Learn how to plan a garden to get started off on the right foot with gardening.
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Dust off the gardening gloves, break out the seed starting pots. It's time to start thinking about how to plan your garden! I have found that growing my own food has been not only great for saving money on food, but also incredibly rewarding.
This could quite possibly be my favorite time of year. The weather is still cold, but I see HOPE on the horizon of warmer days as I peruse seed catalogs and online seed stores in preparation for my spring and summer garden. There's just something so therapeutic thinking ahead about how tiny seeds will sprout new growth and in just a few short months be making an appearance on your dinner table, nourishing my family. I adore the process of gardening. I'm happiest with my hands in the dirt and sweat on my brow. Spring can never get here fast enough as far as I'm concerned. Winter seems to drag on and on.
I manage to get through the end of winter by dreaming and carefully planning my garden. Today I'm going to share with you the process that I feel everyone needs to go through to get started on the right path for a successful garden. Sure you could just throw some seeds in the dirt and hope for the best, but proper planning goes a long way to encourage success.
How to Plan a Garden
1. Identify plants that your family enjoys eating the most.
First and foremost you need to identify what your family likes to eat. Make a list. Maybe you adore fresh garden tomatoes but can't stand cabbage. You get the idea. Write down what you enjoy the most. There's no reason to grow kale or chard if your family hates it. You are just wasting valuable space in your garden that could be used for plants that better serve your family.
I also like to identify what vegetables are most expensive at the stores so that my garden is as cost effective as possible. I used to grow corn because we adore fresh sweet corn, but after being disappointed in my yields, I found it was much more cost effective to get my organic corn from a local farmer at the market instead of growing it on my own. Green beans, peppers, herbs and berries are crops that I love to grow because they produce a lot and they are much more cost effective growing them at home.
Now that you have identified your plants, find out if you can directly sow the seeds in the garden or if you will need to start them indoors first. Check out this massive grow guide list for just about every possible thing you can imagine.
2. What is your growing zone?
Of those vegetables and herbs that you typically cook with, find which of those grow well in your growing zone. Just because you love something doesn't mean it will be successful in your area. Find your grow zone here in this handy interactive map.
3. Choose a garden plot.
Next you are going to need to find an area in which to plant. You need to find a space that gets plenty of sunlight the majority of the day.
Once you identify your plot ask yourself these questions:
- How much space do I have?
- Will I plant in raised beds, traditional garden beds directly in the ground, pots on a balcony, or some other alternative?
Different plants grow better in different conditions so plan accordingly.
4. Keep in mind the nature of the plant
Now that you know how much space you have, you can start thinking about if your list that you made coincides with how much space you have. Some vegetables like tomatoes, corn, winter squash, and melons naturally take up a lot of space. Melons, winter squashes, and pumpkins are all vine plants and tend to spread out tremendously.
If you have plenty of space, by all means, go for the vine plants, but if you garden in raised beds like me, you may need to reconsider. A single melon plant can easily take over the entire bed and then some. I've had them spill out of the beds and onto our walking path. Needless to say, I learned my lesson and I don't do watermelons and pumpkins anymore since those particular plants need to be planted about 6 feet apart. I prefer to grow more variety in each box instead. Plants that take up less room will be your beets, carrots, greens, lettuces, and things that can grow vertical on trellises like peas and beans.
Another thing to consider is if your plants grow best in the cool weather (spring and fall) or really hot weather (summer). You could potentially save space by planting a cool weather crop and a hot weather crop in the same bed. For example, you could plant some greens in April, harvest them late May or early June and still be able to plant a summer crop like a yellow squash or cucumbers. This is a great way to get more yield out of your garden. Plus you have to know when to plant each plant even if you aren't going to try successive crops.
5. Buy seeds
Now here is the really fun part: the actual purchasing! There are many lovely places to purchase seeds, but I purchased all of my seeds this year from Seeds Now (aff link). Not only do they carry all non-GMO seeds, a beautiful selection of organic and heirloom varieties, sell affordable sampler packs, but they also make shopping very easy. Using their search tools, you can within seconds find seed varieties that grow well in your zone and with specific seed personality types. For example, I searched my zone, then chose "super easy to grow" seed personality 1 and "grows well with raised beds" seed personality 2.
Now I have a full list of seed varieties to choose from and all I have to do is make my selections. I also really appreciate that they give lots of helpful advice about the varieties. Another year I bought green bean seeds from another company and was very disappointed that they had very thick and tough strings in them. I had them running out of my ears and we did not really enjoy them that much. Total bummer. This year, I was able to pick a stringless pod that grows well in my specific zone. I'm looking forward to tender green beans this year, and I can only hope they will be running out of my ears like my duds were last year.
6. Make a sketch layout
While the seeds are still in my shopping cart, I like to make a sketch layout just to make sure I've covered all of my bases and the seeds that I've chosen will actually work well in my space. I keep in mind all of the above like plant spacing, size, and weather conditions when designing my garden sketch. I also keep in mind which plants work well with other plants. A good chart for companion planting is helpful for determining which plants to plant together.
You can make your sketch on the computer if you're tech-savvy, but I'm pretty old school so I just break out the pencil, paper, and ruler.
Now you're ready for growing season!
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What are you planting in your garden this year? Are you a beginner gardener or a seasoned pro?