A successful garden starts with good planning. Calculating start dates, sowing dates, successive plantings and crop rotations are essential to the overall production of any garden plot.
Step 1: If you are just starting out, pick a spot that receives a minimum of five hours of sunlight daily, has a readily available water supply and is on mostly level, preferably fertile ground. Running rows from north to south optimizes sun exposure and air circulation. Test the soil before planting and amend the soil to assure crops have the appropriate nutrients to thrive. Start small and grow a little more each year.
Step 2: Design the overall garden. Consider spacing between plants as well as spacing between rows. Rows less than 4 feet in diameter allow easy access for weeding and harvesting. Tall crops such as corn and climbing beans should be planted on the north side of the garden. Root vegetables can be planted in slightly shady areas. Certain plants do better when grown in unison. Decide whether you will till the garden plot, build a raised bed or plant a no-till garden. Raised beds increase soil temperatures and extend the growing season. For a quick and easy raised bed, pile dirt and compost a minimum of 12 inches deep atop the existing ground.
Step 3: Decide what to grow and how much to grow. Internet sites and gardening books offer information on expected yields as well as suggestions on plants-to-people ratios. Humeseeds.com has a helpful planting guide, as do many gardening websites.
Step 4: Develop a sowing plan. Use the information on the back of the seed packets to decide which seeds to start inside and which seeds to sow directly into the soil. Several websites, such as johnnyseeds.com, offer interactive sowing guides, which will help calculate the proper dates to start seeds inside and to sow seeds outside, based on germination rates and frost dates. Be sure to consider successive plantings and crop rotations when formulating your plan. Early-season crops such as lettuce, radishes and peas can be followed by later-season crops such as cabbage, corn and beans.
Step 5: Start your seeds inside to assure an optimal growing season. Don’t plant too much at one time. Several small plantings several weeks in a row will assure you do not get overwhelmed at harvest time and help create a bountiful table time and time again.