Tips for a Great Garden Plan, Part 2
In Part 2 of this series, Tips for a Great Garden Plan, we’re going to dive deeper into what to grow, how many to plant, amending soil, and more!
In the last blog article, I assigned a little homework – deciding what you wanted to eat from/grow in your garden was one of them. So, hopefully you have that information. But if not, take a moment to pick a few of your favorite things.
Starting from Seed
If you’re growing from seed, you’ll have planting instructions on the back of the package. It might look something like this the image below.
These instructions printed on the back of these seed packets are based on planting seeds in beds that are in the ground, and are oriented to traditional farming – in other words, having rows of all the same crops like we talked about last time.
Regarding planting time, the most important things to see on there for these kinds of gardens is the seed planting depth and the spacing between seeds. This is very important for planting in long rows because it allows your plants the space they need to grow roots that will support the plant and also gather enough nutrients to put on the fruit you want to harvest.
I don’t want to be “normal”
But what if you don’t have, or want, a traditional farming setup? What if you want to have a mixed bed? All containers? A Square Foot Garden?
It’s ok. You can fudge these spacing numbers a little in raised beds and mix up your crops. In raised beds, for nutrient purposes we can amend the soil even more to make up for the various nutritional needs of the different plants we put in the raised beds and the increased uptake of nutrients because we are planting the crops closer than recommended, and we need for all the plants to have all the nutrients needed to flower and produce their fruit.
Starter plants are definitely easier than starting from seed, but starting from seed is really satisfying! I don’t find any fault with either method, but starter plants give you instant gratification, so, there’s that.
If you are starting with starter plants like the ones we sell, make sure you pick up a free Shell’s Garden Guide! On the back is a general guide to planting – the when, how far apart, etc – it’s all there! Our source of information is the University of Florida IFAS website, and there you can find their full gardening guide if you have more questions about care and best practices. I linked to that in my previous article, so make sure you check that out if you haven’t already!
Otherwise, planting starter plants is very similar in technique to planting seeds – spacing, alignment with the sun, nutrients – get those figured out and you’re good to go!
More things to Consider When Making Your Plan
- How will you get water to your plants?
If this is a difficult process, I promise, you won’t water as often as you need to, especially as it gets hotter later in Spring. And that will dash your dreams of farm to table in a matter of days. A little benign neglect is acceptable, however, if your garden bed requires lots and lots of lugging heavy buckets of water across the yard…trust me, you won’t want to torture yourself like that. A funny quote I saw about gardening attests to this: “Gardening starts at Day Break and ends at Back Break.” If you’re like me and can get lost in the garden, don’t make it any harder to be out there working than it absolutely has to be!
Consider putting a water “splitter” at the closest spigot and bury a hose a few inches under the ground that runs from the spigot to a good central point in your garden beds, and have the end of the hose pop up and hook to a sprinkler that will water the full area of your beds. You might have to elevate the sprinkler by attaching it to a post (wood or PVC works for this) to make it reach everything. If you’re really wanting to be inventive and industrious, from where your hose emerges from the ground, run micro irrigation or soaker hoses throughout your beds. This take a little bit of engineering, so do your research. My dad used soaker hoses and loved them. He put them on a timer so they would run even if he forgot.
- How much time do you have to dedicate to gardening? Do you have help?
If you are very very busy, don’t plant a lot. If you can only spare 5 minutes a day, a couple of Earthboxes are your best bet. If you have an hour a day and more on weekends, you can expand your garden and plant quite a bit because you’ll have the time to do what needs done – weeding, feeding, watering, pest management, etc. If you have help, that’s even better!
Take it a step further – have a weekly calendar of garden tasks, for instance Weeding Wednesday for pulling weeds, Feeding Friday for checking plant health and fertilizing if needed (for instance if they’ve just started flowering and/or fruiting). Things like inspection for pests and picking them off should be done every day, and if treatment is needed, do it right away. Watering can and should be a daily task (unless you are growing in an Earthbox, then you probably can go a day or two without watering – depends on how hot it is and what you have planted, so check at least!). Eventually, harvesting will be a daily thing too – bed you can’t wait for that!
