While temperatures are still frigid and days remain short, it’s time to begin to plan the garden.
One of the first things to consider is placement: most vegetable plants need Sun. Eight hours or more are ideal, but six hours is manageable if that’s all you have. When choosing the site, check any trees to the south, southwest or southeast as these are sure to grow and could, in the future, shade your spot. If the trees are on your own property, the problem isn’t deadly, but if on a neighbor’s, it could become serious in the future.
Next, think about size. If you have never had a garden before, keep it small. Even if you happen to live in an apartment, a balcony and a southern exposure could give you enough space for a few container plants. What are your favorite summertime vegetables? Tomatoes and peppers are on many lists. I buy these plants at a local nursery as there is often a wonderful selection and they can be a bit tricky to start yourself.
After deciding where the garden is going to go, it’s time to make a map. One of the easiest ways to plan a garden is to build raised beds far enough apart to mow in between them. Keep the beds relatively narrow; you want to be able to comfortably reach into the middle while sitting or kneeling nearby. Most of my beds are about three feet wide (except for the ones up against the outside fence which I can only access from one side—these are preferably only two feet wide).
Gardens need good organic matter. A nearby farm could have some old manure available at a reasonable price or check with your local garden store for bagged material.
I give all of my beds extras. I want the trace minerals that are an essential part of good health to be included in my vegetables so, at planting time, I sprinkle greensand, azomite powder and kelp meal on all of them. This is in addition to either old manure or compost. I stay away from chemicals and “quick fix” additives.
Back to the map (how I do get off track sometimes!). I have a spiral notebook in which I keep my plans from year to year. I draw the beds as best I can (not being an artist) and I have them numbered for confirmation. I have my beds on a three year rotation, according to plant families. I’m not interested in making it easy for either bugs or diseases to find their favorite plants from last year. Look in catalogues and gardening books for lists of the vegetables that are related, such as tomatoes, potatoes and peppers. The map also allows me to keep track of other things. I always draw it in the previous fall and put a check in each bed as I add lime. A star goes in if I’ve already manured it and it’s also a way to keep track of different varieties and where they have been put. If you want to sow different vegetables in the same bed, think in terms of height. Tall plants should be put in the back (north) so they won’t shade the shorter ones.
I sow a lot of things from seed. Tender, warm-weather individuals I generally buy from garden centers as they usually have a decent selection if you get a good jump on the season. Here, in New England, we can’t do a lot in the garden before April. Further south, you can begin much earlier. There are many plants that don’t mind a bit of frost—peas, snow peas, lettuce, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, Napa cabbage, beets, parsnips, turnips, radishes, Swiss chard, kale, pansies, snap dragons and sweet peas. Carrots can also be planted early, but they should be covered for another month to thwart the carrot weevil. Potatoes like to go into a cold soil, but young leaves should be covered if frost threatens.
The first thing I actually plant inside is my onions. An absolutely ideal time this year is March 11 & 12. We will discuss all the details in the next blog…