Here in New England, it’s time to seriously think about what to plant in your garden. I’ve already sowed peas, arugula, radishes, broccoli raab, and turnips back on St. Patrick’s Day. They can be sown in the garden now, as soon as the soil is workable. Simply, that means you take a handful of soil and squeeze it. If it stays in a hard, wet clump, it’s too wet and not ready. If it crumbles apart, get gardening!
That doesn’t give you a green light to plant all your veggies, however. Many need to wait until temperatures get much warmer.
I’m currently taking courses at the University of Rhode Island to get my certification as a URI Master Gardener. Gardening can be as simple or as complicated as you choose to make it, and if you’re starting out, the task of deciding where to put your garden may not seem like an easy one. It varies with every home, every yard. But there are some basic things to keep in mind, and all of it is common sense. Do you have any common sense? Good. Then you should be fine…
You want your garden to have all the benefits possible for the best chance of success. Just remember this easy acronym: LSSDA. OK, it’s not that easy, but I couldn’t figure out how to spell anything with those letters.
Location: You need to decide if your garden is going to be something you want to see every time you look out your window, or view from your deck as you smoke your cigar at the end of a satisfying gardening day…or something that is more practical than beautiful, and therefore something that you might want to have on a side of the house where it doesn’t block an already enjoyable view.
Sun: Where you put your garden must depend on the sun. You may think you have the perfect place for a garden bed, but if it doesn’t get a full day’s sun, you can pretty much forget about growing those amazing tomatoes you drool over when you go to the local farm stand. You can always shade your garden if there’s too much sun…it’s highly unlikely you’re going to set up a bank of klieg lights if you don’t have enough.
Size: In the beginning, this may be tougher than it seems. If you’ve got an old-fashioned garden envisioned in your mind, with long rows of veggies 2 or 3 feet away from each other, you’re going to need a huge space, which means huge work. If you go with the method that I suggest: small (8-foot by 4-foot) raised beds with intensive planting, not only are you going to need a lot less space, you’ll find that you’re requiring a lot less work to get the same results. I use the Square Foot Gardening method originated by Mel Bartholomew many years ago, and I’ve never had a reason to change. I get the most food in the least amount of space. (www.squarefootgardening.com)
Distance: This means the distance from all those tools and your water source. Sure, you may be pretty damn excited about your garden in the beginning, and you’ll happily drag water 400 feet to your remote garden location…until about June. Then you’ll start making every freaking excuse under the planet to avoid watering or working in your garden…and that kind of defeats the idea. Unless you have some motorized means of hauling all of your tools and buckets out there, try to locate your garden near a garage or shed and a water source so you spend more time in your garden and less time going back and forth to your garden.
Access: Make sure you pick a place that you can easily get to. If your garden requires that you go through an archway or similar structure, you may not be able to fit certain tools, bags of peat moss, wheelbarrows, or even your own fat ass at certain times.
These are the basics to setting up properly. I have 6 raised beds that measure 8-by-4 feet, giving me a total of only 192 square feet, and yet I grow more veggies in that space that my family of 3 can possibly eat. The idea is to get more vegetables per square foot of gardening space, not per plant. When you plant things closer and more intensely, you will get better results with less work and cost. And if you can time it so that you have new plants ready to take the place of those that have been harvested, you’ve got more harvests in even the shortest of seasons. But that’s a discussion for another time.