Build a Better Backyard Garden
A few tips to help you land a bumper crop and a plot that’ll be the envy of your neighbors.
After last summer, there’s a lot to feel confident about. The peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes grew like gangbusters. So much so that at a point, you could have opened your own CSA. But the squash went awry and suffocated the beets. And the deer got to the corn. Again. Gardening can be as frustrating as it is fulfilling. Even when you do everything right, a new variable enters the equation—a plague of bunnies, a historic heat wave—and undoes months worth of hard work. This summer will be different, though. Before we plant a single seed, we turned to the foremost authority we knew for advice on how to build our best backyard garden yet. Jack Staub spends his winters lecturing and writing—his seminal 2013 book, Private Edens—Beautiful Country Gardens (Gibbs Smith), is all the inspiration you really need—and his springs and summers tending to his Wrightstown estate, Hortulus Farm, one of the most influential (and photographed) public gardens in the country. Here, Staub offers a few pointers to help fortify your own and ignite a Pinterest frenzy. —Scott Edwards
Follow the sun The location of your plot needs to be a priority. If you tucked it in a far corner of the yard because it was out of the way or next to the compost pile, don’t expect to be rewarded beyond the convenience. A vegetable garden needs sun, and lots of it—half a day’s worth at least.
Dig a barrier There’s nothing more heartbreaking than finding your row of infant lettuces nibbled to the soil. Fencing is essential, but it’s not the be-all, end-all. Rabbits tend to burrow into a garden more than they jump into them. The solution: Dig a 12-inch trench around the perimeter and pack it with stout wire grid stapled to the bottom rail of the fence.
Raise your game Raised beds pack a whole slew of advantages. Not insignificantly, they push your garden within closer reach. They also: allow you to amend freely, heat up faster in the spring and drain better than a conventional garden, clearly delineate path from bed so you never compact your soil or stamp on your seedlings, make the garden a far prettier idea. Your beds should be six to 12 inches tall and no wider than a couple of feet so that you can easily reach the middle.
Refresh the soil With the exception of legumes, vegetables will deplete the soil’s nutrients over the growing season. Start by filling your beds with some top-shelf topsoil. Mix in some bagged manure next. Then, if you’ve got a compost pile, fold it in. If not, find a bagged equivalent. The compost goes in at the start and finish of every garden season. And this entire process should be repeated in the fall.
Build up, not out Constructing trellises and tuteurs out of timber and bamboo will not only add valuable square footage without enlarging your garden’s footprint, it’ll create an entirely new plane to entice the eye. That they’re perfect for the support and cultivation of the vining and climbing varieties of vegetables, like beans, peas, cucumbers, squash and tomatoes, is icing.
Keep them moving The legume, as I mentioned, is the only vegetable family that adds nutrients to the soil. Some are relatively benign, but solanums (tomatoes, eggplant) and brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts) will actually create viruses in the soil if they’re planted in the same spots season after season. A good rule of thumb: Rotate your crops every three years.