So, where to begin?
First of all, think small. Get the hang of growing a vegetable garden first and then expand. I grow more vegetables in a small, well-cared for garden that in a large garden I can’t control.
There are a number of choices that need to be made prior to planting your garden. The better you plan, the more success you will have. I recommend you do the following:
- select a suitable location for the garden
- proper garden layout
- prepare your soil
- decide what to plant
- know when to plant what
- grow the right amount
Garden location is key.
Most vegetables need 6-8 hours of sunlight a day, so make sure your garden is going to get enough sun. Next, make sure your garden location has good soil or think a little about soil preparation.
Many professional gardeners recommend that you take a handful of soil and squeeze it. If the soil forms a clump it holds too much water and wont be very good for planting. If the soil crumbles its good. Don’t worry about the soil condition too much as you will be amending and building the soil throughout the life of your garden.
One thing you will want to note up front is how the soil drains. You don’t want your vegetables sitting in water. Try to choose level ground for your garden. However, if this is not possible, you can dig rows across the slope of the land or plant in circular depressions in the ground.
Finally, make sure you can water the garden easily. Last summer I had a great corn, bean and squash patch growing out behind my house in a natural depression but it required that I haul a bucket of water out there every morning and night. When I broke my ankle in the middle of July I couldn’t get back to water and everything died.
Photo courtesy of Daniel Morrison at Flickr.com.
I like to plan and layout my garden on paper each winter before planting. With proper planning you will know what to plant when to achieve the best results. Check out this list for vegetable hardiness and days to maturity.
You will want to plan which crops you want and how much of them you plan to grow. Line out dates to plant and when they will be ready to harvest. Note where you will plant them, spacing and supports they may need such as trellises for beans or tomatoes. In planning your vegetable garden, think hard about your location.
In some climates you will want to plant your tallest crops on the north side of the garden, for example, so your other crops will not get too much shade. However, if you live in a place where the sun is very intense such as the southwest, you may want to plant your tallest crops on the western side of your garden to give your other crops an afternoon break from the heat!
Soil must be fed and any soil can be repaired. Your garden wants to eat manure, compost, leaves, nut shells and other organic matter. Your soil feeds your plants and the more organic matter that is in the soil the more water and oxygen will be available for your plants. Organic matter also brings beneficial microorganisms and nutrients to your plants such as nitrogen and nature anti-biotics that protect your plants.
Surprisingly, perhaps, is the thought that you may need to add sand to your soil. If your soil is very clayey, add some sand to help break it up – but not too much! Organic matter will naturally help break that hard soil up. Don’t get too down if your garden struggles the first few years. It takes a long time to build good soil.
Photo courtesy of Plutor at Flickr.com.
What are you going to plant?
Well, what do you like to eat? Plant what you like, plant what your kids like and plant enough for your family’s needs. Plant more if you are going to store, save or sell it. Finally, be smart. An orange tree is not going to grow in your Minnesota garden. Choose varieties that suit your climate and growing season.