Monday, March 11, 2013

Getting The Garden Ready!!

With spring just around the corner and a beautiful weekend just behind us I felt the urge to spend every last second I could outside.  I opened up all the windows in the house and enjoyed the fresh breeze that blew through each room.  It is as if spring cleaning begins for me with an airing out of the winter mustiness that seems to slowly consume a house over the colder months.

It was amazing.

I even had to restrain myself from going to the hardware store to get all the soil and makings of my spring and summer garden!

A friend of mine recently asked me to give some tips on planting her own garden so here are some of the things I have learned over the years:

1) Planning is a must!

Don't got to the nursery with a general idea of what you want to plant.  It is important to know in advance since this will dictate the gardens placement and how many beds you will be planting.

Certain things simply grow better next to each other while some plants get bigger than you could even imagine thus taking over more space, and in some cases, covering up smaller plants.  For example, tomatoes and basil grow beautifully next to each other.  I have even been told that the tomatoes will be sweeter if they are planted next to basil.

Never grow smaller herbs like thyme or oregano next to squash or zucchini....for that matter, I wouldn't grow much next to squash or zucchini simply because those plants get so large they tend to take over the rest of the bed.

What I typically do is have one bed for my squashes, another for my peppers, another for my tomatoes which is where I also set up the lattice for my cucumbers and snap peas, and then finally a bed for my herbs.  If you wanted to you could combine the tomatoes and peppers as they don't seem to have a problem being next to each other.

I find that it is best to lay out the plants you want to grow and then do a little research on their need for sunlight and how big the plant will get.  Certainly plants such as cucumbers and tomatoes like a lot of sunlight while such things as arugula and other leafy greens will burn up if they are in direct sunlight all of the time.

2) Timing is everything

Here in middle Tennessee you want to wait to plant your garden until at least April 15th as we typically will have at least one more freeze between now and then.  My mother says it is something about dogwood winters or blackberry winter or something.....all I know is you don't want to be out there with sheets covering your garden in 30 degree weather because you planted too early.

Young plants and seedlings are extremely sensitive to frost and will die quickly if they get too cold which means you will have to replant everything which is expensive and no fun for anyone!

3) Only plant what you will use

I have spent countless summers playing in a garden full of some things I will never use.  For example, one year I planted sevia and though I had grand plans of what I would do with this natural sweetener I never once did anything with it.  I have found that the herbs I use most, and that do extremely well, especially when planted in the ground, are thyme, oregano, rosemary, basil, cilantro, parsley, chives and mint.  I typically plant the mint in a pot though as it is in factThose are the ones I consistently use and the ones that, with the right care and watering, will absolutely flourish in a spring and summer garden.

The same can be said with the vegetables.  I have found that the plants I will gain the most bounty from are cucumbers (sweet heavenly days one of these plants will leave you with an armful of cukes so don't feel like you need to plant five of these to get a good return....not that I did that once and ended up with 42 cucumbers when I returned from vacation), tomatoes (obviously!), summer squash, zucchini, snap peas, peppers (of all different shapes and sizes though the red bell peppers take the longest to ripen - I suggest green bell peppers, banana peppers, jalapenos and any other hot small pepper), and lettuces (I prefer to plant a mixed green "gourmet blend" of seeds along with some arugula because I am obsessed!).

4) How to Build/Plant Your Garden?

The first time I built my own above ground garden, which I find to be the best/easiest way to build a backyard garden, I started with the theory of "Square-Foot Gardening" which I have found quite efficient!  I have found that actually square beds, as opposed to rectangles, are easier to manage as you can pull weeds from all sides and not have to climb in the middle.

Here is a very brief synopsis of how I build my garden:

First I buy the wood, nails, rebar, netting, poles and brackets that I will need for the beds and the lattice which will be needed for the cucumbers and snap peas.  All of this is explained in the square foot gardening book but if you have specific questions please don't hesitate to ask!

Don't be afraid to ask the kind folks at the hardware store either about the supplies you will need.  They are all familiar with raised beds and can be a wealth of knowledge when trying to determine all that you will need in the supply department!

Second I lay out all the supplies in the space where I want to build the garden making sure it is exactly where it should be based on the amount of sun and shade each plant requires.

Third, I build the beds....seems obvious but it is an important step!  One step I have found most helpful at this point is to lay newspaper in the bottom of each bed and wet it with the hose.  This will keep natural weeds from the ground coming up into your bed.

Fourth, I fill each bed with gardening soil.  I have tried Mel's Mix and though it is a wonderful mix and the soil is the foundation of a garden I have found that the same results will come from using the gardening soil you can get at Lowe's or Home Depot.

Finally I divide each bed into the squares by measuring a foot on each wooden border, tapping a nail in and then tying twine to make a grid similar to the image below:


With this layout I can make sure that each plant has enough room and are equally spread out among the bed.

Here is a picture of the first above ground gardens I built.  They were rectangular and did fine but in the future I will be making all of mine square as that seems to be much more manageable!

Last but not least, it is time to get the plants in the soil!

5) Plant Marigolds Around Your Beds!

Rumor has it these lovely little flowers will keep the bugs out of your garden.  Also, if you find that you are having problems with rodents in your beds either plant a few cloves of garlic throughout your bed or sprinkle garlic powder or red pepper flakes in the bed and this usually helps take care of that problem!


I am the worlds worst at watering plants unless I am on a strict schedule so a few years ago I finally invested in a timer for the hose so that each morning my garden would get the water it needed whether I remembered or not.  I usually have the sprinkler run for 15-30 minutes depending on the heat that time of year and in the dogs days of summer I run it twice, once in the early morning and then again around 4:00 in the afternoon so that the plants don't completely burn up!

There are many different theories as to when is the best time of day to water your garden but my family for generations has always held firm to the belief that first thing in the morning (and I mean between 5-6 a.m.) is the best time to have your garden watered.  This allows the water to get into the soil before the heat of the day burns it off.  If a garden is watered at night you run the risk of root rot from the moisture sitting on the root system before the sun has a chance to evaporate any excess moisture.

I hope this has been helpful but if there are any specific questions you have please don't hesitate to leave them in the comments section and I promise to research and reply!  I guarantee you that if you have a question then someone else is thinking the same thing and I am sure I have left something important out in this brief description!
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  1. Ruth - my yard is waiting for you to come plant a garden :)

  2. Ruthie you are inspiring me! I really want to do this and this may be just the advice I need! Got to get to work!