Fresh Food from Healthy Soil
There’s nothing better than fresh, organic, vine-ripened produce, especially when it comes from your own backyard. Growing your own food in your at-home vegetable garden allows you total control of what goes into the soil and how it is grown. Research has shown that plants grown in soil with high microbe concentrations uptake more essential nutrients from the soil, due to the unique exchange between soil microbes and plants. Learn more about soil health and organics in Part One of this series.
As we discussed in Part One, soil microbes are understood to be strongly linked with the microbes in our human gut, which have been linked to numerous human health impacts ranging from mood, mental health, digestion and various chronic diseases. The more soil microbes we can come in contact, the better. In fact, eating organic food straight off the vine is great way to increase levels of beneficial gut bacteria like M. vaccae, also found in soil.
I don’t know about you, but eating regularly off the vine is probably only going to happen for me if I have my own vegetable garden in my backyard.
What’s more, growing your food at home ensures that you are getting 100% organic produce. Pesticide residues remain on conventional produce even after it’s washed, and these toxic chemicals can lead to endocrine disruption, brain damage, reproductive problems and cancers.
Professionally Built Vegetable Gardens
Green Jay Landscaping has designed and constructed several different styles of vegetable / food gardens in Fairfield County, CT and Westchester County, NY.
Materials can range from wood (cedar is best because it will not rot and last longer), fieldstone, boulders, and reclaimed metal.
The layout of beds can be both aesthetic and functional. Depending on how much you want to plant, you may find it easier to have multiple smaller beds rather than one large one. Think about what will enable you easiest access for weeding and harvesting.
We tend to work in rectangular or shapes, or circular. Triangles are aesthetically pleasing but are not so practical when spacing vegetables.
Green Jay Landscaping can construct your vegetable garden, and plant it, or leave it planting-ready for you to customize and plant yourself.
Drainage & Organic Soil for Your Veggie Garden
We fill each bed with a gravel base to enable drainage. Most beds are filled with an organic, OMRI-approved potting soil and organic compost. Some plants have different soil requirements and should be grouped together. For example, blueberries prefer a highly acidic soil. We plant them with 1/3 compost 1/3 peat moss (for acidity) and 1/3 native soil if in ground or potting soil in containers.
Picking Edible Plants & Their Companions
Companion planting is a tried and true organic gardening technique that pairs specific plants together in order to attract natural predators, ward off pests, or enrich the yield and/or flavor of one or both of the plants.
Examples of Companion Plantings for Vegetables (see Farmers Almanac for more)
- Squash, Beans & Corn ( “the three sisters”) – Beans naturally fix nitrogen in the soil, which the other two benefit from. The corn provides a stalk for the beans to climb on and the squash spreads as ground cover, suppressing weeds.
- Beans & Marigolds, Nasturiums, Rosemary and/or Summer Savory – repel bean beetles. Summer Savory enhances yield and flavor.
- Onions & Carrots, Beets, Cabbage, Lettuce, Parsnips, Tomatoes – onions keep aphids and other pests out of the garden. Not all plants are onion-friendly, like Asparagus, beans and peas.
- Rosemary, Majoram – Onions will deter pests like the carrot fly but not reduce the growth of these companion plants.
- Broccoli & rosemary, leeks, celery, onions, garlic, shallots, spinach, lettuce, dill – to enhance flavor of broccoli. Avoid other members of the Brassica family, as they will compete for the same nutrients, and nightshade family (tomatoes, hot peppers and eggplant)
- Lettuce & mint – to prevent slugs (but keep mint in check as it can get aggressive)
- Lettuce & chives or garlic – to repel aphids
- Tomatoes & Basil – to ward off mosquitos, flies and increase yields
- Tomatoes & Carrots, Parsnips – tomatoes off-gas solanine, a natural insecticide that targets carrot pests particularly well, while carrots aerate the soil around tomato plant roots.
- Radishes & Onions, Beets, Cabbage, Kale, Lettuce, Spinach & Squash
- Fragrant herbs to repel pests, for example: lemon balm, lemon grass, thyme, sage, horehound, hyssop, basil, rosemary, tansy, oregano, chamomile, and mint.
- Avoid planting plants in the same family next to each other, as they will compete for nutrients. For example, the Brassicaceae family: bok chow, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage.
Laying Out Your Food Garden
Think about harvest succession when picking your vegetable plants. For example, radishes are harvested in spring and help aerate the soil; the same area can be inter-planted with carrots, which have a late-season harvest and benefit from the aerated soil. Maximize your yield in a small space by planting a variety of crops that can be harvested throughout the growing season.
Check out this list from Harvest to Table that details the number of days to maturity for a variety of vegetables and fruits you might plant in your garden.
Don’t Forget Native Flowers in Your Veggie Patch
Pollinators are essential to your veggie garden yields. It is extremely important that you help guide them to your food garden with surrounding groupings of native perennials and flowering shrubs.
It is also crucial that your property is maintained organically, or you will be attracting pollinators to their deathbed.
Some of our favorite pollinator-attracting perennials for full sun are:
Agastache, Echinachea, Heleopsis, Rudbeckia, Salvia, Leucanthemum, Pervoskia, and Helenium.
Annual flowers also have their place in the vegetable garden, for pest control and attracting pollinators, try these:
Nasturtium (edible!), Marigolds, Cosmos, Borage, Calendula, Lathyrus.
Learn more about companion planting with flowers here.
Upcycle Containers & Go Vertical for Small Space Food Gardens
You don’t need a plot of land to grow your own food. All you need is a balcony, deck, patio or stoop with at least six hours of sunlight and space for containers or a vertical wall.
We love being creative with container garden materials.
If floor space is limited, consider going up! GJL grew greens, herbs ands squash in this vertical hydroponic garden on a small enclosed deck. Nothing beats having fresh herbs and greens right out the kitchen door!
Green Jay Landscaping