Somerset, Somerset County, New Jersey
Sure as a beginner you can just simply sprinkle some seeds in the ground, toss around some water, take a step back and see what comes of it, but chances are you will end up with anything but the picturesque garden. The result is likely to be having areas of your garden resembling a forest that you can barely walk through, while other areas appear to reflect the Sahara Desert, merely missing the presence of tumbleweeds.
Putting that enthusiasm aside for a moment of getting your first garden going, to sensibly blueprint your vision is your best bet, because planning and patience will yield the greatest results. The 3 key factors that need to be defined to home-growing that magical garden is Variety, Location and Method.
I see time and time again folks tend to pinpoint their gardens location first and then contemplate what to plant in it after, but I highly recommend doing that sequence in reverse. Different plants require different growing conditions, ranging from full sunlight to mostly shade, drier soil to consistently moist, or from requiring minimal space of a few inches to grow, upward of a couple of feet. First determining exactly what you would like to harvest, will aid you with not only noting growth conditions beforehand, but also with pairing, which is vital to adequate growth and future crop rotation. Pairing is the process of exactly that Pairing fruits and vegetables that necessitate equal growing conditions together, which is key to ensuring that you are efficiently utilizing your chosen garden space, as well will make crop rotation easy.
As mentioned in a previous article “Gardens on the Rise amid Pandemic” I suggest beginners utilize a Garden Planner for adequate growing. I personal recommend the Old Farmers Almanac’s Garden Planner. The Garden Planner will assist you in not only optimizing every square foot of your garden space, but will also specify which crops can be paired, keep you up to date on which veggies are ready to be harvested, and will keep track of your crop rotation timeline, as well as suggest what new vegetation can be replanted in previously harvested areas.
Location, Location, Location is Key! Once you have determined which crop you desire to yield, how much room each plant variety needs to grow, the difference in growth times and what amount of sunlight is required, you are ready to locate a spot that has a sufficient amount of openness and/or shade. If you are working with a relatively small space on a property, or an area that does not have many shade options, no fret, because there are workarounds that can be done that I will discuss shortly. Once you have located the ideal spot for your garden, you will then need to determine whether to go the route of planting traditional rows, or to utilize garden beds.
If you opted for the use of garden beds, but find yourself limited on your garden placement options, and discover that no matter where the garden setup is, it will have the sun completely beating down on it, then planting veggies companions will help. For instance, Flowering Vegetables like Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Peppers and Peas require full sunlight, while Root Vegetables like Onions, Carrots and Potatoes require several hours of sun, followed by several hours of shade, and more delicate crops like Herbs and Leafy Greens require mostly shade. You should plant all the full sun veggies together on one side, partial sun veggies in the center and full shade veggies on the opposite end. When dealing with a completely sun-exposed space, pay mind to note the suns exposure, position, and rotation on your property in that area. For example, if the sun is positioned at the hottest point of the day on the east of your garden area, you know to plant direct sunlight veggies in that region, and so on.
Corn being a full sun plant that reaches great heights and grows rapidly, would be a great option to use as a sun filter for those shaded veggies. Simply plant a sparse row of Corns around those shade requiring plants and let them do their magic.
If you are dealing with shade demanding fruits, using Mammoth Sunflowers instead would be the better option, that will also add a little botanical joy to your garden. Sunflowers will not only provide the much-needed shade, but also attract bees to ensure those flowering fruit are pollinated. Depending on the height of the garden beds you have chosen to use, whether Corn or Sunflower, the stalks can initially take 2 weeks or so to grow tall enough to tower over the select garden beds, so provisionally placing a lightweight dark-colored mosquito net over the box will filter out the sun up to 40%. Remember, the darker the netting, the higher the sun filtration will be.
To Row or To Bed? Consider that while conventional rows appear to be the easiest and quickest option, it will actually require more upkeep in the long run than making use of garden beds. As you harvest begins to flourish, the constant walking between the rows will cause the soil to compact, requiring you to till the ground more often for appropriate root oxygenation, as well as proper water irrigation. If not tilled frequently enough you will experience saturation on the garden ground from compaction runoff, likewise you may find that your veggies are unable to absorb a sufficient amount of water. Using Raised Garden Beds will allow you to free up ground space, as increasing the garden bed width, will decrease the number of row paths needed. You will also notice less soil compaction and the need to pull weeds much less often.
To Sow or To Plant? Take into significance that starting from seed (although more rewarding), will take you more time to harvest depending on what you are planting. Seed Germination greatly varies in time and at times can be quite tricky. If Sowing interests you, starting seedlings inside labeled flats is the best way to go. Heed that they will require close watching and care as some seeds will germinate rather quickly in an openly exposed well-lit area and others can require you to create an almost indoor greenhouse effect (generally using plastic wrap), to move the germination process along. If you are looking for more of that instant garden appeal, then seedlings would not be the option for you. Making a pit-stop by the local home improvement store, or nursery, to purchase mature plants for direct transplanting would serve you best.
Another growth tip is to consider growing “Up” instead of “Out”! Sure, when you think of seeing those flowering vines creeping across the garden floor it sounds pretty amazing, but they will have taken up a massive amount of space before you know it.
Growing Up is not only a space saving-method, but the elevation also allows the vegetable to grow unrestricted and reach its fullest potential. Vegetable Cages and Stakes are suitable for more compact plants like Peppers that need minimal to medium support, but a Trellis is more efficient for bulkier plants like Cucumber and Tomatoes, which do best when permitted to climb and dangle.
The images reflect just how much Upright Gardens has flourished. A mere three months later, following routine watering, weeding and thinning, an abundant harvest remains for the picking. Having entered and saved our garden design in the Garden Planner, fall crop rotation is made easy.
Checkout Gardens on the Rise amid Pandemic