If you haven't already chosen the garden location, be sure to pick the area that receives sun for the longest period of the day, won't be shaded by large trees or buildings during daylight hours, and has adequate drainage.
Raised beds offer several advantages over sowing directly into the level ground. You won't have to till the land, or pick rocks and weeds before planting. During the growing season, the raised beds drain easily, and tend to stay warmer which promotes faster production of your crops. There are a couple of disadvantages as well. Raised beds are usually made from lumber, which begins to rot and become infested with insects. Raised boxes may be as long as you wish (typically no longer than 10 feet), however they should be between 24-40 inches wide and about one foot deep. Most raised beds are between 21 and 24 inches wide, making it much easier to access all the plants without having to walk on the structure. Have a look at Frame it All for a quick video tutorial and ideas.
How Much Space Do You Need?
It's often difficult to visualize the space you'll require, even when you have a good idea of which vegetables, and how many, you intend to grow. For people like me, it's similar to trying to visualize the space you'll need for a decent sized swimming pool. In both instances, start out smaller than you think you will need!
Of course, some plants will take much more space than others. Examples of these are watermelons, pumpkins, and corn. For an average sized family of four, growing corn and approximately 6 smaller crops, a space of about 30 feet by 40 feet should be a great start. Three rows of corn will take up a space of about 9x30 feet since they need to be planted about three feet away from one another, in both directions, to help insure proper pollination. You'll find a sample garden chart with additional blank grid pages for you to use in planning your own garden at Scenery Solutions.
When Should You Plant?
Depending on the zone you live in, the length of your area's growing season, and the date of the last expected frost, planting times will vary. First, be sure to familiarize yourself with the expected frost dates for your area (the last expected frost in spring and the first expected frost date this coming fall). One great resource for the US and Canada is The Old Farmer's Almanac. In addition, The Farmer's Almanac provides optimum planting dates in their Gardening by the Moon Guide. Have a look at seed packets to determine how many days are required for each variety to reach maturity. The time frame until harvest will need to fit within the number of days between last and first frost dates for your area.
Where Should Particular Plants be Located in the Garden?
Obviously, when taller plants (such as corn) are placed on the south side of the garden, they will shade the other plants and hinder their growth, but there's a bit more to it than that. Where you plant your crops, in relation to one another, can either help, or hinder their growth, or taste. For example, dill and carrots are both in the carrot family so you'll want to plant them away from one another. When planting more than one variety of corn, you will want to plant in intervals so they do not mature at the same time, otherwise they will cross-pollinate one another.
Companion planting is a terrific way to boost production and sometimes, flavor, of various vegetables. In addition, some plants enrich the soil with nitrogen, while others (mostly herbs) will either attract beneficial insects, or repel the unwanted pests.
- Shade peppers with corn and trellised crops like beans.
- Plant squash among the corn since it will shade the soil and reduce weed growth, and raccoons will think twice about invading the corn due to the prickly stems of the squash.
- Allowing pole beans to climb corn will help feed the corn extra nitrogen. Beans are compatible with most herbs and vegetables, but should not be planted near onions.
- Planting basil and/or thyme with tomatoes is said to enhance the flavor of the tomato.
- Plant garlic with bush beans to repel aphids, although some say garlic hinders the growth of beans or peas.
- Pair borage and chamomile with strawberries. Borage to help with growth and chamomile to enhance the flavor of the strawberries.
- Plant peas around the outside of tomato cages. They will happily climb the cage and feed extra nitrogen to the tomato plants. Do not plant peas near onions or potatoes.
- Marigolds and sunflowers, while they repel pests and attract beneficials, are said to hinder the growth of most garden vegetables.
- Cabbage should not be planted in the vicinity of strawberries, tomatoes, or dill.
- Cucumber can be planted around radish, sunflower, beans or peas, but should not be planted near aromatic herbs or potatoes.
- Any type of mint will repel pests and attract benecifials, but they will take over your garden unless planted in containers sunk into the ground.
Inspired by her Native American roots and Bradbury lineage, Polly Taskey is a writer and grandmother in the northern USA. She shares her wisdom and pagan interests through Pagan by Design and The Moonlit Grove.