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Garden Planning


Part 1 of 2

Vegetables don’t just grow on trees. OK, really they do (or shrubs or vines or roots), but what I mean is, if you just stick some seeds or transplants in the ground without thinking about it, you’re unlikely to get a harvest that’s worth your labor. Careful planning will give you a much better chance for a great harvest and can help maintain and increase the health of your garden for years to come.

Where
Perhaps the most important question is where should the garden be placed. Generally, vegetables need at least 6 hours of sun per day to give a good harvest. Remember that most of your veggies need to live their entire lives in just a few months and get their energy to do so from the sun. Without enough sun they have no chance. Some veggies can use a bit less (such as cucumbers) as well as some of the perennials (plants that come back every year) including herbs like thyme & oregano.

Raised Beds Built in Sunniest Spot

Beds Built in Sunniest Spot Facing South

Other important questions to think about are convenience for watering and maintenance. If you can’t get water to the garden or it’s too far away for you to get around to taking care of it then it’s not a good spot.

Figure out whether the spot you’re thinking of floods. I made this mistake with part of my garden when I installed it five years ago and have had to install raised beds to avoid losing veggies to flooding.

Raised Beds Avoid Flooding

Raised Beds Allow Planting in Areas that Flood

Which, How much & When
It may seem obvious, but if you don’t like Brussels sprouts, don’t plant them. If you’re a family of five, two tomato plants probably aren’t enough.

Different vegetables grow/taste best at different times of the year. If you only plant cool weather plants (lettuces, broccoli, peas, carrots, etc) or warm weather ones (tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, etc) you’ll have limited your harvest to a much shorter time and smaller harvest than if you plant a mix.

Some veggies you can plant multiple times per year. Beans can be planted throughout the summer. If you leave space in your garden to plant beans every couple of weeks you’ll give yourself an even harvest of them throughout the summer. Otherwise, if you plant many rows of them at the beginning of the season and get a huge harvest all at once, you may not know what to do with them (you can steam and freeze those excess beans if you don’t plan properly) and all your labor could be wasted.

Seeds or Transplants
You can either raise your plants from seeds or buy transplants from your local nursery. Each have their advantages.

Seeds are less expensive, you can get a virtually unlimited variety of plants and a packet of seeds can often last for more than one season. On the other hand, to raise plants from seed you need a spot to raise them (basement, greenhouse, cold frame), lights, dirt/potting soil, growing trays, patience, and time to take care of them.

Transplants are more expensive and are more limited in the varieties you can get (though there is still a wide variety available), but are very convenient and are often bigger/stronger when they are ready to be planted than those you raise from seed (at least until you have a few years of seed starting under your belt).

Raised Beds or In-ground
Do you want your garden to be in the ground or in raised beds? One method is not necessarily better than the other, but is more a matter of personal choice. My garden has both types.

One advantage of raised beds is they’re easier to install as there’s no grass to be removed or ground to be dug up and the type of soil underneath the bed (ie. heavy clay) or lack thereof (ie. bedrock) is irrelevant because you are installing good soil in your beds.

If you’re installing an in-ground bed getting a soil test is a good idea though definitely not required (I’ve never had one done). This can tell you if you have enough nutrients in your soil or if it’s contaminated by hazardous substances.

Fencing
I’ll never forget a few years ago when my beans had just come up out of the ground, about 2” tall with two big leaves and then I came home from work and all I had left was a bunch of leafless sticks. A rabbit had visited my garden.

Most gardens in our area will need a fence to keep animals from eating your veggies. Deer and groundhogs are the biggest offenders around here though rabbits, raccoons, squirrels and birds can also be problems.

Deer are excellent jumpers and will jump over almost any fence less than about 7’ tall. One major exception to this rule is a privacy fence that the deer can’t see over or through. They won’t jump over a fence like that, however privacy fences can be very expensive. There are a number of less expensive deer fence systems you can buy and install yourself as well as some non-fencing deer-deterrent systems.

Groundhogs don’t require a tall fence to keep them out (3-4 feet above ground is sufficient) but they need to be made out of metal (so the groundhog can’t chew through it), dug into the ground about 18” (so the groundhog doesn’t tunnel under it), and have fairly small spaces in it (so immature groundhogs can’t crawl through it). The posts should be metal so the groundhog can’t grab on the posts and climb over the fence.

Once you’ve thought about all of these things you’re ready to put together your garden plan. Which you need to do very soon to get your full growing season. I’ll be back soon with how to put together your own specific garden plan.

2 Responses to “Garden Planning”

  1. Naseer says:

    Jay,
    I was looking today for the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s soil testing information, and came across this really handy comprehensive guide on site planning for home gardeners: http://www.gardening.cornell.edu/landscape/site_assessment_for_gardeners.pdf

    I thought you or your readers may be interested in it as a supplement to what you posted above.

  2. Linda says:

    i just heard about your site on wamc today. i like the information above – great start. i am going to build a raised bed garden for organic vegetables this year (i’ve been thinking about it for two years but always get motivated too late!). do you have a good beginner’s book you could recommend? where do you recommend getting soil? (i live in new paltz)

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