pollinator garden with some space even better! Small spaces are easier to care for as well.
Soil! Soil determines the taste, health, and quantity of your vegetables. Unfortunately, due to the use of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and other pollutants in our yards that have accumulated over decades, the soil in your yard can be problematic. Toxins can enter a plant through the soil and so we need to be very careful about the soil we use when growing vegetables and herbs. Container gardening eliminates this threat - you have total control over the soil you create. Gardens in yards can remove the threat through raised bed gardens where the soil used for growing is totally controlled by you. the soil in the bed should be 12-18 inches deep. To cut down on the amount of soil you have to buy consider using the hugelkulture technique - a great way to sustainably use the logs, branches, leaves, and wood chips in your yard. If you are using existing soil in your garden you will be well served to start with an inexpensive soil test from The Cornell Extension here in Westchester. The results of the test will tell you about the composition of your soil and how to improve it for growing vegetables.
Best soil mix for your garden: You can purchase organic soil for growing vegetables, but it can be pricey. Why not make your own? It is simple and you know exactly what you are putting in the soil. This recipe from This is My Garden is simple and all ingredients are easy to find or purchase. Just change the ratio of ingredients based on the amount of soil you need and choose organic topsoil and compost.
Critters! You will not be the only ones thrilled to be growing vegetables. Deer, groundhogs, rabbits, skunks, chipmunks, raccoons, squirrels, voles...the list goes on and on...will all come to dine on your vegetables and plants. When planning for your vegetable garden consider how you are going to protect your vegetables from your non-human neighbors. Deterring critters can be done through physical or natural chemical barriers. Many flowering plants will keep problem animals and insects away and will act as natural pest control - while making your pollinators happy.
Vegetables & Herbs! You'll need to decide what vegetables and herbs to grow. This decision is based on the size of your garden, the light it receives, how long it takes to grow the vegetables, and your taste. Also consider companion planting to improve your yield and success. Some plants not only want to be together, but provide essential services to their companion(s) to make each even more successful. You might want to start with the easiest vegetables and herbs to grow. If you have limited space, here are vegetables and herbs that will work for you. We are in planting Zone 7A (thanks to climate change - we use to be 6b!) and this chart tells you when to plant numerous vegetables
Seedlings vs. Seeds! Another fun decision to make is whether you want to start your plants from baby plants (seedlings) or seeds, or a combination of both. To make the decision consider ease, availability, and length of the growing season for the veggie. If you purchase seeds or seedlings make sure they have not been treated with systemic pesticides like Neonics. You will never know unless you ask. Neonics stay in the plant, sometimes for years, and penetrate all parts of the plant. You do not want to eat systemic pesticides in your vegetables or herbs so ask the question and skip the purchase if the plant or seed was treated.
Pollinators! Most vegetable plants need pollinators to create the veggies we love, so consider planting some pollinator plants in or near your garden - it will increase your yield and your enjoyment. Try some edible herbs that will do 'double duty' for you: Anise Hyssop (Agastache Foreniculum), Basil (Ocimum Basilicum), Bee Balm (Monarada); Borage (Borago Officinalis), Dill (Anethum Graveolens), Fennel (Ferula Communis), Rosemary (Rosmarinus Offcinalis), Yarrow (Achillea Millefolium).
Fertilize! Once your plants start growing, feed your vegetable garden good organic fertilizer during the growing season. Some vegetables, such as tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, are 'heavy feeders' and will need more fertilizer than others. You can make your own organic fertilizer too.
Compost! You can pay a lot of money for bagged compost, but why do that? Free compost is literally within your reach. This sustainable practice is easy and ensures you have a never ending supply of compost to keep your veggies and plants happy and healthy. Composting can be so simple - don't be turned off because you think it is complicated. Here are some easy tips for simple composting.