General Garden Type
There are numerous garden types available and they each have their advantages.
Traditional tilled in ground gardens – Gardens in which you are going to dig into the ground and plant directly therein. For centuries this has been the most common garden type but not all situations are right for in ground, tilled gardening.
On ground no till gardening – This is a relatively new but very popular way to garden without plowing and breaking open existing land. Instead the area is denuded of as many weeds as feasible and external nutrient rich soil is laid down on the surface 8 to 10 inches deep, usually in rows but sometimes in mounds. This method is generally thought environmentally friendly as it leaves beneficial soil bacteria and beneficial insects relatively undisturbed.
Raised bed gardening – A long time alternative especially in areas in which tilling is difficult to accomplish or underground structures such as pipes or masonry are present or in which the soil is simply not suitable for growing and too expensive or impractical to amend. Raised beds also make gardening easier and more accessible for those that can not easily squat or bend. Most raised beds are constructed from wood or other safe materials with a permeable fabric weed block laid down in the bottom and then filled with soil. They are usually narrow and long so that the gardener can plant, feed, water, prune and harvest from either side without having to climb into the beds. Most are a minimum of a foot deep with many being as deep as 3 feet.
Container gardening – This is a very popular type of gardening again for folks without easy access to tilling the soil. It is the growing of crops in various containers. Container gardening has the advantage of often allowing the movement of the container and plant out of inclement weather or separating a diseased plant from healthy plants or moving a sun around to follow a limited path of direct sunlight.
Rooftop gardening – This is a type of gardening done in urban areas on underutilized, certified strong flat roofs. It can utilize raised beds if the weight of the soil mix isn’t too great and the difficulty of carrying soil to the roof isn’t too difficult. More often it is done in containers, Some people construct greenhouses on roofs, some use lightweight soil alternatives. which are a cross between soil gardening and hydroponics.
Hydroponics -Hydroponics is a subset of hydroculture, which is a method of growing plants without soil by instead using mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent. Terrestrial plants may be grown with only their roots exposed to the nutritious liquid, or the roots may be physically supported by an inert medium such as perlite or gravel.
INSERT QUESTIONNAIRE TO DETERMINE BEST TYPE OF GARDEN
It is difficult to say which comes first, laying out your garden or choosing what to plant. The two are intertwined. However you do need to know how much space you have available, the sun exposure, the soil conditions and the general shape and row or mound options before you can optimally choose your crops.
There are numerous issues to determine in your garden layout. They include:
Soil – If you are creating a tilled, in ground garden it is vital to know the ph of your soil and important to know the availability of nutrients in the soil before amendments are obtained. In much of the country the agricultural facilities at local universities with an agricultural program are ready, willing and able, for a modest fee (sometimes free) to test samples of your soil from various parts of your garden. Of course if you are making a raised bed then you are going to control the soil and amendments as you fill the bed. If you are container gardening you are likewise going to be adding soil before hand and if it comes from a commercial source then the nutrient info is likely to be on the bag. If it is from a non commercial site such as an excavation then the soil testing is just as, if not more important.
Once you determine the soil available to you you may contrast the available soil with crop needs and decide if you can make the soil appropriate for the crops you want.
Sun – The sun exposure of your garden is vital for your crop selection and even the very viability of gardening in that spot. Most edible crops require at least 6 to 8 hours of full sunlight a day on average. Therefore if areas of your garden do not give more than 6 hours a day of direct sunlight then you may need to adjust the selection of crops in those areas to lesser sunlight requiring crops or not plant or use that shaded section of your garden and instead use it for staging and potting and even giving relief to distressed plants needing a break from midsummer sun if your garden is in containers. There are sun calculator meters available for a few dollars that can measure the intensity of sunlight in your garden and the hours of sunlight at various spots at various intensities. You can also do your own low tech sun survey by careful observation and jotting down over a couple of days.
Drainage and water access – Whether your garden is well drained is vital to the crop selection and whether you can deliver water to it in periods of high sun and no rain is important as well. There are crops that do better in poorly drained areas than others but most require good drainage. If you have a standing water problem you my need to install French drains or plan on using raised beds to counteract standing water. It is also important that your crops aren’t subject to eaves drip from houses, apartments or other buildings as that kind of water often leeches harmful chemicals from the building materials over which it washes.
