An afternoon spent planning your garden can go a looong way to helping you grow a veggie patch to be proud of (or a jaw-dropping flower bed).
You’ll avoid spindly lettuce plants shaded out by giant sprawly old German tomatoes, be able to cut down a bit on weeding, and know which seeds/plants you should be ordering, and how much of each.
A bit of planning will also help you to ensure that your plants have the right nutrients available to grow and be healthy- nobody wants stunted, yellow cucumbers!!
Follow these simple steps to get your garden off to a good start:
1. Draw a map of your garden
Get out your measuring tape, a sheet of graphing paper, a pencil, and someone to hold the other end of your measuring tape. Then measure your garden space(s) and sketch them out on your sheet of paper, roughly to scale.
Mark out any shady spots, hills, wet areas (low spots), rocky areas, etc.
2. Decide what you are going to grow.
Before you get too far, check which gardening zone you are in. This is especially important if you are planning on growing perennials (Kitchener-Waterloo is zone 5b).
Next, make a list of the plants that you would like to grow- using a seed catalogue or looking through a seed website can help if you need some inspiration.
Finally, look up the space requirements, and sun/shade requirements of each item, and add that to the list. (you can find space requirements of most veggies here:https://www.phipps.conservatory.org/assets/documents/Square_Foot_Gardening_Guide_2020.pdf )
3. Test your soil (leave this step until early spring)
There are 2 main things that you’ll want to know about your soil so that you can make sure that your plants have everything that they need to grow: soil composition and NPK content.
Mason Jar Soil Test
To see what soil composition you have, grab a mason jar and a garden shovel. Dig some soil from a few different areas of your garden, and place it in the jar until it is about 3/4 full of dirt. Add water. Shake it up until the soil turns to mud.
Finally, just let your jar sit until everything settles out. The layers that you’ll see are as follows:
- Top: clay
- Middle: silt
- Bottom: sand
Your ideal garden soil is about 20% clay, 40% silt, and 40% sand. If you have a lot of clay, you’ll want to add some sand, peat moss, and compost (or just growing in raised beds).
If your soil is very sandy, you may want to add some organic matter like peat moss, compost, leaf mold, worm castings, etc to help retain moisture and soil nutrients.
Testing for NPK
NPK stands for Nitrogen, Potassium, and Phosphorous. These are 3 main nutrients that vegetable plants need to thrive (of course there is also a host of trace minerals and micro-nutrients, but focusing on these 3 is a good start).
The easiest way to test for NPK in your home garden is to pick up an inexpensive home test kit from your local Home Hardware or Garden center. While these won’t give you results as accurate as sending samples to a lab, they will at least give you an idea where to start.
If you are using a home test kit, be sure to follow the instructions very carefully, otherwise your results will be skewed.
Of course, you could also send your soil samples to a local lab.
4. Order your seeds (if you are starting your plants from seed)
If you are planning on starting your plants from seed, it’s best to get your seed order in early, as some of the more popular varieties can sell out.
And if you want to save yourself some trouble and go with garden-ready plants, it’s a good idea to do a little research ahead of time to find local greenhouses and farms who sell them. That way you can get in on early ordering if it’s available.