In a lot of the country, you can’t tell by looking outside, but spring is here. If you are planning a garden, you are itching to start prepping for the planting. Experienced gardeners have already learned many things through trial and error but if you are just starting out, here are some Vegetable Garden Basics to keep in mind while planning your garden.
Vegetable Garden Basics
- Keep it small – a common mistake of newer gardeners is to get too ambitious. You may have the space to plant a plot big enough to provide your family’s food needs for a year, but you also have to have the time and equipment to do it right. A big garden looks great on paper and isn’t a problem in the new rush of growing your own food, but tending a huge plot can be overwhelming if you are still learning.
- Plan it out – speaking of things that look good on paper, plan out what you are growing where. Some plants take up a lot of space along the ground, others grow narrow and tall. Corn, in particular, needs to be planted in a square fairly close together so that it can pollinate effectively. Planning out what to grow falls into this category as well. Pick things you know someone will eat. You may have perfect conditions for squash, but if no one will eat it, what’s the point? The last thing to consider here is look for plants that grow well together. The Native Americans referred to corn, beans and squash as the “Three Sisters” because of how well they work together. In this combination, the corn stalks provide support for the beans to grow vertically while the squash spreads out on the ground, acting as weed control.
- Know your soil – Take a pH reading of your soil in a few locations and then do some research on the conditions for the crops you grow. The pH can be adjusted by adding different things to the soil, for instance, agricultural lime can be used to raise the pH (make less acidic) while peat moss or compost can be used to make soil less acidic (lower pH). Something else to consider with soil is to know when the time is right to start prepping. If you begin to work the soil when it is too soon after the thaw, the ground is still too wet and driving a tiller or tractor over it can compact the soil together, making it less able to retain moisture. Take a handful of soil and break it apart in your hands. If it breaks into different sized clumps that stay together, you are ready to prep. If it separates into grains of sand easily then it has gotten too dry. If it feels muddy, you still have too much water in your soil. Contact your local soil conservation district; they often have resources for soil testing as well as information on soil in your area.
- Know your sky – the flip side of your soil is knowing typical weather patterns for your area. If your veggies thrive in a hot, dry climate but you live in the Pacific Northwest, you will have to consider things like greenhouses. Likewise, if you want to grow a crop that likes water but your area doesn’t see a lot of rain, plan for how you will get water to them. Many areas have watering restrictions in effect or you may not want to run your water bill up. Consider ways to collect runoff from your gutters to a holding tank or other ways if you live in areas like this. Pay attention to the length of a typical growing season in your area; you can plan crops sequentially to allow more than one harvest per year of certain plants.
These are a few of the things to consider when starting out growing. Gardening is very rewarding in a number of ways – you can save a lot of money, make it a family activity, reduce your carbon footprint by eliminating transportation for your food – but like everything, a little planning and research up front can greatly increase your yields, and perhaps more importantly, your enjoyment.