Planning and Digging a Garden

Planning and digging your garden beds may seem simple at first, but there are several considerations. Location is one of the first things you should think about. Depending on the space you have available, and the structures and large objects around your property, your first goal should be to ask where is the sun hitting most.

Normally the best sun will come from the eastern and southern directions. This is simply because the sun rises in the east, and in the U.S., it rotates overhead on a slightly southern path. This has to do with the earth’s axis being slightly tilted. If this is unavailable to you it’s best to try and stick with the eastern rising sun rather than the western setting sun.

Of course, there are many garden plants that do well in partially shady areas. If you’re growing vegetables, many prefer slightly colder temperatures and won’t perform well in heavy, direct sun. Lettuce is one example. Hot sun makes the plants bolt, and they become thin and will quickly go to seed.

So you’ve found a nice spot to dig your garden that gets eastern and southern sunshine. Take a moment to consider the location of trees around the area. Are there large shade trees to the east that will be blocking the morning sun as it comes up? You could be losing two or three hours of the best sun if that’s the case. Fill up you coffee mug and sit outside one morning. Does your spouse park the car right to the east of your planned garden bed? If it’s close enough, it may totally block out the rays.

If you simply cannot locate a good enough garden space, you may want to gauge the time the sun is actually shining on the spot you’ve picked. Most plants will need a good 10 hours or more of sunlight to perform well. Check the time and come back to the spot every hour or so to see just how much sunlight the area gets.

With your garden area selected, you then need to think about the manner in which you’ll be digging. Are you using a mechanical tiller or is this just a shovel job? One thing to keep in mind is that once the garden bed is dug, the less you actually get in there and turn that soil the betterâÂ?¦both environmentally and in terms of labor. Many people only think of gardens as being in long, straight rows. Large machine oriented agriculture is done this way specifically to enable the machinery to plant and harvest the crop. A small personal garden does not have this need.

This can be a great opportunity to “design” your garden and give it some flair. If you have the space, you can make your rows thick, high, and in any shape you like. For example, if this is a small flowerbed you could make it in a heart shape. Draw a picture with your row! Get creative with your garden.

Keep in mind you need to be able to reach all of the planted area easily for weeding, planting and harvesting. You’ll also need to be able to get inside if you enclose it like a circle, but if you’re sprite enough, stepping over a row won’t be too much trouble.

Try not to make the areas where you’ll walk extremely narrow. If you’ll be carting a wheelbarrow or anything larger around, you may need up to three feet between. Even if not, it is much more comfortable to garden when you have the space to maneuver. Rows with 12 inches between them are hard to walk in, hard to kneel in, hard to set your tools in, etc. You should have at least 22 inches between rows.

One of the best things about designing a garden this way is that you’ll never actually be walking on the rows, where you’re growing. This keeps the soil from becoming compacted and needing to be tilled or turned every year, something you want to strive for. It gives the plants plenty of loose soil to dig their roots down into. When you go to plant each time, you simply use hand tools and add in some compost to enrich the soil.

The downside to such a method is the need for more space. If you’re watering topically, which I never recommend, you cannot use this method. Plants rarely get the amount of water they need this way, and it hardens the soil and spreads disease. You should use soaker hoses or similar style devices.

If space is a problem, consider a smaller square or rectangle shaped garden bed. Often in professional garden you’ll see smaller square or circular beds like this. You need to be able to reach all areas of the bed so make it no wider than two feet if it’s against something. If you can walk all the way around it, four feet. The length, if it’s square, can be basically anything.

These types of garden beds are best done as raised beds. You may need to surround it with a boarder material like wood or plastic to keep your soil from trickling down the sides. Again, there is no need to till and turn this every year, as you won’t be walking on it at all. Just pull out your radishes, add some compost, and in go the new seeds. If you water topically you will need to turn the soil yearly at least as it will pack it and create a hard layer on top.

Locating the right space for your garden is essential. Make sure it gets plenty of sunlight. Consider your layout and style of the individual beds. Will they be in rows? Will they be shaped? How much room can you put between them? Maybe small, reachable, raised garden beds would be best if you’re short on space. Practices that don’t pack the soil are critical.

The less digging and turning the better the plan.

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