The first step in gardening is making a plan. This should be done in late December to early January. I usually wait for Christmas to be over and then start thinking about what I am going to want in my garden for the upcoming year.
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Writing it down or putting it into the computer is a really good idea. Otherwise, it can be easy to forget what you were sure you would remember. I like to keep a paper copy in my greenhouse so I can refer to it as I am placing my plants in the garden. It is a good idea to store it away with your seeds at the end of the season so you can refer to it when planning crop rotation for the next year.
I like to start by doing an inventory of my seeds. Often I can find deals on last year’s seeds if I am purchasing in the winter. Every family is different so plan to plant according to what you know your family will eat. I like to try many different varieties as some are more cold/drought hardy. This increases my chances of having a nice harvest. I usually plant 5 different kinds of the same crop.
Now that I know what I have and have started thinking about what I want to plant, I can start to make more concrete plans. I usually write a list of the plants I want to grow and check them off as I add them to my garden sheet. I like to use grid paper for this but you can do any kind of paper or program. You need to know how much space you have to start off with. My garden is 48 feet square. This has created enough food for my family of 9 and still provides enough for preserving for later. Certain crops take up more space than others so that has some bearing on the garden size needed. I recommend starting a little smaller if this is your first garden so you don’t get overwhelmed as you are learning.
Knowing the dimension of your space you can now get to work planning your rows. I provide 3 foot aisles using woven weed barrier. My rows I keep pretty tight. Anywhere from 6 inches up to 18 inches depending on what is planted in them. I want the barrier to be pretty close to my plants bases to reduce the real estate that needs to be weeded later. I use strong, tall cages for my tomatoes and trellis anything that will climb. This helps increase the sunlight getting to my plants and frees up more space to walk.
I recommend using a pencil for this portion. Generally, it is recommended to plant your rows north to south to keep one crop from shading another too much. I start writing in what I think I want in each row. Some things like tomatoes I know I will need a whole row of but other things like zucchini may need to share a row. I try to never plant the same crop in the same row the following year because each plant uses different nutrients from the soil. I add compost every year and that can help but it tends to be a good rule to follow. I try to alternate tall and short crops so my aisle feels a little more roomy. Now write your crops in on your rows. You might need to do a little rearranging as you go. I like to make the ones my kids snack on a little more accessible.
After you have your crops planned you need to figure out how many of each plant you will need. It will be far less expensive if you start your own seedlings but if you need to buy them at the store you will need this information as well. I use a modified version of square foot gardening so mine get packed in pretty well. If you look at the seed packages you can get an idea of the spacing. I start my seeds in the house, planting twice the number of seeds as the plants I need. Depending on germination I may need to plant more or have many to give to others for their gardens. I begin planting at the end of January with my tomatoes and peppers. Each area is different and there tends to be at least a month-long window for starting. I like to start at the beginning of this window in case I need to plant more based on germination rates. I will post my calendar for planting and you can modify it for the area you are in.
These are the basics of the way I do it. There are many different good methods out there for gardening. You just have to try them out and see what works best for you.
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