Garden Planning for Beginners to Get a Fresh Crop of Produce
In today’s economy, we are all looking for ways to spend less. While some coupon shop and others watch the weekly circulars for deep discounts, another great way to save exists in our own backyards. Planting a vegetable garden is a great way to ensure that healthy produce is available for your family without those costly visits to the grocery store. Not only are homegrown fruits and vegetables cheaper than those purchased from the store, but they are almost always tastier, fresher and packed full of the vitamins, minerals and nutrients that support a healthier way of living.
If you are new to vegetable gardening and ready to get started, planning is an essential step. Deciding what to grow, where to plant it and even what size plot you want to start with provides you with a foundation for your new garden and makes it easier to reach your goal of growing healthy, productive plants.
When developing your vegetable garden plan, size counts. A common beginner’s mistake is to plant rows and rows of cucumbers, zucchini, radishes or tomatoes. This exuberance often leads to one of two major problems; either the garden is so big that it is difficult to maintain and plants fail to produce, or the novice gardener winds up with a more than bountiful crop, cupboards full of canned produce and wasted food that simply cannot be consumed in a timely manner.
Considering Your Family’s Eating Habits
To get a handle on how big your vegetable garden should be, consider the size of your family and how much you typically eat as well as what types of vegetables you want to grow. Squash, peppers and tomato plants continue to produce all season long, and a few healthy plants will likely meet your family’s needs. In contrast, carrots and radishes only produce once per growing season, so if these are among your family’s favorites, consider adding a few more plants to your vegetable garden to ensure you’ll have enough. When in doubt, also remember that it’s better to start small. If your first growing season goes really well and you have a desire for more food than your plants produce, you can always add additional specimens at your next planting season to increase the size of your harvest.
Create Your Space with a Raised Bed
Once you have a goal of how much produce you need in mind, plan your space. Building a raised bed is a great way to start. This popular design allows you to maximize the use of space because you can better control the soil within your bed and reduce the amount of time it takes to maintain your garden. With a raised bed, the height off the ground and barrier around your plants also deters pests, improves drainage and gives you easier access for harvesting your crops. When building your raised bed, forming an arc at the top increases the amount of space available for planting by up to a foot versus a flat bed. Plants atop the arc are also easier to reach from the outskirts of your bed, so you won’t need to step in to care for or harvest vegetables in the middle. Choose a spot that offers maximum sunlight, and build your soil up about 8 inches above ground level. A good sized raised bed to start with is one that is no more than 3 to 4 feet wide so you can easily reach plants in the middle without stepping into your bed. The length is not as important and can vary depending upon how big your yard is and how much you want to plant.
What to Plant Where
Now that you have your plants picked out and your raised bed planned, it is time to decide on the layout of your vegetables. Plant taller crops like peas or corn on the north side of your bed to keep them from shading your other fruits and vegetables. Medium height crops like cabbage, tomatoes and squash do well in the middle of the garden, and your smallest crops (radishes, carrots, beets) should be on the south side so they have easiest access to the sun. Plant your rows north to south instead of east to west for improved sun exposure and air circulation, and stagger your plants to create a triangular like pattern instead of boxes or straight rows for maximum use of space. The triangular pattern also gives your crops more room for growth, helping them to achieve their maximum size and harvest potential.
Using Companion Planting to Grow Healthier Plants
A final thing to consider when planning your garden is which plants should grow close to each other. A practice called companion planting has been used since early Native American times, and it is built upon the idea that some plants have the ability to help one another in the garden. Keeping them near each other improves the condition of the soil, wards off many pests and diseases and often leads to a richer, fuller crop. A lot of information is available about companion planting, so look for Internet resources or pick up a book at your local greenhouse or library to learn more. Some of the many companion plants that thrive when placed close together include:
- Cabbage and tomatoes
- Corn, beans and squash
- Radishes and spinach
- Collards and catnip
- Savory and peas
- Eggplant and peppers
Growing your own food is rewarding and cost effective, and taking the time to plan your space increases your chances of success. If you’re new to gardening, start by planning things out on paper, and then move on to build your raised bed and add some plants. It may take a bit of trial and error to land the perfect crops, but the most important thing to remember is not to get discouraged. Soon, your family’s bellies will be full of tasty and nutritious foods, and you might manage to keep some extra green in your pocketbook too!