To have a successful garden, planning is key. It’s the most important step you must do before the first seed is sown. After you have decided what you would like to grow, the next step is to plan. I would recommend getting a sheet of paper or using an online drawing tool and sketching out your area. You can do it to scale but it isn’t absolutely necessary. Here are 5 key rings to consider when planning your home garden.
‘Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort”Paul J. Meyer
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While some herbs and vegetables do well in the shade most of what you grow will require 6 to 10 hours of full sun. How you orient your garden is extremely important to get right from the start. If you’re in the northern hemisphere you want to orient your garden in a southerly direction. The sun goes east to west and orienting your garden facing south is going to ensure your garden gets the most amount of sun.
If you aren’t sure how much sum you are getting this time of year you can go to https://suncalc.net/ and it will calculate it for you. You can also consider using a Light meter for the garden if you are concerned about a particular spot.
Consider things like trees, tall buildings, walls or anything that block the sun. Observe your space at different times of the day to ensure your plants have ample access to sunlight.
Plants need water. Some need a lot of water while others need only a little. Before you start you should decide what irrigation method works best for you. If you plan to water your garden by hand everyday that’s fine. If this makes you cringe you can look at investing in a few ollas.
Ollas are low-tech irrigation pots that have been used for closer to 4000 years. They continue to be widely used in Asia, Africa and Latin America, and there is increasing awareness of them in the US. They are clay pots that have been fired at low temperatures, allowing them to remain porous. When filled with water, they slowly release water out through the walls of the pot. One thing I will say though is these don’t work as well for root crops (i.e. crops with tuberous root such as beets, sweet potatoes, radishes or carrots for example) as they do for other crops, just something to keep in mind when you’re planning.
If you live in an area that gets water infrequently you may want to consider installing a tank and get water either from the supply to your home or a rainwater collection system. Also, If you want to save a lot of time watering you can set up irrigation lines, even if you are using raised beds. However, these are best done from the beginning as retrofitting them later can be a task.
Whatever you decide make sure watering is an easy task to perform. The easier you make watering your plants the more likely you are to be consistent.
Be mindful of the weather consider investing in a soil meter or rain gauge to help you decide if to water plants. This is particularly useful if you are growing plants that are sensitive to overwatering such as arugula, tomatoes and most chard varieties. If you are concerned that you are overwatering your plants you can check out our post on how to tell if you are overwatering your plants.
Another important aspect to the weather is the temperature. If you’re in the Caribbean like I am, it’s always hot, every day…all the time. For those of you in the United States The Farmer’s Almanac is a free tool to get important dates based on the first and last frost. If you are anywhere else in the world and have a similar free resource feel free to share in the comments and I will do my best to update the post as the recommendations come in.
“You aren’t farming vegetables you’re raising microbes.” As crazy as this may sound at first it’s 100% the truth. If you have good nutrient-dense quality soil with high microbial activity along with the other points raised above you’re well on your way to a successful harvest. I can literally go on and on about microbes (but that’s not the topic) if you would like to read more about that check out this article.
If you are growing in raised beds quality soil is probably going to be your biggest expense. While I love recommending DIY methods I will say good quality soil is worth every cent. Your soil should be:
- Well drained, but good water retention
- Lots of microbial activity
- High levels of soil macro nutrients i.e. nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium
I typically recommend gardeners aim for 25 to 30% compost in their soil. I high percentage of organic material usually means all the criteria listed above are relatively easily met. Good water retention.
Don’t forget to mulch.
After you’ve put in all that effort to get a quality growing medium, you should try to protect it as much as possible. Adding a layer of mulch provides a buffer between your soil and the environment above it (think about mimicking a forest floor). A Thick layer of mulch will help regulate soil temperature and reduce the amount of water evaporating off of the soil surface.
How you space your plants and what you choose to plant in is largely up to personal preference. Aside from the orientation of your space which we discussed earlier, there are a few other key factors to consider.
- Think about the eventuality of the plants. If you are planting plants that are going to be very different in heights at maturity consider the way they are oriented. If they are in the same bed (and you’re in the northern hemisphere) you want to put the shorter plants in the most southerly part of the bed and the taller plants in the northern end of the bed.
- Roots depth. Different plants require different soil depths to grow properly. Most things will grow well in about 12 inches of soil but you should always do your research so that you can grow the right crops in the right container.
- Individual plant spacing. When planting consider how much space your plants need between them to grow. Plants like tomatoes grow better when they have good airflow between plants. Additionally, root crops like radishes and carrots need space for the roots to develop without much competition.
Try to keep a written journal of what you’re growing. It’s very easy to forget what you planted or when you planed it. Getting in the habit of labelling your plants and tracking their progress will be invaluable. These records will be key when you need to determine what went right, what went wrong and how you can improve. Remember, what we measure, we manage.
“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.”Alexander Graham Bell
These are my six key factors to consider when setting up your garden. I love gardening and do it primarily have access to fresh safe produce while saving money. However, if you are looking at gardening as a way to make money (market gardening) I highly recommend you check out “ The Urban Farmer” by Curtis Stone. His book lays all the information you need out in a way that is both practical and easy to read.
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