Friday, February 27, 2009

Making the Most of your Garden Area

In these tough economic times and the surge of "green" thinking individuals, the garden is coming back to life in full force. Of course, if you don't have a few acres on which to plant, you need to think about how you want to make the most of the space you do have.

Your garden spot should be in full sun at least 6 hours a day, have good drainage, have protection from high winds, have a water source close by for convenience, and good soil quality. If you live in an apartment, condo, or town home, you might want to consider pots for your garden, but be sure to check on your HOA rules about these things.

It is normally most cost effective to start your garden from seed and then transplant into your garden space when the fear of frost is gone and the young plants can survive in the open area. You can always buy bedding plants to transplanting also.

Decide on what you want to grow in your garden. What veggies does your family enjoy eating the most? Of those veggies, which ones are the most expensive to buy in the store or farmer's market? How much time are you and your family going to be able to devote to caring for the garden? What kinds of critters live in your area? Seriously consider fencing in your garden. Not only will it keep the neighborhood pets and various wild pests, like rabbits, out of the garden, it can be used as a trellis for your vine plants like beans, peas, tomatoes and the like that need support. I trellis'ed my cucumber's last year and that worked out very nice and made it easier to find the cucumbers!

Ok, now you've decided what you want to grow. Now, diagram the space you have available and start mapping out your planting strategy. Tallest plants you'll want to plant on the North end of your garden to avoid shading the smaller plants. Pay attention to what the directions say for the amount of space needed for your plants to flourish. Also, you need to make sure there is room for YOU to get between the rows easily for pulling weeds and harvesting your crop. Consider raised beds for your garden, they are much easier on the back and knees for weeding and harvesting!

Container gardening is great and has more opportunity for the more artistic souls wanting to grow their own food! You can use almost anything for your container garden! Old-fashioned wash tubs, tin buckets, terra-cotta planters, all kinds of things.... just look around your yard or house! Personally, I had some leftover cement blocks, the kind that are about 8" tall and have two large holes in them. I used them for planting herbs and it worked out quite well! I also had some tires, no rims, to get rid of, but instead, terraced them in front of my country home and filled them with dirt and flowering plants. It looks really great! (Of course, the house is in the country not in Beverly Hills.. would probably not looks so nifty there!) One note, don't plant food you're going to eat into empty tires. Doing so will poison your food.

You can also increase the duration of your yield by leaving space for a later planting. Stagger your planting a few weeks or even a month apart, if at all possible.

Gardening doesn't have to be limited to just the summer either. With a little extra care, your garden can last well into fall and winter months. Row covers trap the warmth that radiates up from the earth much like the way that a cloud cover holds temperatures and prevents frost from forming. Cardboard boxes and fruit baskets can provide shelter to individual plants, while old sheets, blankets, and heavy plastic tarps will protect entire rows of plants to be removed after the sun has warmed the air outside. For a cold frame, just arrange straw bales into a rectangular shape around a garden bed and lay windows across the top to form an enclosed and insulated growing area.

Late summer is a great time to sow cold-tolerant vegetables that will flourish in the fall and endure cold weather without complaint. Some hardy vegetables would be kale, spinach, collards, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts, kohlrabi, turnips, cabbages, oriental greens, rutabagas, and some varieties of lettuce.

A few vegetables will survive on their own even through bitterly cold conditions. Some of these would be leeks, kale, and collards. Fall planted garlic and shallots will develop strong root systems in the fall, spend the winter underground, and then spring up at the earliest signs of the arrival of spring.

Many root crops can be left in the garden protected with a thick layer of shredded leaves or straw. Beets, carrots, turnips, rutabagas, and parsnips can be left in the ground and you can continue havesting as needed, provided that the ground doesn’t freeze and prevent digging. However, finish harvesting before spring arrives, once the roots resume growing and switch into seed production mode, the quality of the food will diminish.

The options are endless for the gardener and only limited by your imagination.... well... and your cash! LOL Do your homework, make a plan, and get the soil prepared before the season gets here and you're sure to have a wonderful garden.


No comments: