It is that time of year many get the itch to plant a backyard vegetable garden. We’ll look at the pictures and dream of bringing in armloads of fresh produce.
But before you begin, let’s talk about your preparations:
Select the site. This can make or break many first-time gardens. Stand in your proposed site facing south. Looking up at the sky, then to the left (east) and to the right (west). There should be no tall trees or buildings that will shade your garden in the morning. A little afternoon shade after 3 pm could be helpful. Hint: Make it close enough to a water spigot and the house where it will be easy to add water and easy for you to get out to care for it.
Decide how big to make it. Grand ideas often make us set up a garden way too large for the summer care. Remember that the patch of soil that looks beautiful now will need weeding and watering as summer heat sets in. Also, study just how much produce one really can grow from each plant or seed that you put in. Hint: A smaller, well cared for garden will easily out-produce a larger, poorly cared for garden.
Prepare the soil. I don’t know if your soil needs lime and certainly don’t know how much. Adding lime makes the soil less acidic. You will not go wrong by tilling in compost. Add one bag (30-40 lbs.) of composted manure for every 10 by 10 ft. of growing space and then incorporate it. Hint: A soil test will be able to tell you exactly how much lime (if needed) and what nutrients your garden site needs. Cost is $10 from SFA State University.
Choose what to grow. Don’t chase fads and plants that you really don’t know if the family likes. If you don’t care for eggplant, don’t stick it in your garden. Hint: Plant only what you know your family likes!
Arrange plants by height and harvest time. Tall plants belong on the north side and short season vegetables (like radishes!) don’t need planting all at one time. Plant a little of the garden each couple of weeks to draw out the harvest. Hint: Plan ahead so that you don’t have all your summer squash at one time.
Plant at the right time. I don’t know when the last frost will be. Pay attention to historical averages and the long-term forecast. Historically the last frost date for our area is March 15. Said another way, we have a 50% chance of frost after April 1! Hint: Make your best, educated guess following the recommended planting time and, even then, study the 15-day forecast.
Lane Dunn is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Shelby County. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
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