Gardening is something I (Marie) have done since I was tiny. There is something about putting a little seed in the ground and having it grow into a large, food-producing plant that is almost magical. I have found the key to a successful garden is in good planning and setup. The easier I make things for myself the better it will go.
I have tried a few different things over the years before I truly determined what the key to a successful garden was. When I had a smaller family and did less canning I really liked doing the raised beds. Now that I need more production I use a 50ft x 50ft plot. Determine what your needs are before you begin and then mark out your area. If you need help with this read our post and watch our video about garden planning. We even have a FREE Garden Planting Date Printable for you.
Rototill and Secure Weed Barrier:
The first key to a successful garden is to prepare your area using a rototiller. Now is a good time to add all the great compost we have been collecting to enhance the soil. This also breaks up the soil making it easier for the plant roots to establish themselves.
I only like to weed the areas that I have to. Weeding the aisle adds so much more to what needs to be done. We use rows of 3ft wide, woven weed barrier down the center of each of our rows. Most plant rows are only 6 inches wide to minimize the area that needs to be weeded. With using the woven weed barrier, it allows the water through so I really only need room for the plants themselves. There are some areas like the corn rows where I have more like a 2ft wide row to allow multiple rows of corn within that space. I like to plan this all out on grid paper before I ever set foot outside. See our garden planning video for an example. Be sure to use plenty of stakes to hold down the weed barrier as the wind likes to play with it a bit.
Cattle Panels as a Trellis System:
I really like to use cattle panels as a trellis system. The amount of food you can grow in a given space is so much more if you make use of your vertical space. Plus it gets the fruits off the ground and further away from pests. The primary plants I have found do well on a trellis are melons, cucumbers, climbing beans, peas, and squash. Some varieties will get large enough that they are too heavy for their vine. These may need a platform or hammock to help support their weight.
To create this trellis system you will need: wire, t-posts, a t-post driver and 16ft x 4ft cattle panels. I place the t-posts every 8 ft and attach the panel with wire. For the climbing beans I like to make an arch and plant them on both sides of the arch to make a beautiful green archway. The beans will hang down from the top and be so easy to pick. I create the arch by placing 2 t-posts 4ft apart and mirroring it on the other side. I then place the 4ft end against the t-posts and bend it up until I can put the other end against the other 2 t-posts. Mine covers a span of about 4 feet. This is a nice step to do with another person as it gets a lot of spring in it as you bend it. (Be careful.)
We have a little additional problem. We have free range ducks. They are pretty good about leaving the plants alone once they are established but they really like the succulent seedlings. I have some 1ft tall remnants of cattle panel leftover from another project. I have found if I put this around the garden, it is just enough of a deterrent that they leave it alone.
As your plants begin to grow they do need to be taught how to climb the trellis. I go through every couple of days and encourage them to climb up, weaving them in the fencing. After they reach the top they don’t really need any more help.
In addition, I have some large pots that I use at the edge of the garden for my herbs. There are a number of them that can be invasive and this keeps them contained.
The final step in my garden preparation is getting a huge pile of wood chips that I will use for mulch. We have a chipper and we use it for our pruned branches every year but in addition to that we have a local landscaping company that drops some off for us. The wood chips are a great mulch. I put 2 inches of chips anywhere in my garden that there isn’t a plant or weed barrier. (Allow a little room around the plant itself.) This not only reduces the amount of weeding to be done later, it keeps the soil more moist and will be rototilled in and add to the soil next year.
With a little forethought, careful planning, and preparation having a plentiful, enjoyable garden is within the realm of possibilities.