Weekends are for larger projects – spreading mulch, structure building, or pest treatments for large areas that take time. During the week should be spot treatments, but if you know you need to treat the whole garden for something, do that when you’re not in a hurry so you can be thorough.
How Much Should I Water?
What’s a good watering rate? Well, that depends on a lot of factors. From UF IFAS Vegetable Garden Guide: “Vegetables cannot tolerate standing water from excessive
rainfall or irrigation. At the same time, vegetables need
soil moisture to grow and produce. Frequency of irrigation
depends upon the age of the crop and your soil type.
Young plants need frequent but light irrigation; maturing
crops need more water but less often. Sandy soils demand
more frequent irrigation than clay, muck, or amended
soils. Conserve water by using mulch, organic matter, and
techniques such as drip irrigation. Make a slight depression
at the base of plants to hold water until absorbed by the soil.
So, as an example, early in the season right after planting, 1/10th of an inch daily might be good. As it gets hotter, watch for your plants to droop. They might need a good daily inch of watering, or maybe every other day. If you watch them closely, they will tell you! Make sure you water early in the morning so the leaves have time to dry before the evening, when fungus proliferates the most. Mulching your garden beds will help keep water from evaporating in the heat of the day and will keep the soil cooler. You’ll especially want to watch for plant droop in the hot afternoons.
Let’s Talk Soil
Our Florida Native soil is very sandy, which is great for our native plant species – they love it! Wonderful crops like Seminole Pumpkins, Everglades Tomatoes, Cranberry Hibiscus (pictured here), etc., all do really well just in the soil we have. You’ll want to give the ground around them some organic matter to chew on, like it would be where they naturally grow.
Normally, though, we’re planting things that are not native, which require more than what we have in our soil naturally. So, we have to make our soil more than it is with amendments. What are some of these amendments? I’m glad you asked, because you’ll need to plan for them. Here’s some common ones:
Fertilizers are the most commonly used way to amend the soil. These consist of granules or liquid ready-to-use nutrients that are immediately available to the plants through the foliage, or the roots, or both. They are easy to apply, and with that, they also can wash away quickly. Many folks use time-released fertilizers that degrade slowly and provide a steady supply of nutrients over time. Organic fertilizers are also available, so if that is your aim, search them out – there are some good ones out there (see Shell’s 3-3-3 Organic Fertilizer…it’s really awesome!! Mr. Shell formulated it just for Florida soils.).
Compost is partially-degraded vegetable material like leaves, sticks, veggies, paper, etc. When this is added to the soil, it continues to break down and provides nutrients to the plants as it does so. Built up over time, compost makes the soil very rich and dark. You can also make a “compost tea” to water your plants with for a quick natural boost of nutrients. There are lots of articles on the internet about composting and compost tea. A great local resource is the Pinellas Community Composting Alliance – they have lots of information about composting. Pinellas County has a very composting-friendly municipal government, even their Department of Solid Waste is on board! Hillsborough doesn’t have any official policy, however, there is a Composting workshop that is held periodically by the Hillsborough County Extension Office of the UF IFAS program, so check that out as a way to get started. Here is an article from the UF IFAS Blog as well (written by the PCCA too!).
Worm castings are “worm poop” – it is the byproduct of their feeding process. If you naturally have earthworms in your soil, that’s great! You can attract more of them (or provide them a great place to breed) by mulching with leaves, coffee grounds, shredded newspaper, and other vegetable matter. Have you ever heard of Vermiculture? You can grow your own worms and collect their castings and make a nourishing “tea” from their waste using this technique. I previously wrote some articles about it here and here if you’d like to learn more. We sell worm castings, a big bag is about $13. During growing season we also have compost worms available when our grower brings them, so call us and ask if we have them in stock!
