Creating Your Garden: The Planning Stage

Planning a garden is an important step in planting one, especially if you want to get the most out of it. I’ve learned that the hard way! Much like other things in life you start out with good intentions and lots of excitement then a month later all you have to show for it is a bunch of weeds.

A good plan can help create a great garden all year long, even into the winter months for those living in colder climates. And a great garden can help you save on your grocery bill.

Over the course of this series I’ll be (hopefully) helping you to create the best garden for your needs.

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What does your garden grow, and how much? – This is a pretty easy step but one that is sometimes overlooked. Write down your favourite vegetables and fruit to eat. That’s pretty simple right? Don’t forget to do a bit of research though. If you love oranges but live in Alaska you may not be able to grow your own. It’s not just about planting what you want though. Be sure to plant enough but not too much. If you’re a family of two or three you won’t need to have a lot of tomato plants as they produce throughout the season though you may want to plant more carrots and other similar vegetables that only yield once.

Varieties – Once you start choosing what to plant in your garden you will notice there are several species and varieties of plants. Each variety is different from another. Once you have chosen what vegetables you want to add to your garden you will see that you can add tons of different tomatoes. The best part about that? You can find a variety of vegetable for almost anything that will grow well in your climate. Read the information given and test out varieties, you don’t need to plant only one tomato try two or three varieties and if one or two fail at least you still have another. Take the best one and re-plant next year along with a couple other varieties.

Where does your garden grow? – Starting small is a great way to begin your first garden. A smaller plot can yield a lot if tended properly and prepared in the best way. In fact vegetables don’t need a lot of space at all. If you live in an apartment or have a small yard you can choose to grow your vegetables in pots instead. Once you know what you want to plant a little research will help you learn how much space your plants will need and how much space you’ll have to make to grow them.

The Big Three – When it comes to setting up your garden there are three things that will lead to success. Sun, Water and Soil. Most vegetables need 6-8 hours of full sunlight. In hotter climates you may want to provide some shade. Like all plants vegetables will need water. It will make your life easier if you can plan your garden near a water source. You can easily set up rain barrels to capture water need garden beds. Before you consider planting you will want to fertilize your soil. This isn’t something you do once and call it a day keeping your soil healthy will keep your plants healthy.

How does your garden grow? – There are really only two types of gardens, besides just random potted plants.

Row Planting – This is probably what most think of when planting. Like crops on a farm the vegetables are planted in straight lines, single file with a walking path between rows. This is ideal for a large garden as a lot of space will be used up for walking paths. Ideally you’ll want about 18 inches between rows to allow for plenty of working room. As I said these take up more space and can actually yield a smaller harvest. If you’re looking for visually stunning this may be a boring option for you.

Intensive Cropping – This is in some way similar to row planting but perhaps it’s more of a step up. The rows are larger about 1 to 4 feet wide and as long as you like. This reduces the need for paths but means any weeding will need to be done by hand, which means when planting you don’t want to make your beds any wider than what you can comfortably reach. You can plan your garden to be beautiful as well as fruitful mixing in flowers as well. This is a great choice for those with small spaces or those wanting to play in the front yard as well.

Testing and Improving your Soil – Before you plant it’s important to test your soil. Don’t worry it’s pretty easy!

Step One – Water your garden bed thoroughly and allow it to sit for a day.

Step Two – Grab a hand full of dirt and squeeze. Open your hand. You should have one of three options happen. When you open your hand the dirt will crumble away, become a hard ball that you have trouble breaking or be a ball that crumbles when you touch it.

  • If it crumbles the soil is probably too sandy break out the compost, organic matter will help a sandy soil.
  • If it’s too hard to break then you have too much clay in your soil. Adding organic matter will help clay soil as well.
  • If it forms a ball and crumbles when you touch it, like a nice cupcake then you’ve got good soil.

If your soil didn’t drain well you may want to create raised beds to help with drainage. You can make these without digging, put your pile of dirt on your grass. Hint – Surround the bed with some wood and before adding the soil lay down a good layer of newspaper.

Digging your beds. – You’ll want to loosen your beds before planting either by hand or with a tiller. Put your compost on top and work it in. Be careful not to walk on the bed a much as possible, you’ll compact the dirt and undo the work you did.

When done rake the surface smooth and water generously. You’ll want to leave it for several days to rest before planting.

Extra tips to starting your garden!

  1. Plant what you need, don’t make a huge garden and end up overwhelmed.
  2. If possible plant your rows East to West.
  3. Plant tall plants on the North and East side of your plot.
  4. Leave some bare patches. You may want to re-plant a crop that doesn’t yield or one you’ve harvested completely.

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