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There is much to consider when you layout a plan for your spring garden and in this article/podcast episode I will help you think through the details and provide you with the tools and knowledge you need to have your best garden so far.
Decide What You Will Plant
What you like to eat
You will for sure want to take a mental inventory of the things you regularly eat. These are the vegetables you will want to plant the most of. If you don’t like eggplant, don’t plant eggplant.
What grows well in your zone
Not everything grows good in every zone so consider growing things that grow best in your area for the best possible harvest.
What benefits your homestead
Take time to look through seed catalogs for ideas
I try to grow something new every year. Maybe it’s something I’ve never eaten before or maybe something I’ve never even heard of, this keeps gardening interesting and fun.
How Much Will You Plant
Deciding how much of each vegetable to grow is something else you will have to decide on and maybe one of the more important decisions you make. Do you only want to grow enough to eat fresh vegetables when they’re in season or do you want enough to preserve for the entire year? You have to consider how many people you are feeding in your household and if you will be giving some away or selling some. Will you be succession planting for larger yearly yields or planting once and harvesting? All of these things are important factors when planning your garden.
Where Will You Plant Your Garden
Sunlight and shade requirements
You will need to consider the sun requirements for your garden beds as a whole as well as each individual plant. For example, you will want to keep taller plants to the north of shorter plants if they are planted next to each other so as to not shade them out.
Rotational planting for disease control
You will want to consider crop rotation for things like tomatoes that have had blight in the previous couple of years to minimize a recurrence of the disease.
Using unconventional places for growing food
You don’t have to grow your entire garden in a conventional garden bed. Consider every possible space along fences, around trees and bushes, along paths and sidewalks, there is really no limit to the creativity you can have when laying out a plan for the location of your garden.
Pay special attention to planting perennials
Annuals are easy to make a mistake on, all you have to do is plant them somewhere different next year. However, perennials are a different story, put a little more thought into the location of these plants such as asparagus and Jerusalem artichoke as these plants will be there for many years.
When Will You Plant Your Garden
Most gardeners I know (even me) are anxious to get that vegetable garden going in the spring but you have to be careful not to put things in the ground too early. Seeds can be started indoors however you need to time the transplant into the garden at just the right time. The time all this needs to take place will differ according to the zone you live in.
I’m a big believer in companion planting, this practice can really up your garden game and make gardening a more pleasurable activity as it will do a lot to ensure a better harvest and fewer insect and soil deficiency issues. Companion planting does take a little forethought as you will need to think through the reasons you are planting things together to get the most from your garden.
Reasons For Companion Planting
A Plant Supplies A Need For The Other Plant
Some plants will supply a need back to the soil such as beans and legumes putting nitrogen into the soil which can benefit the plants around them. Others work as dynamic accumulators pulling up nutrients from deep in the soil to the top for other plants, comfrey is one such plant that does this.
Many plants can lower or raise the ph of soil by the organic matter they drop which can greatly benefit certain plants. While others just make a great mulch which helps with moisture retention and biological activity.
Some plants can offer a trellis to climb for surrounding plants such as corn which can be planted with pole beans which in return provides the nitrogen for the corn.
Low-growing and large leaf vining plants can create a wonderful “living mulch” ground cover which can be a great benefit to the plants around them. Planting squash with the corn and pole beans mentioned above is commonly known as the three sisters garden as these three vegetables work wonderfully together.
When summer comes and direct sunlight is a bit much for some plants such as leafy greens then using tall plants and trellises to provide shade for these plants can work great together.
Controlling pests isn’t just about keeping them away, it can also be about attracting the right pests. There are some however you want to deter and many plants especially certain herbs and flowers can accomplish this.
Using plants to bring in the right insects can be a big benefit to your garden as many “good insects” eat the “destructive insects” which can destroy a garden quickly. The right plants can also draw in pollinators which can greatly increase the harvest of your garden.
There are many claims that planting certain plants in close proximity to one another makes them taste better, an example of this is planting basil with tomatoes. This isn’t an exact science and may take some experimenting but there are several suggested plants that folks swear makes a better flavor in their vegetables.
In many cases, you can greatly increase the amount of food you grow by interplanting. This is an intensive gardening method that allows you to fit more vegetable plants in a single planting bed. This makes the most of your garden by allowing you to fill in the spaces between larger plants and make use of garden borders.
Companion planting also makes use of spaces by practicing what is called “building guilds.” The three sisters garden I mentioned earlier is an example of a guild on a small scale but can be done on a much larger scale by utilizing the space around trees and bushes.
How To Companion Plant
Building A Guild
Plant guilds are a combination of form and function. The goal is to mimic the stacking and relationships found in nature while also providing useful resources to humans. Drawing from the idea of a food forest, we can generally identify at least seven layers that occur in an ecosystem:
By considering each or at least a few of these layers in every possible location on your homestead you will create many micro-climates that will work together to provide you with an abundance of food.
Sketching Out The Plan
Good ol’ fashion pencil and paper
It doesn’t have to be complicated, simply laying out a pattern of your homestead on some paper and writing in where you will be planting certain things is a great start to your garden plan.
Use graph paper
If you want to be a little more precise you can use graph paper and sketch your garden beds to scale, then write in exactly what you will be planting in each bed.
Use software to layout your garden
If you would rather use a computer to layout your garden plan there are several good software programs out there that will do just that. A good free online planner can be found here – http://www.gardeners.com/how-to/kitchen-garden-planner/kgp_home.html
Keep A Garden Journal
Keeping a record of your garden will help you better plan next year’s garden. Recording things like when you planted certain plants, vegetables that did well, and ones that didn’t. Best-tasting vegetables and all your successes and failures will serve as a great reminder year after year and make for having your best garden so far each season.
For my birthday a couple of years ago my wife bought me a copy of Thomas Jefferson’s Garden Journal. I was amazed at the meticulous notes he kept on every aspect of his garden and it really made me want to do better at journaling my own garden information.
Be A Doer!
Planning is important but means nothing if you don’t carry out your plans. So make sure to execute your plan when the time comes. If you do then I am sure you will have many successes in your garden this year and every year after.
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