Every year at this time I turn to the upcoming season with much anticipation.With the seed catalogs arriving, I spend time finding new varieties and old favorites that I want to grow.My thoughts also turn to the needs of the garden and preparations for the new season.This gives me the opportunity to review some of the basic elements that are needed in gardening.For those of you who are old hands at gardening as well as those who are new gardeners, I would like to briefly share with you a few important items that are essential for a successful garden.
Location of the Garden Site:
- Choose a spot that has a sunny location.Sunshine is important because all plants require 6 hours of sunshine per day.The exception is blueberries which only require 5 hours.
- Roots compete for moisture and nutrients, so avoid large trees and hedges close by the growing area.Crops growing in shady areas or shadows do poorly.
- Also avoid open areas where strong winds blow.Winds can quickly destroy the fragile plant leaves and affect the future growth of plants.
- Stay away from low spots where drainage is poor.Plants die for lack of oxygen when the soil is too wet.
- To save steps, locate the garden close to the house, compost pile, tools, and water.
- If possible, the garden should have a gentle slope to the south.This helps the soil warm up faster in the spring and with frost damage.
- Have a soil test taken to know what you need to add to the soil.In urban areas or near highways, test the soil for lead contamination from car exhaust and industrial pollution.
- Decide what fertilizers you will be using: compost, animal manures, ready made fertilizers, etc.Is the compost bin set up and ready to be used?
Planning the Garden: There’s no way to match the value of organizing and planning beforehand.
- Orient your garden so that the beds or rows are arranged to run on a north/ south axis.This allows the sun to fall on plants equally as it moves from the east to west.
- Place short plants south of tall varieties, thus avoiding the shadows from the taller plants.
- Know the last and first frost dates in your area.Here on our farm, in western Maryland, our last frost day is April 20th and the first frost day is October 20th.This gives 180 days for our growing season.
- Decide the type of rows or beds used and how they will be planted
- Wide rows
- Raised beds
- Succession planting ( every 2 or 4 weeks )
- Inter- cropping ( 2 crops next to each other, such as radishes mixed with carrots )
- Size of paths
- Perennials and where they are planted.
- Keep a record of plantings: if transplanted or direct seeded, when and where planted, variety and quantity, fertilization and record of spraying.
- Figure how much you’ll consume from the garden, both fresh and for storage.Plan the amount you need or want and the plants that have the most nutritional value.
- Check when the crops will be in season:
- long season crops occupy space throughout the whole season- tomatoes, pole beans,
- Short season crops mature quickly – spinach, lettuce, peas – and can be follow-up with another crop – beans, squash
- Check for early varieties with short maturity time.If you do successive planting, know how long it will take for a variety to mature.
- Some crops need special treatment:
- Sugar sweet varieties of corn need isolation from other corn varieties
- Soak peas or beans for 24 hours before planting.This helps them to germinate fast and not rot in the ground.
- Buy resistant varieties to eliminate diseases.
- Check if seeds are treated with fungicide or pesticide.If you do not want to handle seeds with Captan, Thiram or other fungicides, request untreated seeds when you place your order or buy from companies who state they do not treat seeds.
- Decide what type of seeds you want – hybrid or open pollinated.Hybrid seeds are generally more vigorous and disease resistant.If you save seeds you need open pollinated ones.I use both types.Some open pollinated varieties are better and cheaper than hybrids, such as Scarlet Nantes carrots and Extra Early Snowball cauliflower.
Extending the Season
It is possible to have vegetables throughout most of the year, but advanced planning is needed.Early, late, and wintering over crops use floating row covers, caps, tunnels, wall-o-water, cold frames, and greenhouses to grow outside the regular season.