Planning and preparing your garden site
A little planning can go a long way. By following these five steps, you can reduce the time spent in your garden, manage the growth of your garden, control watering and reap (consume) the rewards once your vegetables are ready to harvest.
First, identify your growing space. Measure the area and identify the environmental parameters governing your site. Is it full sun, part shade, full shade? What is the orientation; North to South, East to West? Prone to flooding? Is it shaded in the morning or afternoon? By identifying your parameters, you can determine where to plant your vegetables to maximize growth. This is also a great time to incorporate compost, or some other organic matter into your soil.
Second, identify what vegetables you like, will eat, and what will grow in your area. Your hardiness zone can easily be found here: http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov. Some plants, when grown outside, won’t have enough time to complete their growing cycle before they are damaged by the last frost in the spring or first frost in the fall. Once you have identified your ‘zone’ then you can determine which seeds grow best in your area. Select the plants you want to grow, determine the space that’s needed at maturity* (*important; your garden will look sparse when you first plant, but it will fill in).
Third, put pencil to paper. There are many different ways to plant your garden. This is where art meets science. Although you can plant in straight, delineated rows, we encourage you to be as creative as you want. A great concept to implement is companion plantings. This style works by pairing various vegetables together to deter common pests, while also providing benefits to help each other grow. One thing you want to keep in mind is to plant your taller vegetables, or vegetables you’re going to grow on trellises, on the north side of your garden so they don’t shade the more sun-loving species. Then step down your plantings until the front of the bed contains your smaller varieties (lettuce, carrots, beets, etc.) *keep your plans so you can refer back and make notes of successes and needed changes.
Fourth, plant in succession. Think of your garden in waves. Determine the ‘Days to Maturity’ of the plants you want to grow. This will help to know when to plant and expect a harvest. After planting your first mix of vegetables, wait a few days to a week before putting your other plants in the ground, and so on. You can also replant in the area that you just harvested. Now, rather than you big harvest, you are able to harvest throughout the season. To extend the growing season further, start your seedlings indoors and transplant them outside when the conditions are favorable; cool and warm season vegetables will vary on the timing.
Lastly, a rain gauge can save you time and water. On average, vegetables need an inch of water per week delivered by either rainfall or irrigation. This is roughly to six gallons per square yard per week. A quick way to determine whether you need water is to dig 2-4 inches, if the soil is dry you need water, if not, don’t water. Plants can be stressed just as much by overwatering as not receiving enough. Mulching your garden can significantly cut your watering needs and reduce weeds from taking over your garden.
By taking time to make a plan, giving the plants the space they need, utilizing companion plantings and mulching, you can reduce water usage, pest and disease problems and maximize your harvests. Good Luck!!
Next blog: Now or Later? Starting seeds indoors.