Planning Your Garden Part I – Location
When planning your gardens’ location there are primary things to consider that will help maximize your enjoyment and vegetable production. They are light, access to water, competition, size, and ease of access.
Vegetables gardens in particular need light; a lot of light. What does this mean? Ideally, vegetables should receive six (6) hours of direct sunlight per day. Here in my garden that means a southern exposure. The sun does not travel directly east to west going straight overhead. It gets closest to traveling directly east to west and being directly overhead at noon on the summer solstice – around June 21st but leading up to that date and after that, the sun tracks south with the lowest southern elevation occurring about December 21st on, that’s right, the Winter Solstice. A southern exposure for your garden ensures the maximum amount of light.
What? You don’t have full direct sunlight but rather partial or dappled sunlight – a bit of shade? Don’t worry, you can still grow herbs, leafy vegetables (lettuce, spinach and chard) as well as root crops including beets and potatoes. You may not have great success with heat loving plants such as tomatoes and peppers, but you do not have to forgo growing vegetables.
By the way, for our friends who garden below the equator – flip the dates and the direction and proceed!
Access to Water
Access to water is important. Seems like an obvious statement. You’ll need to get water to your garden whether that is by hose, irrigation lines, or bucket brigade.
Plants effectively drink from the soil, absorbing the moisture, minerals and trace elements they need in order for good health. On a small scale, this is why we pull weeds; they consume the resources that the desirable vegetables need in order to thrive. It is not just about aesthetics or how good the garden looks, the more weeds, the fewer nutrients are available for your crops. Trees and shrubs near your garden also compete for resources. Their root systems grow and stretch out beyond the plants circumference or drip line. You may not be able to eliminate the competition but you want to minimize the impact.
Now we’ve determined where the best place to put the garden we need to figure out how big. My suggestion is, if you are just starting out, start small. Using the intensive gardening techniques we will discuss later, you will be able to grow far more produce that you might expect. It is much easier to expand a garden in the future than to reduce one that started out too large.
Additionally, there is a danger of burnout if you jump in with both feet, unaware of the effort in terms of time and energy to maintain your garden; and plant an oversized garden. Burn out is a very real problem for new gardeners. Start small, see if this is for you and then increase your garden as your experience grows.
Ease of access
The final point I want to make is, if possible put your garden where you can see it. Besides being immensely satisfying to be able to step out the door and gather some produce that will grace your dinner table in mere minutes (it does not get any fresher!); having the garden near the house makes it much more likely you will tend to it as is needed to make it thrive. I realize for some people this may not be possible, but if you can manage it, I highly recommend it.
I speak from personal experience, my first attempt at a “serious” garden was located about two miles from my house, and while it was mildly successful, it was a nuisance to have to get in the car and drive over there (not to mention gasoline use or wear and tear on the car). It also meant I was less likely to get out into the garden on a daily basis. After a long day at work, and an hour commute I wasn’t always keen to go meander through the garden seeing what there is to see, pick, water, or weed. While some folks do well renting a community plot, and the discipline that entails, I’m a firm believer in the closer the better, and if you can look out your door and see it, the best.
That close proximity usually means good access to water whether is it from rain harvested from the roof or the hosepipe from the side of the house. Who wants to drag a hose a few hundred feet to water the garden? I don’t.
So there you have it. Pick a spot that has plenty of light, is not in competition with trees or shrubs, is big enough to grow into and is close to the house.
Now that we have a location, what kind are we going to make? Join me next time for a discussion about garden style.
Keep Digging and Eat Well!