Efficient Garden Planning in Simple Steps

Take a step back from your garden at the end of the season and evaluate what’s working, what’s not, and what you can do to make your process as efficient as possible in the future.

| Winter 2012/2013

All of our lives are different. Vegetable gardens should complement, not burden their owners. Taking note of what you need and want from the garden will make it work for you, not against you. Winter is a great time to take a look at what worked in the garden and what didn’t, so, as you sip your morning coffee or tea and stroll the garden, ask yourself these questions …

What worked? Viewing your garden in small sections makes it easy to set up seasonal goals. What went wrong? Did this season seem like an endless parade of problems? Did aphids, blossom-end rot, and Japanese beetles take over the garden? Think back on what you grew. Do you need to focus some attention on replenishing the soil and putting in irrigation? What would you like to do differently? What do you recall from spring, summer, and fall as problem areas?

Your level of gardening experience, the size of your garden, and the amount of time you can spend in it will weigh heavily on what crops to choose and how much of each you can grow. Inexperienced growers may want to start with just a few of their culinary favorites, choosing ones that are easy to grow and widely adapted to different growing conditions and climates. For small gardens, it may be more rewarding to concentrate on short season crops such as greens and radishes that produce prolific harvests in a short period of time. Crops that take up a lot of space, such as melons, pole beans and tomatoes, can be grown vertically by trellising to save space. For the “DIY” kind of person, the following tips will help you re-evaluate the garden-planning process.

Sun Exposure

As you look at your garden from the windows, where does the sun rise? What areas get sun, what gets shade, and at what times of the day? South and west are your sunniest exposures with east, and then north, receiving the least direct sunlight. Start then by choosing a sunny spot for your garden. Most vegetables need 6 to 8 hours of direct sun a day for best results. Leafy greens like lettuce and spinach can thrive with a bit less. As you assess your yard this winter, remember that the deciduous trees that are leafless now will create some shade once they leaf out in spring. If possible, locate the garden close to the kitchen so it’s easy and convenient. Is it possible to view the garden from a window?  When the garden is easy to see and reach, you are more apt to notice what needs attention and you’ll be harvesting more often.

Mapping Your Garden

Once you’ve established the garden space, make a map. Use an Excel spreadsheet, or grid paper if you are more inclined towards pen and paper. Each square of the grid should represent a specific measured unit to help you to create your layout and plan how much seed or how many plants to purchase. The best part is that once you make your map, you can use it year after year to keep track of your crop rotations and to create a new garden plan. Mapping your layout allows you to visualize your best design for the season, so that you can foresee any problems and reorganize before you plant.

Soil Type & Preparation

The ideal garden location has loose, friable soil that drains well. If your soil isn't perfect, you can improve it over time by adding organic matter such as compost. Is it light and sandy or heavy and clay-like? If you have heavy clay or very loose sand, it will take a number of years of gradually adding amendments to improve the soil. What is its pH? If you haven't had your soil tested to determine the soil pH, do it now.

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