There are many resources available to help you plan your garden.
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As the weather starts to warm, our thoughts turn to the outdoors and planting a garden. Before you run off to the big box retailer to buy plants in pots, however, you need to start Planning your Garden.

Why a Garden is Important

Many people decided to start a garden in 2020 once the lockdowns started and the store shelves were empty. You may have been one of them. You may even think that now there is hope for things returning to normal, that you don’t need to worry about a garden or feel you might not have the time. Don’t fall for that line of thinking. While we can currently get the fresh produce that we like, that may not always be the case. With the rise in gas prices, it will only be a short time before produce prices rise as well.

The best insurance against the inflation of rising food prices is to grow as much of your own as you can. Eat what you can while it’s fresh, and preserve the rest.

There are many reasons you might think you can’t have a garden…

  • You rent and don’t own your own home
  • You don’t have a large enough yard for a garden
  • The soil in your yard is not good enough
  • Bending down to work in the garden is too difficult

You may notice that all of these reasons involve a traditional in-ground garden. We’ll address each of these reasons in this gardening series. Hopefully, it will encourage you on your gardening journey.

In Ground vs. Container vs. Raised Bed

When planning your garden, the first decision to make is where to plant. This will determine how much space you have and what you can plant.

Most people, when they think of a garden, think of long rows of plants in their backyard or in a field. I grew up on a farm and we had a garden that was about an acre in size. That’s all I knew. When I had a house of my own, I didn’t have the space in my yard and never thought I could grow my own food.

I didn’t realize that raised beds and containers can yield quite a bit and provide food security. In fact, I would grow in raised beds and containers even if I had a lot of space. Except for corn. Corn needs a LOT of space and rows to grow effectively and does not work well in raised beds. Corn only yields a few ears per plant and uses a lot of resources (space, nutrients, water, etc.) per plant. A few corn plants in a garden will not have the pollination or growth potential to be worth the resources. I would plant corn if I had enough room for 8 16-foot long rows. I would do 4 successive plantings (1 each week) of 8 4-foot sections of each row. That would give enough rows for pollination and provide at least a month of harvests. But I digress…

Whether or not to use containers or raised beds vs. an in ground garden will also depend on the type of garden you are growing. Not every garden needs to be a vegetable garden. Here are some gardens you may not have considered before:

Garden Types

Garden TypeTypes of PlantsWhere to plant
Traditional Vegetable GardenWhatever vegetables you will eatIn ground, in containers, or in raised beds, wherever you have room.
Kitchen Herb GardenContains typical culinary herbs –
Rosemary, Thyme, Sage, Basil, Sage, Mint, etc.
Plant near the kitchen for easy access.
Medicinal Herb GardenHerbs primarily for natural/homeopathic medicinal purposes
Butterfly GardenFlowers/plants that encourage butterflies. Many are traditional wildflowers.Close to the regular vegetable plants so butterflies will also pollinate regular garden plants
Child’s GardenShade trees, climbing trees, flowers and some vegetablesPrimarily in-ground. Might have a container or raised bed for flowers or vegetables the child can help plant and care for.
Edible Flower GardenFlowers that you can also eat. In-ground, containers & raised beds. Consider incorporating in the Vegetable Garden

In-Ground Gardens

The in-ground garden used to be the most common. It is the most traditional type of garden. It consists of rows of plants planted in a neat and orderly manner. There are lots of books about how to lay out and plant this traditional garden. In-ground gardens tend to stay in the same place year to year..

Pros and Cons of In-ground gardens.

The dirt is already thereThe quality of the dirt may need to be improved
Plants have room to spread outSome plants may encroach on others and take over the garden
Plants can develop deep roots to pull nutrients from the ground.More prone to weeds and unwanted plants
Tried and true method used for hundreds of yearsHard on the back and knees for aging gardeners
Lowest entry cost.May not be available for urban or apartment dwellers

Container Gardens

People have been keeping house plants in containers for years! Did you realize, the same types of containers can grow your food? Container gardens are especially useful for urban or apartment dwellers or even those who rent houses. You can use containers on porches, patios, decks, balconies, and even parking pads. They have less permanent impact on the area around them and are landlord friendly.

