Food Garden Planning Fundamentals
by Gary Kline


Site Planning - Failing to plan your garden site and its layout can lead to grief.  A number of important factors need to be considered in the planning of vegetable and fruit producing gardens and orchards.  The location and height of nearby trees can mean too much shade for crops to make it to maturity and contain the needed nutrients and desired palatability.  In general it is best not to place fruit trees inside or close to the vegetable plot because of root competition for water and nutrients needed by ground level crops.  Protection afforded by buildings, woods and hedgerows can be beneficial against bad weather and high winds, provided dead shade or heavy shade lies outside the garden plot.  Fruiting crops require more sun and heat than leafy crops.

Ideally the site should have ample exposure on the south to sunlight and a minimum of 8 hours of full sunlight for food crops to grow properly.  Take into consideration foggy and cloudy periods and seasons.  Usually it is not important whether rows run east-west or north-south.  Put tall crops to the north.  Access to the site by small trucks, carts, etc. is desirable and a source of year-round water close by is essential.  A good loam soil of good tilth is a blessing.  But if your site is rocky, very clayey, or sandy, or is too wet, or the topsoil too shallow, you may be way ahead to rise above it all by going to raised beds and bringing in good topsoil (hopefully weed-seed-free) or a quality garden soil mix.  Many problems are greatly reduced by going to raised beds and the ones made with cinder blocks surprisingly cost little more than a comparable amount of newly purchased one inch lumber for a bed of the same dimensions; plus, cinder block beds provide built-in seating as a bonus and last a lifetime.  Also consider putting up an 8 foot barrier fence against deer.  Effective natural deer repellants are available, but may not be suitable to use on food crops.

There are 6 growth factors a plant must have for proper growth and to supply the most nutritious and best-tasting edible parts.  These are:  adequate air (including below ground), water, sunshine, warmth, anchorage for the roots, and adequate nutrients.  The latter factor is the one you can do the most about to improve plant performance and production and to transform a mediocre food crop into a fantastic crop.  Remember these 6 factors, because if something is going wrong with your plants (other than slugs, deer, etc.), it has to be one of those 6 things (or possibly more than one) and that’s the one you focus on fixing.

What and How Much to Plant 

When planning what to grow and how much to plant, use restraint.  It’s best to do a small garden well rather than a big garden poorly.  The work can easily overwhelm your available time and your experience level.

Start by asking, what crops does the family eat and enjoy? Consider how often and how much of each crop the family would eat during the growing season and whether you will be able to can, dry or freeze a surplus and allot more space accordingly.  Try a few new crops, but don’t get carried away.  As you gain skill in dealing with all aspects of gardening you can expand the garden size and reap the extra rewards rather than reap frustration.  Remember, gardening is meant to be therapeutic, relaxing and fun.  Doing it right makes all the difference.

Think Backwards

Once you’ve determined when and how to harvest what you plan to grow, think from the end back to the beginning, starting with crop protection.  Your main protection from insect pests and diseases comes from resistance imparted by full soil nutrition.  However, research and consider what pests your crops are likely to encounter and what can be done early on to prevent or counter them or provide protective barriers such as row covers, cages, natural pesticides, etc.  Also, think of providing cloches for weather protection, shade screens if needed, bird nettings, deer deterrants or fencing and so on.                                                                                 


© 2011 Gary L. Kline

All Rights Reserved

Black Lake Organic Garden Store

4711 Black Lake Blvd. SW
Olympia, WA. 98512

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