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The Vegetable Garden

After selecting an appropriate site, soil preparation, erosion protection and amendments are job number one in the vegetable garden.  This is critical, especially with organic vegetable gardening. We recommend selecting a site with 8+ hours of full sun, with an accessible supply of water, away from trees, shrubs and buildings.   Vegetable gardens should be deeply dug and amended with organic material.  We suggest “double digging” and incorporating organic matter regularly, rather than rototilling, which destroys soil structure and communities of organisms.   For a demonstration of double digging, see the video from our Teaching Garden on this website under “Video Resources”.   When growing vegetables organically these strategies are important:

  • Soil testing – kits for soil testing at Virginia Tech’s soil lab are available at the VCE- Prince William Extension Office 8033 Ashton Ave. Manassas 20109 or at several community libraries.  Gardeners sample soil and send to Virginia Tech with a $10 check.   We can help with interpretation of your results.  Soil fertility and pH should be checked every three years.
  • Prepare soil either in the fall or in spring when it is dry.  Double digging can be done once and then protected with cover or food crops.  Avoid stepping in your vegetable garden by making rows an arm’s width or by using a digging board.
  • Soil amendments such as aged manure and compost without herbicide contamination should be selected.  Good garden soil is about 50% air!   pdf Backyard Composting (3.83 MB) ,   pdf Making Compost From Yard Waste (386 KB)
  • Please consult the Consumer Product Safety Commission/EPA for assistance in selecting wood for garden beds. https://www.cpsc.gov/s3fs-public/270_0.pdf
  • Develop a rotation plan for your choice of vegetables to reduce disease and insect problems.  A planting calendar specific to Prince William County is available at this website under “Sustainable Vegetable Gardening”.  Penn State Cooperative Extension has one of the many rotation schedules available.  http://extension.psu.edu/pests/ipm/pestproblemsolver/house/home-garden/soil-plant-health/crop-rotation
  • Avoid overhead watering which contributes to fungal problems. Choose drip irrigation instead.  Water in the morning, 1” per week.
  • Clean up diseased plant material.
  • Plant for pollinators and beneficial insects by using “farmscaping techniques”. http://extension.oregonstate.edu/sorec/sites/default/files/farmscaping.pdf

Interplant flowers in the Apiaceae and Asteraceae families to attract beneficial insects (predators, pollinators, parasitoids) to your garden.

  • Handpick pests and consider floating row covers.
  • Consider the use of cover crops to protect unused areas in the garden during or after the growing season.  Call us for suggestions.

Have specific questions about growing vegetables?  Call our Extension Horticulture Help Desk 703-792-7747 and attend our Horticulture classes.    

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