Buckets make great container gardens
Part of our bucket herb garden early summer 2020.

Containers come in all shapes and sizes. Some are even self-watering. Container gardens don’t have to be fancy. Last year, we used 5-gallon buckets from Home Depot and Lowe’s to hold our herb garden. We also used buckets to isolate plants from the rest of our garden. We planted our Jalapeno plant in a bucket all on its own away from our regular peppers. That way we reduced the chance of any impact on nearby plants or cross-pollination.

Buckets as Garden Containers

You can use different colors for different types of plants. These buckets don’t need to be “food grade,” but they should not have held any chemicals before.

When considering a container, make sure it has sufficient room for the roots to develop. The container also needs good drainage. We drilled holes in the bottoms of our buckets and put rocks in the bottom to provide adequate drainage. We didn’t want to lose all of our wonderful potting mix, so we lined the buckets with Paint Strainers.

Paint Strainers are a mesh pouch with an elastic top. They fit in a 5-gallon bucket. The mesh is fine enough to keep the dirt in place while allowing any excess water to drain down through the rocks and out the holes in the bottom of the bucket.

When using containers for your plants, it is imperative that you fertilize your plants regularly. I recommend mulching as well to keep the soil from drying out.

Raised Bed Gardens

A raised bed is a nice cross between a container and the traditional in-ground method. Raised beds hold extra dirt above the level of the ground. Because of the limited area contained in the raised bed, you will need to pay special attention to the planning stage of garden prep.

Raised Bed Advantages

  • Less erosion
  • Easier on your back
  • Reduces weeds
  • Keeps out Critters
  • Better drainage
  • Can be temporary
  • Longer growing season
  • No tilling required

Raised beds can have tall sides that are strong enough to sit on, or sides made from boards that are designed to hold extra soil and contain the plants.

What to Plant

The types of fruits and vegetables to plant will vary by individual. Most people turn to seed catalogs when planning their garden. There are wonderful seed catalogs filled with beautiful pictures of ripe fruits and vegetables.

Seed Catalog Resources

There are many different places to get seeds. In the spring they are available at Walmart, home improvement stores, Dollar Tree, and many grocery stores. Most of the retail locations carry the most popular varieties of vegetables and flowers. Many of these varieties are hybrids that are bred to maximize yields, resist heat and pests, and disease resistance. If you are looking for heirloom seeds, you’ll need to look online or in catalogs for suppliers. Some of the catalogs I refer to when planning my garden are listed in the table below.

Gurney’s Seed & Nursery
Baker Creek Heirloom

These catalogs make you want to plant some of everything. The key to remember, is to plant what you will eat. There is no use planting Eggplant if you don’t like to eat it.

Using your precious garden space to plant something you don’t like and won’t eat is such a waste of resources. That being said, there are reasons to plant things that you won’t eat in your garden. Some plants repel specific pests or add nutrients to the soil. Use these plants with others that would benefit from what they have to offer. This is called companion planting.

Companion Planting

Companion planting is when you intersperse one type of plant in the same row or area as another. We planted radishes (3 different varieties) around the outside edge of our raised beds. I don’t eat radishes (a little too spicy for me – or maybe I just don’t know how to cook them properly) so I’m planting them strictly for their pest repellant properties. Striped cucumber beetles that like cucumbers, squash, and melons don’t like radishes. By putting them around the outside of the bed, the radishes can deter those pests. Spider mites that like tomatoes also can’t stand radishes. Now if I could just discover a plant to repel earwigs…

A great resource to use when planning your garden is the book, Carrots love Tomatoes by Louise Riotte. This fantastic book tells all about companion planting. There is a section that lists most garden plants, what they work well with and what to avoid. Also included are a list of garden pests and what plants repel them. This book is a great addition to a gardening library.

In Part 2, we’ll discuss, when to plant as well as garden design and tools to help you when planning your garden.

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