Planning Your First Garden

Planning is the first and most important step that every gardener should take. A well planned garden will not only be productive but easy to care for as well.

For a new garden just like in real estate – location, location, location! Your garden should get 6-8 hours of sunshine per day, be close to a water source, and be in an area which is easily accessible.

Most vegetable plants require six to eight hours of sunshine per day. A few like lettuces would appreciate some shade, especially in summer. But most crops do best in full sun so that they may use photosynthesis to make their food and grow.

In August when the days are long and dry, you will be glad to have a hose from the house that reaches the garden or even a nearby rain barrel. Setting up a drip irrigation system will save time and money in the long run. Vegetables need about 1 inch of water per week.

Is the area easy to get to with a wheelbarrow full of compost? You want to be able to move around easily in your garden space and when leaves fall will you need to get the best leaf blower vacuum. If you are a parent of young children is it easy to observe your children playing while you are working? One tip for parents of preschoolers – put in a garden bed/sand box area in the garden for preschoolers to play in the dirt

What is your soil condition? Starting with good soil is nice but not required. You will be building up your soil over time with lots of compost. Vegetables like soil that is well drained and loamy. Try to avoid a rocky area as this will inhibit your young plants from spreading their roots. Make sure your garden location is in an area of good soil drainage. You don’t want wet soggy spots.

What are you going to grow? Have a family meeting and let everyone have input on their favorite foods. Don’t grow cucumbers if no one in your house likes them! Focus on what you like so that your garden produce is eaten and enjoyed. Also think about how you may use certain vegetables. If you like tomatoes on sandwiches and as pasta sauce then grow salad tomatoes for fresh eating and canning tomatoes for making sauce.

Start small. Starting small lets you get the basics down and figure out how much you can manage. It doesn’t do any good to plant a1000 square feet only to have it waste high in weeds in July. For many a 10×10 garden is a good size to start with. It has enough room to grow a substantial part of your families produce needs and is still an easy size to manage. A 10×10 garden would require about two hours a week labor of weeding, watering, planting, and harvesting. You could choose to do six rows ten feet long. Or build two raised beds that are 3×10.

Start by getting some graph paper and a pencil and drawing your garden space. Even if you are on a small city lot it helps to map out your areas. How does your garden space work with the rest of your yard? Or will you need a leaf blower? Do you have pets and small children? You may want to fence your garden to protect your plants.

Before you start planting you need to know the last and first frost dates in your area. This gives you a guideline to your planting season. You can call your local Agriculture Extension office for information of planting schedules in your area.

Tools are important for any gardener. Tools are an investment and something you will be using on a regular basis so get the best quality you can afford. A trowel, shovel, spade, rake, and wheelbarrow would be the basics. For a small garden a rototiller is not necessary but you may want to rent one to get your soil turned initially.