Sunday, August 12, 2012

Get your Fall Garden Ready NOW: Part 1

Planting time is around the corner again!  That is all kinds of good news for me!  The process might seem kind of intimidating for someone that really wants to start growing something (anything), but is not entirely sure where to start.  Well, start here with me and I will tell you what to do first. 

The singular most important thing when starting a garden is having a plan.  Get some graph paper, sit down, draw out the size of your garden that you want, and think about it.  What does your family like to eat the most?  One of the biggest problems I face with a garden is that there are a lot of things that I LOVE to plants and watch grow, but that no one in my family will actually eat.  I end up giving away a lot of that to neighbors and friends.  Although that is a fantastic thing to do, it kind of defeats the purpose of a family garden.  So, think practical.  And don’t get carried away.  Another thing I tend to do is think too big.  I LOVE planting.  But will I have the time and energy to maintain everything it is that I have planted? 

There are two types of gardens that you might consider and both have advantages and disadvantages.  There are raised garden beds, and there are the kind that go straight into the ground.  Personally, I have chosen raised beds.  It is a bit easier to control weeds in a raised bed, but with the kind of soil that South Carolina has (either all sand or all clay- neither good), this at least gives us a better shot at getting good soil.  Also, a raised garden will raise the price of your first garden a little depending on the materials you decide to use.  A garden that is just in the ground, especially if it is a really big garden, is easier to access though in my opinion.  And the most convenient gardens are the ones that are more likely to get the attention that they need.  It is also cheaper.  Instead of having to make a trip to Lowe’s or Home Depot, you just have to rip the sod out of the ground.

A raised garden bed can be built with several different materials.  You can always use composite decking, landscaping timbers, or any type of edging.  Do your research into the edging and try to get something without chemicals as it can leach into your soil.  A good size to start with is a garden that is about four by eight feet in a raised bed.  You can make it six inches high, or you can go higher, but remember the higher it is, the more soil you will have to add which will bring up the cost. 

Initially, we started with an L shaped raised bed.  It was 16 by 16 feet, but only four feet wide.  We were able to get a significant amount of veggies out of that.  Every year we have expanded on the garden, and this past year we redid the edge and laid stepping stones down so that we could access every part of our 20 by 24 food garden conveniently. 

That is also another piece of advice I would like to impart.  If you are going to make a larger garden, make sure you can actually GET to everything you have planted.  Remember, once it is planted it will do A LOT of growing.  I am not joking when I saw a squash plant can get 6 feet wide on all sides.  And that is just one plant.  But you can get a lot of squash out of one plant in the right conditions. 

With a garden that is getting put directly into the ground, consider using stakes and string to mark the area you are using, then also make sure that any grass or living plant is pulled up completely.  Anything that is growing in addition to all those yummy vegetables will pull nutrients away from your veggies and in turn stunt the growth of the things you want to grow the biggest. 

Also, consider protection for your garden.  If you are doing this in a backyard that is generally free of visitors (small animals), then it may not be as much of a concern.  But there is NOTHING worse in this world, than having a freshly planted garden eaten by something without ever getting to see the fruits of your labors.  In the past, our chickens have totally decimated our garden.  This year it was the ducks.  Once, it was a bunny.  Now we have it totally surrounded by a fence with a gate on a spring.  All those green leafy seedlings just look TOO appetizing for furry or feathery little animals to resist.  And they will eat the whole thing overnight.  Or peck at the veggies right at the very moment that they become ripe enough to actually pick and eat. 

So, take all of this into consideration.  Really sit down and put some thought into this.  The most successful gardens are the ones that have the best plans. 

Remember, consider these things.
  • Space
  • Light
  • Protection
  • Use
  • Time needed for maintenance 
The vegetables that do the best in the fall are-

  • Acorn squash 
  • Broccoli
  • Butternut squash
  • Cauliflower
  • Carrots
  • Chard
  • Lettuce
  • Pumpkins
  • Spaghetti squash
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes
By the way, if you live in Columbia, South Carolina you are a planting zone 7B.  This is VERY important to know when trying to figure out when and what to plant.  Here is an extensive list to help you understand planting times.  Each plant is different, so check them out individually.   If you live outside of Columbia, South Carolina or just out of this area, you can find out your planting zone on this site also. 
I am going to break this blog down into several parts, because there is so much that goes into gardening.  Keep an eye out for the next part and then I will talk about companion planting, because some things grow VERY well together, and others will do terrible.  But if you know what that is, it just makes it that much easier to be successful.  

One last thing!  

Each state has an extension office that has LOADS and LOADS of good agricultural information that is not meant JUST for the farmer, but also for the home gardener.  South Carolina's extension office is found through Clemson University.  Here is their website.  At their offices, they will always have a Master Gardener that is trained in helping people with their gardening needs.  No question is insignificant.  Use them if you need it. 

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