Congratulations! You’ve decided to start a new garden, and it will be one of the best and most rewarding adventures you’ll ever undertake. But now, you’re curious about how to organize your space for the most tremendous success. Fortunately, there are different types of vegetable gardening methods to grow a productive vegetable garden. And understanding which garden strategy works for you puts you on the fast track to successful food independence.
Choosing the right vegetable garden type depends on space, preference, ability, and cost. Of course, you ultimately decide your taste, but determining what garden method you choose now, allows you to understand what you’ll need and what to expect going forward.
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Before choosing your vegetable garden, it’s essential to be mindful of a few helpful elements that will put you on the fast track to success. That’s what we’ll cover in this article. You’re about to discover several tested and proven gardening methods to help provide your plants with what they need while making your life much easier. Remember, gardening is only as difficult as you make it. So let’s roll up our sleeves, plan accordingly, and do this right!
- Save time and resources by understanding the three most popular gardening methods so you can determine which is right for you and your family!
- Discover these 4 innovative factors to help streamline the best gardening method so you can grow better more abundant harvests throughout the year.
- Quickly determine the best gardening type so you can focus on getting your growing space set up for success easily.
What Is The Best Gardening Method
On average, the best gardening method provides reliable and consistent vegetable harvests each growing season. However, knowing the basics of each technique and how it best serves your family’s requirements helps shape the right garden type for you.
Let’s discuss several factors that help determine the best gardening method that will serve you best. 1
Let’s face it, only some people passionate about growing their food will have ten acres of fertile earth sitting idly in their backyard. Hooray if that’s you! However, for most, it isn’t. Fortunately, vegetable gardening is highly versatile. So don’t think you need tons of space to achieve your goal of vine-ripened Heaven.
While not having adequate space may eliminate some gardening methods from your list, it opens up many beautiful possibilities for small-space, high-production gardens that can deliver results.
Vertical gardening, hydroponics, and windowsill gardening are fantastic choices if your world has limited space. The key here is to start growing something in whatever space permits, whether a traditional in-ground garden or something else entirely. Remember, this may seem tedious, but the pre-planning you’re doing now, evaluating your goals and space, pays dividends for the longevity of your garden yields down the line.
Determining the available space for your garden makes or breaks your success. That’s why I wrote an entire article helping you select the correct size garden for your needs which I highly recommend you read.
As your vegetable plants mature, they compete for light, soil nutrients, and water. Unfortunately, diseases and garden pests can also emerge and spread more quickly in overpopulated vegetable beds. Instead, opt for fewer, evenly spaced plants for optimum garden health.
Vegetable Garden Method
The good news is that you may already have your heart set on a particular gardening method over another for many reasons. For example, it’s practical to have a raised garden bed for well-draining soil in an otherwise moisture-saturated yard.
If growing year-round is your objective, it’s reasonable to try your hand at greenhouse gardening, hoop houses, and cold frames. On the other hand, if space is limited, vertical gardening on a balcony or small patio may be the best option. 2
Because each garden type has unique advantages and disadvantages, you’ll want to know your goals before taking a spade to the dirt. Ensure you set realistic expectations when deciding your garden type, and you’ll be well ahead of the pack when starting your garden.
Physical ability and agility help prioritize one garden method over another. However, gardening has come a long way in the past fifty years, making it much more accessible to practically anyone who wants to get their hands a little dirty and produce delicious food. People from all walks of life can enjoy gardening as long as your garden adapts to meet your physical demands and limitations.
As mentioned above, vegetable gardening is exceptionally versatile, not just for the available space but for the grower as well. For the elderly, standing garden beds can be an absolute game-changer. They are easily accessible and manageable, while bending, kneeling, and other physical labor requirements in the traditional in-ground garden method are nearly non-existent.
The grower’s ability also extends to the environment where you grow crops. For example, growing vegetables in the mountains, at elevation, can be more challenging due to the shorter growing season, cooler temperatures, and aggressive wildlife eyeing your prized carrots. Here, greenhouse gardening may be a better fit because it extends your growing season and provides a barrier for the animals – so long as they don’t get in. 3
Alternatively, suppose you live in a coastal region. In that case, one of the most prevalent challenges is the salt content found in the soil and air. The perfect solution is raised-bed gardening because it provides a well-draining environment and allows the soil to warm faster coming out of winter than a traditional in-ground garden.
Depending upon how high you are, you may only have 90-100 days of frost-free growing. Yikes! Unfortunately, this also means the higher you are, the less variety of vegetables you’ll be able to grow. However, growing seasons can be extended via cold frames, hoop houses, and greenhouses.
Cost and affordability also help determine the best vegetable garden type for you. While some people can afford the tools and materials to grow any intricate garden they wish, others may need to be more selective in which method to choose.