Drawing a diagram
A garden layout diagram may very well help you visualize better the totality of your garden and plan accordingly. There are numerous free or trial commercial garden diagram drawing online apps and some you can download. You can search for online garden diagram apps and find several. Some are free to try but you can’t save them and/or you can’t print them. Some are trial period limited. Some are expressly commercial and part of a total gardening application suite. All seem to be excellent.
However you may prefer a lower tech, more hands on diagram which you can later digitize by scanning, photographing or re-drawing on a commercial or DTP application. Let’s talk about that option.
MAKING A HAND DRAWN GARDEN DIAGRAM
1 – Measure your entire garden area. Then determine which areas get the most sunlight, which areas get some sunlight but are shaded part of the time and which areas are almost always in shade and measure those areas as well. You may want to invest in some thin dowels to help you mark off those areas for when you later start your drawing.
2 – Determine a scale for your drawing. Consider using an 8.5 x 11 inch piece of graph paper. That means that you need to figure out the ratio of feet to inches to fit the longest overall dimension of your garden onto 11 inches of graph paper. Then you need to see if the shorter dimension of your garden will fit into the 8.5 inch area of your graph paper. Here is a spreadsheet that may help you if you are, like me, not fond of the math. Enter the size of the piece (or pieces if you want to tape more than one piece of paper together). Then enter the total dimensions of your garden. The furthest right column will tell you if that scale will work with the various scales and the size of your garden and the paper size you have chosen. You will probably want the first scale in which the spreadsheet says “WORKS“….or you may want a little border room for your legend and take the next one or two downward.
Draw in your outside boundaries – Now once you have your scale you need to draw in your garden to that scale. Start with the outside borders. If you want to use the entire sheet for the largest view then you will probably want to put your legend on the back or on another sheet. Regardless be sure to make a notation as to the scal you have chosen. Something like SCALE = 1 inch = 4 feet. You are also going to note the dimensions on the drawn in borders and in numerous places such as between rows if you have an in ground, no till on ground, or raised bed garden or between containers if you have a container or hydroponic garden. Drawing to scale will help you preserve the needed space between plants and to plan how many plants can fit in your space. Your garden diagram may also help you determine your crop selection or at least tweak your crop selection.
Draw in your interior features – Now you need to start drawing in your interior features such as rows, paths, non-plantable areas. I suggest that you draw your rows in with a dotted line to indicate that they are arbitrary lines as guides rather than actual physical features that can not be altered.
Crop Selection is dependent in large part on the above stated conditions but it is also dependent on your climate andwhat you and/or your family or friends like to consume. Unless you have a way to trade your excess of a crop you lightly consume or can grow well in your specific conditions but don’t really like then you are going to probably want to plant a variety of crops and stagger their planting within the climate constraints of your area to provide a constant supply of fresh produce.
Climate – While dreaming and daring to grow the exotic is not bad it should be tempered with the realization that if you want a lot of yield and maybe enough fresh, delicious produce to impact your food budget then you need to be realistic in your crop selection as far as your climatic limitations. If you live in Minnesota you probably already know that you can’t grow oranges and pineapples (unless inside under artificial light). However you should also realistically not expect to grow mirlitons and okra. Although both are technically possible they require more warm weather and a longer growing season than you can provide to produce any substantial yield. If you live in Zone 10 in south Florida you may find that some cold weather crops simply don’t produce well in the extreme heat or obtain the flavor that characterizes them.
CROP PLANTING DATE CALCULATOR
You may enter the date you need your first yield, the time it is likely to need to germinate, grow to up pot status, mature to fruiting and then ripen and the date you need to plant will be calculated. There are a couple examples included. Please note that whatever you enter WILL NOT be saved for next time you view the page. You may download this spreadsheet for your own extended use if you like.
Yield vs logistics – If you want to make your garden return some of the money you spend in the way of edible produce then you may want to consider the best crops for limited area as far as the yield they can return.