Spring Gardening Guide
Garden Beds in Spring
3 Steps to a Great Garden
Gardening is a wonderful hobby, and for many it is also a way of life. Gardens come in all shapes and sizes, from a small planter on a balcony to acres and acres of produce.
The steps outlined here will concentrate on smaller garden sizes; the big gardens can be left to those who have the time and equipment to plant, maintain and harvest several acres per season.
Step 1 - Planning Your Spot
One of the most crucial stages of gardening is the planning of where it will be located. Following a few simple steps will ensure you have picked the perfect spot.
- Follow the sun - where is it at any given point during the day? The majority of vegetables thrive on at least six to eight hours of full sun per day; more is better.
- Drainage - do not pick a low spot in your yard - if unsure of the drainage, dig a shallow hole approximately twelve inches in diameter. Pour water into the hole and see how long it takes to drain away. If it is very slow to drain, your location is most likely too wet for a garden. There are two solutions to this problem:
- Build up the area by making raised beds and adding sand to the soil.
- Pick a new location.
- What is surrounding your potential garden plot? Are there trees nearby that will compete for the water and nutrients, or shade the crops for most of the day?
- Is the spot on a slope? What percentage is the grade? A heavy rainfall will quickly wash soil and plants away if the grade is too steep.
- Is there a water source nearby? Will you be able to utilize the water from a pond or dugout, or collect rainwater in barrels for use on your garden?
One Raised Bed
Easy Raised Beds
Step 2 - Raised Beds or Traditional Plots?
This step will depend on how diligent you will be in maintaining the garden. Be honest with yourself - will you weed regularly?
- the initial time and expense is higher, but better yields and less weeding will make up for it in the end.
- soil warms quicker in the spring, but keep in mind it cools quicker in the fall as well.
- layers may be added to accommodate a variety of crops
- bed height may be adjusted so there is minimal bending for weeding and harvesting
- allow for wheelchair access so gardening may be pursued by anyone
- beds may be built on existing grass; simply put down a few layers of cardboard and and add the frame. Add layers of compost, straw and garden soil to the depth desired.
- soil is not compacted as there is no walking in the beds; the roots have room to spread out and root crops may grow bigger as there are no restrictions.
- require advance planning, often the previous year
- cannot be worked up and planted in the same day, or even the same week
- work well for crops such as corn or sunflowers, as they are high crops and may succumb to high winds if in raised beds
- require more weeding as there is more space between plants, which allows weeds to get a foothold
- if in a low spot, drainage may be poor after a heavy rain
- more difficult to spot water, plus water is wasted by watering entire plot instead of just the crops
My raised beds are different sizes: 2'X8', 4'X4' and one is 2'X3'. They were made of scrap lumber, and are also different depths. It has been a learning experience for me, and the next time I make some they will be deeper.
Do you plan out your garden on paper before planting?
Raised Bed Gardening
Step 3 - Planting Time
Now that you have decided which type of garden to make, it is time to plant. I have a preference for the garden beds, but the basic steps are the same.
- Determine where you are going to plant what. Keep in mind the sun's location and the direction of your rows. Tall and vining crops should be planted so they do not shade the shorter crops.
- In raised beds the crops may be planted in close proximity to one another. There will be no wasted space as weeding, watering and harvesting is all done from the outside edges.
- With traditional plots, it is a good idea to leave at least 18 inches between rows. For recommended planting distance check the seed package information.
- Once all danger of frost is past, many plants may be direct seeded into the garden. For the varieties that take longer to mature, it is advisable to purchase the bedding plants from a greenhouse. If you are willing, you may start your own bedding plants indoors in late winter or early spring (depending on how long it takes them to reach maturity).
- Adding compost to the rows or holes while seeding/planting bedding plants will help provide essential nutrients to your crops.
- Water each row well to prevent the drying out of roots (especially if you have transplanted bedding plants).
- Be sure to mark what has been planted in each row. Plastic row markers are available, but I have used ice-cream bucket lids. Write the name of the fruit or vegetable in permanent marker to keep it from being washed off by the first rainfall.
- I also suggest you install any trellises or poles for climbing or vining crops; this way the roots will not be disturbed once the plants have taken a foothold.
By following the above steps you should be able to enjoy fresh produce within a few short weeks.
The Fun Has Just Begun
As you anticipate the growth of new seedlings, keep the weeds in check. For those of you who are new to gardening, you may wonder how you can tell the difference between seedlings and weeds. One little trick is to not pull out anything that is in a straight line. Weeds rarely grow that way, so you're pretty safe to assume anything scattered is a weed.
As your early crops reach maturity, you can harvest and replace them with later crops. Add a handful of compost to the spot and plant again. This will help control the weeds and you will get maximum use out of your garden. A raised bed or two can often produce enough food to feed a family of four all summer long.
I suggest starting with one or two raised beds to begin with, and see how much they produce. If you have decided on a traditional garden plot, start with about 200 square feet. This will give you growing room and walking room between rows. As stated earlier, my personal preference is raised beds.
By keeping the garden compact the weeds have less opportunity to grow, which means less competition for water and nutrients. This in turn results in healthier crops, which are more disease resistant as well.
Enjoy your garden!