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Six Planning Tips for Starting a Garden from Scratch

Congratulations! You’ve decided to try starting a garden from scratch this year. You have a sunny spot in mind and are anxious to get started. There’s only one problem, it’s winter outside. What can you do this winter to make your summer garden a success? These six steps will get you going in the right direction.

Planning your garden in Six Steps

Step Number 1 – What are your garden goals for the year? Maybe you want to be able to feed your family and cut down on your grocery bills, try a new gardening technique or have a salad every day. It may be important to you to be self sufficient and grow enough extra produce to can and freeze. Have a clear purpose in mind as you lay out your ideas. How much space do you need to feed a family of four? Not as much as you think.

Step Number 2 – How much space do you have? Learning to garden on your patio in pots will require a different strategy than beginning a system of raised beds.

Step Number 3 – Know your soil and make amendments. It is important to have a general knowledge about the structure of your soil. Are you working with clay or sand? Do a simple soil structure test in a canning jar and you will have a good place to start with your amendments.Use these soil fixes to help while planning a garden.

  • If you have clay soil – add coarse sand (not beach sand), compost, and peat moss.
  • If you have sandy soil – add humus or aged manure, peat moss, or sawdust with some extra nitrogen. Heavy, clay-rich soil can also be added to improve the soil.
  • If you have silt soil – add coarse sand (not beach sand) or gravel and compost, or well-rotted horse manure mixed with fresh straw.

Step Number 4 – What kind of garden do you have time for? We all have busy lives and lets face it, once a garden gets into full swing the weeding and watering time can be overwhelming. Will you have only raised beds, which may require less weeding time because of intensive planting techniques. Some people also incorporate standard rows and containers into the mix.

Step Number 5 – Orient your beds north to south for the best sun exposure. A successful garden will need a minimum 6 to 8 hours of full sunlight. Laying your beds from north to south will allow you to plant tall crops on the north side and the plants will still receive the most sun.

Exception to the rule: If your garden is on any kind of slope, make the rows run across the slope rather than up and down it. After the first heavy rain, you will lose all of your hard work and soil, which will end up at the bottom of the hill.

Step Number 6 – Begin warming your soil in January with clear or black plastic spread over the soil, just anchor it down with U-shaped pins. Allow the soil to warm in its plastic wrap for two to three weeks. Light, sandy or imported “planters mix” soils will warm quicker than heavy clay soil.

The minimum temperature required to germinate seeds is 40 degrees Fahrenheit. It is possible to plant cool season vegetables like lettuce, radish, spinach, peas and broccoli once the soil is properly warmed.

My gardening goals for this year:

  • Plant a culinary and medicinal herb garden
  • Plant asparagus bed
  • Put in 4 raised beds with cold frame covers
  • Amend the soil by composting
  • Enclose the garden deer protection
  • Grow enough vegetables for a salad a day for two
  • Study four season gardening techniques

If you will take the time this winter to set some gardening goals, plan your garden and warm the soil, it will pay off with a wonderful bounty this summer. Share your gardening goals and other tips for starting a garden in the comments section below.

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