“Lasagne gardening” is a layering technique of putting a bunch of compostable materials on the top of your soil and planting in it. As it breaks down, and with repeated applications each planting season, you get a good solid layer of rich soil full of organic material and solid populations of beneficial soil microbes. No digging!!
It really is concentrated applied and active composting.
There are books written about this technique, just look around the ‘net, you’ll find them. If not, let me know, I’ll dig out my book and give you the info for it.
Keeping a Garden Journal
It’s good practice to keep a garden journal – write down what you planted, and then as the days go forward write down what chores you did and anything you observed, as well as anything applied to the garden, pests you found, and what you did about them. Keeping this information to look back on is very helpful! Plus it will keep you from planting the same plants in the same beds over and over again and depleting the soil.
It doesn’t have to be fancy, and there’s lot of free ones to print out from online. I am in the process of designing a downloadable for you, so if you are a journal keeper, send me suggestions of what you’d like to see in a garden journal that you can print out for yourself!
Planting by Groups
Often called companion planting, it’s something to consider. For example, I am planning a 3 Sisters garden bed this year (see the photo of my plan at the end of this article). The 3 Sisters are Corn, Beans, and Squash. This is a method of companion planting that is very beneficial to these three kinds of plants, and has been used and passed down from Native American growing traditions. Corn stalks can be used to support beans (I’m using bush variety, but if you use pole beans, the corn makes a great “trellis” for them!). The beans fix nitrogen in the soil which increases availability for all three, and the squash makes a natural ground cover with their big leaves, keeping the soil shaded, cooler, and helps eliminate some of the water evaporation from the hot sun (and raccoons don’t like the fuzzy squash leaves, so bonus there!). Here’s a fun article from our friends at the Old Farmer’s Almanac about it.
There are a lot of companions plants that work well together – I like the book Carrots Love Tomatoes as a guide. I’ve had a copy for so long it fell apart and I had to get a new one! I think the author has revised the book and added some things since I last purchased it, so check out the latest publishing of it! There are also other references for you on the internet, just look up Companion Planting for ideas.
Some Plants Don’t Play Well Together – Be Aware
Then there are some plants that don’t play well with others, those are also listed in this handy book!
Onions, for example, need their own beds or containers because they tend to stunt the growth of other plants.
And Nightshades like Tomatoes, Peppers, Potatoes, and Eggplant, for example, are all susceptible to the same diseases, so it’s not advised to plant them close together because if one gets infected, they will all be compromised.
If you don’t have Carrots Love Tomatoes, that’s ok, you can look up articles on what to not plant together and you’ll find lots of information. I’m sure it will be a topic for my blog at some point!
I’ll Show You Mine
Here is a pic of my garden plan for this Spring. It is a work-in-progress (do you ever really finish?). This is one of quite a few drawings because I change my mind a lot. Things that are important to note are:
- Knowing how your garden is oriented in relation to the sun. I drew the Compass Rose on the diagram so that I could remember.
- Relative orientations and sizes of the beds – you need to know where they are in relation to the others and their measurements (which are not shown here…I will add them later today!).
- Note new things you’re planting – for me, Corn is new – because in small quantities like this, they need to be hand-pollinated, so that is a special project I will have to do when the tassels and silks are ready!! Kind of excited about trying that – I just hope I don’t miss the window!
- Special notes for things that I need to remember are included – see the upper right of the image.
- Number the larger beds so that you can refer to them easily in notes.
- I noted some maintenance projects that I need to do in orange ink.
My special notes say:
“Separate squash & zucchini to help minimize cross-pollination.”
“Tall crops at North end of the beds” (this keeps tall crops from shading shorter ones, the sun passes over east to west, and where I am the sun is slightly to the south of direct, even in the summer).
“Radishes and Marigolds are planted throughout beds 1 and 2, marigolds included in the wildflower bed too.”
Now It’s Your Turn!
Alright, so I’ve given you a lot of information in these two articles! now, I want you to apply it and create a garden plan for yourself! I’m here if you have questions, and I’d like to see your plans, so send me pictures!!
Here’s something to keep in mind: “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” –Zig Ziglar