Beginning a Garden & Methods:
- Learn your zone
- Memorize frost dates
- Select a site:
- Have access to water &
- Access to at least 6 hours of sun daily
- Hilltops are windier but frost settles in valleys
- Don’t plant near walnut trees
- Choose close to your house
- South side of your house, against the house, is a warmer microclimate, as is up against a stone wall
- If you can observe a site for a year, so much the better. You’ll be able to tell how the soil drains and how it is in all seasons.
- Know your soil’s makeup (clay, loam, silt, etc) and do a soil test before applying anything except nitrogen
- Be aware of which crops grow when – a good planting chart and knowing your frost dates and zones helps. If you are going to grow onions, you should also know your latitude.
- Know which animals are likely to be pests and prepare for that
- Make sure you have the tools you need – ask other gardeners depending on what method you use. Raised wooden beds with a soil mix don’t require much more than a trowel, if that. Dug beds require a garden fork, spade, trowel, knife, watering wand or drip irrigation, maybe a stirrup hoe for pathways and maybe a rake though a fork could suffice. Plant tags, string, stakes, a file and buckets are also helpful.
- Start small. You can grow a lot in a small space.
- Learn how big mature plants get so you know how far apart to space seeds or seedlings. In beds, space plants as far apart as the mature plant is wide.
- Learn what cover crops you will use for each season. (we will cover that in another class)
- What will pathways be like? Bare earth, grass/clover mix, mulch?
- Invest in a few good reference books
Preparing the Site:
- Do you want to hand dig beds? They require the most physical labor and generally produce the most per square foot.
- Do you want beds with raised sides? These are easy to maintain and are easy to mow and weedeat around. Square foot gardening is a type of raised bed gardening made famous by Mel Bartholomew.
- Do you have time to create a deep mulch bed? It is one of the least labor intensive. Lasagna beds can be created in 2-6 months depending on where you’re living. (They break down more quickly in warmer climates. You do not have to kill or remove existing grass with this method. You simply smother it with cardboard / newspaper/ and /or layers of organic material.
- If you want an easy, temporary growing space, consider planting in straw bales or using them as the sides of a bed.
- Hugelkulture is a method of using up old, rotting wood to absorb and hold moisture in beds and to create soil as the wood breaks down
- Tilling works on larger areas. It helps if you can rent or repair tillers or can share one with others. Tillers do create a hardpan over time in clay soils, though this can be mitigated by deep cover cropping.
- Tossed pathways: Till an area and then ‘toss’ the pathways to create beds and paths. This is a ‘fake’ method of creating raised beds and does not allow you to continually plant as closely as you can with true raised beds.
- Container gardening is just that – growing food in anything that will hold soil to a depth of 6 inches for lettuce and at least a foot or more for other crops.
- Try to work in at least an inch of compost a year and add amendments as your soil test stipulates. Clay soil can benefit from greensand which loosens tight, clay soil and amazingly also binds, loose sandy soils. It is also a form of slow release P and K.
- Check out the ATTRA website for dozens of organic soil mix formulas to fill raised beds or containers. Square Foot Gardening has their own soil mix, as well.
- Learn to identify the most common insect pests & what the typical organic solutions are for those pests
- Thin seedlings once second true leaves have emerged.
- You can space so that your second thinnings is actually a harvest of baby veggies.
- Rotate crops as best you can. Use one of several methods. Root-Fruit-Leaf – Cover Crop is one. Or you can rotate by families:
|FAMILY||VEGETABLES in FAMILY|
|Amaryllidaceae||chives, garlic, leeks, onion|
|Brassicaceae||horseradish, mustard, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, radish, watercress|
|Chenopodiaceae||beet, Swiss chard, spinach|
|Compositae||endive, escarole, cardoon, artichoke, sunflower, lettuce, salsify|
|Cucurbitaceae||gourd, melon, squash, cucumber, luffa|
|Leguminosae||peanuts, peas, beans|
|Solanaceae||tomato, pepper, eggplant, potato, tomatillo|
|Umbelliferae||celery, carrot, dill, chervil, cilantro, parsley, fennel, parsnip|
- If possible, interplant vegetables, flowers and herbs so that you don’t need to rotate crops.
- Water at least 1 inch per week as needed. Mulch reduces the need to water.
- Weed early when weeds are small.
- Thin or you will lose the entire crop
- Harvest at the peak before the plant begins to go to seed
- Cool harvested veggies as quickly as possible. This preserves texture, flavor and nutrition.
- Harvest in the morning for the best quality and nutrition and longer shelf life