However, cost should not derail you from your gardening ambition. You can still grow a viable and dynamic garden on almost any budget. The key is identifying what you want to grow and start small. 4
These four critical factors, including available space, preference, physical ability, and overall cost, will help you narrow down and determine the best vegetable-growing method.
Here’s a great video that details several different gardening methods you can choose from. Don’t feel like your choice is carved in stone. Make the best educated guess you can regarding your setup, and if things need to change down the line, then all you’ve gained is experience.
Let’s dive into three popular gardening methods to help you narrow your list further.
What Are The Three Types Of Vegetable Gardening
The three most common vegetable gardens are traditional in-ground gardens, container gardening, and raised bed gardening. Although each method has pros and cons, knowing each allows you to prioritize and plan your garden accordingly.
Traditional In-Ground Vegetable Garden
When most people think of growing a vegetable garden, an image of prospering plants sprouting directly from their backyard dirt may come to mind. Although you may need to rip up sod, pull up a few bushes, and clear the area of weeds to set aside a dedicated vegetable space, in-ground gardening has all the benefits of a proven, cost-effective option that has existed since ancient times.
Generally speaking, in-ground gardening will be more labor intensive. Because your vegetables are closer to the ground, expect to do a lot of bending and squatting to maintain your garden’s health. You’ll need to prune your plants, pluck pesky weeds, and add rich organic matter to the soil. In addition, tilling may be required to amend the existing soil, especially if you’re starting a new green space. 5
Fortunately, tilling may not be as labor-intensive as you may believe. Unless you grow commercially, gone are the days of tractors or renting a tiller at your local big-box store – unless your heart is set on that kind of thing. When tilling, you’ll only need to disrupt the soil to a depth of about 8 to 10 inches, working in organic matter, like compost, as you do so. Then, add another few inches of organic matter atop your growing space, and walla; you’ve got a garden ready for planting!
If you are starting a new in-ground garden, weeds will be a consistent issue for you for the first several years. Save yourself some trouble by tarping or clothing the area for four to six weeks before planting. Covering your future garden site reduces the number of weeds that will spring up during your growing season. And yes, your back will thank you!
An additional benefit of in-ground gardens is they retain moisture and don’t dry out as quickly as some other methods tend to do. One caveat is that this is all dependent upon your region. Although you generally need less water for an in-ground garden, this may change depending on your temperature, climate, micro-climate, and unpredictable weather.
Because in-ground gardens do not have superior drainage, if you live in an area with consistent rainfall, unseen pooling water may accumulate under the surface, keeping the rooting systems of your budding plants wet. If conditions remain unchanged, this standing water may lead to various bacterial and fungal diseases, including root rot.
In that case, hilling or mounding dirt around your crops promotes better water flow away from the base of your plants. However, where rain is less frequent, such as in arid climates, keeping your garden soil level with the ground helps the root structures of your plants absorb as much moisture as possible.
In-ground gardening allows you to be as unique and creative as possible. Your garden size and shape will only be limited by your imagination. Want to create a circular garden? Be my guest. How about triangles? Sure, go right ahead. You can also easily add or decrease the size of your existing garden anytime, making it an excellent experience for the kids to join in and participate in the fun.
A great resource I found to help you is the Gardening Extension Service at Oregon State University, which has an extensive practical guide to starting a garden no matter what climate you reside in. Remember, choosing your gardening method and where you grow your veggies is as vital as the final harvests you reap.
Container Vegetable Garden
Placing your edible garden in containers is a great way to grow just about anywhere, both inside and out, and is a fantastic option for gardeners who are tight on space. Perfect for urban growers, flexibility reigns supreme with container growing as you can decide where to place your pots, from a small urban balcony to a sunny window in the suburbs. 6
The mobility of your plants is also essential when it comes to sunlight. Putting your vegetable plants in containers may be better than a permanent in-ground garden if you have a shady yard. When growing vegetables in containers, you decide when and where to move your crops depending on light, changing weather, and temperature swings. Likewise, you can always move your plants indoors to a more temperate environment if outside weather hinders their growth.
Growing some of my plants in pots is something I enjoy because it simplifies many of the issues I face within my climate here in Eastern North Carolina. Although we are quickly becoming a warmer climate, we still get severe temperature swings throughout the year. Growing some of my plants in pots keeps my garden versatile and functional. And because I never know what Mother Nature will serve up, container gardening provides excellent flexibility and protection for my flourishing green friends.
There are a few reasons why I enjoy planting some of my plants in pots each year, and it makes an excellent beginner gardening method.
First, with a smaller soil surface, weeds will have more difficulty growing within the soil. Of course, that doesn’t mean you won’t have any, but the ones that do sprout will be stringy and easy to yank due to the loose potting soil that hasn’t been compacted like some in-ground traditional gardens are prone to do.
