Planting a vegetable garden can supply you, your family, and your community with an abundance of fresh, healthy vegetables throughout the season. When properly done, gardening can also beautify your landscape, protect water quality, and conserve natural resources. Environmentally-sound gardening approaches will minimize the amount of purchased fertilizers you need by improving soil fertility through crop rotation and turning waste materials into valuable compost and fertilizer. Additional motivations for starting a vegetable garden include growing crops that are not commonly found in the stores or specialty markets in your area and experimenting with vegetables that are unfamiliar to you. Some examples of foods to explore with your family are shallots, edamame, corn salad, and fennel.
Vegetable Garden Considerations
To be a successful vegetable gardener there are many considerations and choices you will need to make. Experiment each year to find the crops and techniques that best suit you and your garden site.
Site-Specific Growing Conditions
Convenience is important as you select a vegetable garden site, but full sun exposure and suitable soil are more important. Most vegetable crops require at least six hours of direct sunlight each day, so locate your garden for maximum exposure to available sunlight. Also take into account that vegetables require fertile, well-drained soil. If you live in an area that receives heavy rainfall, soil drainage is especially important. Soil drainage is determined mostly by the site but can be improved by using raised beds. Select a location with enough slope for surface drainage and sufficient subsoil permeability to allow water to drain through. You can add fertilizers to improve soil fertility and use organic matter to improve soil structure. If you are in an area where soils may be contaminated with heavy metals from heavy industry or old orchard practices, consult with your local Extension office or health department about how to conduct a soil test.
One of the most important factors to consider when selecting vegetable crops to grow in your garden is climate. Climate includes length of growing season (Figure 1A), first and last frost dates (Figures 1B and 1C), as well as temperatures during the season. The USDA plant hardiness zone map (Figure 2) provides information regarding extreme minimum temperatures for Washington.
Vegetables are generally divided into warm-season (summer) crops and cool-season (fall/winter/spring) crops (Table 1). Many warm-season vegetable crops require a longer growing season or warmer temperatures than are available west of the Cascade Mountains. In