Planning a Garden – It’s That Time Again!

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Every Spring I get all twitchy to start putting things in the ground. I stand in front of the plant and seed displays at the garden center, imagining my huge, lush food-laden garden.

However, I do stop short from buying anything unless I have at least a rough plan sketched out of this year’s garden plot.

While it is possible to just poke some seeds in the dirt, and stick a few plants here and there — something always grows — with just a little bit of planning you could really rake in the ‘maters in a few weeks.

The Basics

Now, you could get very technical and detail-oriented with your garden, just like you can with anything else. But there are just a few basic concepts you want to be sure to address:

  • Site Selection
  • Garden Size
  • What to Grow

That’s it! Let’s get into each of these now.

Garden Location

Few people have the PERFECT garden spot on their property — so we need to pick the location that has the most going for it.  Things to consider:

Soil should be loose, rich, fairly level and well-drained. That being said, you can always amend poor soil with compost, you can till up compacted soil, OR you can just build raised beds and import the perfect garden soil. Obviously “fixing” the soil is going to cost more than if you have a great spot naturally. Do not plant a garden in soil where weeds won’t even grow — vegetables won’t either.

Another consideration with the location of your garden is how much sun the spot gets. Most plants need at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. Depending on your climate, those 6 hours could either be before the hottest part of the day, or during the warmest hours.

Here in Texas, I try to limit the number of mid to late afternoon hours on my garden. The sun comes up VERY early and it gets hot quickly so they appreciate the sun being blocked at some point.

However, gardens out in full sun all day certainly are typical in most places.

You should not plant under the branches of trees. Along the side of a row of trees, but not too close, can sometimes provide a wind and sun break to your garden. Roots will suck water from the ground.

Unless you live where you can count on a steady supply of rain all summer (but not TOO MUCH!), your garden will need watering. So unless you want to go all pioneer-days — make sure you can get a hose to the location at the very least. Some people actually run automatic sprinkler systems to their garden.

Garden Size

I can tell you from experience, most newbie gardeners make their plots TOO BIG! You can actually cram quite a bit into a fairly small area. Of course, depending on where you live, you may be constrained by your available space anyway.

You can plant a garden entirely in containers around a patio or balcony (assuming it gets some sun.Or, you can intersperse garden plants into the flower beds surrounding a suburban home.

A very popular type of garden is called the “square foot” garden. You basically section off a small bed into one-foot squares and plant as much of one crop as can be planted in that space. It’s great for small spaces and a variety of crops.

Consider how much time you have to spend in the garden also. You will most likely need to water, pull a few weeds now and then, pick your produce, maybe tie up sagging plants, etc. So keep in mind how much time you want to spend on these activities. If other family members will be helping with the gardening, factor that in as well.

The types of plants you want to grow also dictate the amount of space they will need. Some plants need several feet between rows, some need to be supported on trellis-type structures, and some crawl along the ground quite a ways. Decide what you want to plant, then look at the recommended spacing. You can still grow the larger plants, but maybe not as many in a smaller area.

If you want to just grow a few things to eat as they ripen, you don’t need a very large garden. But if you want to can, freeze or dry for use long after the garden is done….you’ll want to plant much more.

What to Grow

Ah, yes! The possibilities are endless.  However, rule #1: DO NOT PLANT WHAT YOU WON’T USE OR EAT.

It does no good to raise a bumper crop of zucchini (VERY easy to do) if your family won’t eat it. Trust me, you can only give away so many bags of zucchini before people start hiding when they see you coming up the walk.

After taking into consideration your location, space, time, and reason for gardening look for plants that work with those restrictions. Do you want to just eat vine-ripened tomatoes all summer, or do you want to provide a nice variety of fresh vegetables to your family.

Also take into consideration the cost factor of different vegetables. Personally, given the cost of radishes and carrots, I don’t see the point in growing them. However, fresh broccoli, or artichokes, or other more costly vegetables might be worth it.

Consider how much each plant produces in a season. Tomatoes, bush beans, squash and peppers take up some space, but produce all season long. Other crops produce very quickly in a small space, but unless you plant several times, they will be done quickly.

So Get Planning and Planting!

Now that you have an idea of what to consider, sketch out a simple plan for your garden. Label each row or container with the crop you want to plant. Be sure to consider planting tall crops in the back so they don’t shade the shorter plants. (Based on which way the sun moves of course.)

I hope you have a wonderful summer filled with ‘maters and beans (if that’s your thing)!
Let us know what you decided to plant and post a photo of your garden!


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