Second, there is plenty of accessibility with container gardening. Apart from moving the pots indoors or out, which can be pretty heavy depending on what you’re cultivating, little physical labor is necessary. At the same time, garden maintenance becomes much easier to manage because your garden is contained within your pot, eliminating any need for heavier tools and equipment, other methods require. Those who are physically challenged or elderly who still enjoy gardening will do just fine if they have someone help them move and transfer the pots if needed.
Third, container gardening offers massive versatility because it levels the playing field. You don’t need unlimited resources or infinite space to become food-independent. Instead, with some creativity, you can grow plenty of tasty food in the limited space a patio, balcony, or sunny windowsill can afford.
However, like any gardening type, you will also have some drawbacks. Costs may be higher in container gardening due to the soil and any amendments you wish to use to fill your pots. Because soil dries out faster in containers, more attention is needed, and creating a consistent watering schedule is prudent.
Likewise, although you can add organic matter to your potting soil, it may drain away faster than in-ground gardens. Therefore, the cost of fertilizers will need to be considered, as will the actual pots themselves.
Remember, when you water more, you wash away the nutrients you’ve worked so hard to incorporate into the soil. So instead of wasting the water and nutrients, put a basin beneath the container to collect the runoff. Add a lid to avoid evaporation, and reuse this solution at the next watering to re-incorporate the nutrients back into the soil.
Raised Bed Vegetable Garden
Like container gardening, placing your veggies in raised beds allows your crops to grow atop the soil in your yard. However, while container gardening limits what you can produce relative to the pot size, raised beds are more extensive, longer, and typically boxier than their container counterparts. You can grow more within a dedicated space and reap the same benefits.
Often referred to as the gold standard of gardening methods, many gardeners, including myself, have grown at least some or all of their backyard vegetables in raised beds for several important reasons. 7
Raised beds offer greater control over the dirt your plants call home. Because you’re adding soil to a framed structure or mounding it up over the existing ground, you offer your plants a growing medium that retains moisture yet is well-draining. Finally, when adding aged manure, organic compost, or even store-bought growing mixtures, you provide your plants with slow-releasing nutrients to help them flourish in their new environment.
Never exclusively fill your raised garden bed with regular topsoil or your property’s native soil. These mediums are too dense, encourage soil compaction, and won’t provide your plants with a fertile or structured environment to absorb nutrients properly. To offer your foliage a premium habitat, you must incorporate compost, aged manure, and other organic matter.
Next, raised bed gardening allows gravity to work for you by channeling water down and away from the roots of your crops. Because raised beds are elevated, you prevent garden soil from becoming too moisture retentive and, in the process, effectively eliminate root rot and lessen the chances of disease.
Encourage the roots of your crops to grow as deep and wide as they wish within your raised beds by providing a height structure of at least 6-10 inches. Of course, providing more bed height is always possible, but I recommend staying within a minimum of six inches off the ground.
Remember, the healthier the roots of your plants are, the more abundant harvests you will receive. So if you see a thriving and productive plant above the soil’s surface, you can rest assured that the part you don’t see, the roots, are also flourishing.
Today, many different options exist on the market than just lumber or concrete blocks from yesteryear. From modular Coro raised beds to composite materials like wood fiber and resin-based options, plenty of shapes, sizes, and colors give your garden a personalized touch while sporting some serious curb appeal.
And because raised beds come in different styles and sizes, they offer excellent mobility and accessibility around your garden. Physically challenged individuals can still enjoy all the benefits of food independence from raised garden beds. In fact, certain raised beds can even be several feet off the ground. These standing beds make the physical, manual labor of bending, twisting, and squatting virtually non-existent.
If opting for a lumber element for your raised bed, steer clear of pressure-treated varieties due to the potential risk of chemicals that may potentially leach from the wood into your garden soil. Although these chemicals may be less harsh today than in previous years, untreated cedar and pine wood are far better options, especially for organic gardening.
Although there are dozens of different gardening methods, three of the most popular are in-ground, raised bed, and container gardening. Beginning gardeners enjoy the success and practicality of each strategy for different reasons, with many enjoying the flexibility of using several over the growing season.
Narrow down your selection by determining your available space, preference, physical ability, and the overall affordability you’re willing to invest in. These key components will give you a better roadmap when beginning.
If you are still trying to decide which garden method to select, choose one you feel offers the least work, provided the available space. But, of course, the best thing any beginner gardener can do is to start, which for many, is the biggest obstacle. So, by selecting the most straightforward method based on your needs, you’re providing an opportunity to gather momentum to learn and grow. Your choice isn’t permanent. It’s there to help invite you into this passionate and rewarding hobby.
Remember to start small. If you realize you want to try another gardening method, you won’t have to invest much labor. However, you will have learned some things that can serve you in the following gardening method you apply. And that, my friend, is the joy of gardening.
What was your first gardening method? We’d love to know. Comment below and join the discussion.