As far off as it may seem, warmer weather is right around the corner. At Grace Farms, this means spending more time in our Community Garden and using our Growing Community series to share ways to grow and maintain your own gardens at home. In this blog, Garden Manager Ashley Kenney offers some tips on planting your garden.
How should I plan my garden?
A well-planned garden should provide for you through late Spring, Summer, and Fall. Therefore, you must plant successively to avoid the common problem of having nothing all season and then stuck with more cucumbers, zucchini, and tomatoes the first weeks of August than you know what to do with. Scheduling your plantings based on the days to maturity as labeled on seed packets, or by using an internet-based garden planner like Mother Earth News’, you will not fall into the trap of over-purchasing transplants from a garden center. Make sure you have a mix of seeds and transplants for both cool and warm weather.
Planting Sugar Snap Peas in the weeks after St Patrick’s Day will have you pulling them off the vine in early June. Then, you can plant something that takes 90+ days, like butternut or acorn squash, in its place for a mid-Fall harvest. Sowing lettuce seeds every two weeks will ensure you have a fairly consistent supply of lettuce, and planting loose leaf varietals that you can cut down and watch grow again will provide you with even more options for harvesting. Planting vitamin-packed veggies like kale and Swiss chard early in the season will produce leaves you can cut every few days for meals, without having to replace the plant. These can stay in the ground nearly all season—and kale will even taste sweeter after the first light frost in the Fall!
Also consider talking to your neighbors. Are they growing tomatoes or pole beans that they could share with you, while you provide them with radishes or carrots? This cuts down on excess food and waste, and allows you to enjoy a variety of foods along with the communal aspects of gardening.
What tools do I need to get started with my garden?
- Hori Hori (learn more about this tool here)
- Compost Bin(s)
- Quality Soil made from 50% Topsoil/50% Compost
How do I decide where to plant my garden?
As the old adage goes, it’s all about location, location, location. You will need to assess your property and find the area that receives the most Spring/Summer/Fall sunlight. A spot in the southern corner of your property that gets sun exposure as much of the day as possible is ideal. The second most important thing to consider is access to water to ensure watering your garden won’t become a challenge. Thirdly, you’ll want to choose a site that is close to your home, so that proximity won’t create an issue for frequent visits. Finally, keep in mind that anywhere with thick grass or vigorous weed growth is usually indicative of soil drainage and nutrient levels that will support healthy garden plants.
How big a space do I need to allot for my garden?
For a first year gardener, I recommend a 3×9 bed. This is the perfect size to grow multiple different vegetables/herbs/fruits, and allows for easy access on all sides to weed and water. If you want to go with something a bit more interesting, try creating a 9×9’ square bed and use intensive gardening—a multi-faceted approach that can create a highly productive garden.
How much time should I devote to maintaining my garden?
If this is your first year and you have no existing structure for your garden, expect to put in 5-10 hours setting up your garden alone, and more if you plan to build raised beds from scratch. To maintain 3×9’ garden bed, fifteen minutes a day of weeding, plant inspection, harvesting, pruning, trellising, or watering should be sufficient. If you invest in drip irrigation hoses for your beds, you will cut down significantly on time spent outside. You will also conserve water, and help your plants by preventing damage to leaves and produce by not watering them from above. Sometimes a little money up front can save you time in the long run.
Remember though, gardening should be an activity you look forward to, not one that feels like a chore. If you are growing food you are excited to eat, you will want to spend more time outside with your plants.