How to Plan a Garden – the basics

How to Plan a Garden – the basics

How to plan a garden – getting started

When I first started to garden, I went about it very haphazardly. I’d sow things here, there, and everywhere and did not pay much attention to what it said on the seed packages.

That’s how you learn – or rather, that is how I learned. I hope you are smarter than that!
Plants have likes and dislikes and different nutritional needs. Some like it cool, others hot, some don’t really care. Some are fussy, and some are persistent – they are all different, and it makes sense to get to know them. So, now I spend a lot more time thinking about the garden, and its needs, as well as mine.

Here are some things to consider:

Climate or Microclimate?

Before you plant anything, try to really understand your garden.

Do you know your growing zone? Or, do you live in a microclimate with weather patterns that don’t match the hardiness index? How much rainfall do you get? Which are the driest months? Have you traced the path of the sun through your garden at different times of the year? Do you know the sunniest and the coldest spots?

Growing zones

You can find out about your local growing zone with a simple google search. Due to climate change, such zoning is no longer completely reliable. Talk to the farmers or neighbours and listen to their observations.

I made my first plot in a south-facing spot, but later realized it was actually the coldest part of the garden. It lies lower than the rest of the garden and forms a dip where all the cold air collects.
Climate change has shortened our winters and made them milder. But we often get a late frost, even if the weather had been warm and spring-like for weeks.

Soil

Do you know what kind of soil you have? What is the pH level? Is it loamy or does it drain freely?
Plants don’t like wet feet. If you want to grow nutritious vegetables, concentrate on optimizing the soil. That alone will have a huge impact on your harvest.

Once you know your basic perimeters, it is time to choose your seeds. Part of the excitement of growing your own food is that you can experiment with unusual varieties. But always make sure, your local conditions match their requirements.

Friends or Foe

Certain species don’t like to grow next to each other, while others are friends. If you take the time to pay attention to their preferences, you will end up with a much happier garden. (I will write a separate post about this topic).

Getting the most out of the available space

Some plants mature quickly, while others take a long time to grow. But you can make the most out of your limited space by using a technique called ‘intercropping’.

Intercropping simply means sowing fast-growing crops like radishes among rows of slow-growing veggies.

 

 

Also see Gardening Jobs for January

 

Gardening Jobs in December

Gardening Jobs in December

Gardening Jobs in December

It’s December, and gardeners are longing for spring! The garden has gone into hibernation, and there isn’t that much going on out there. Or so it seems.

But wait, there is always something to do!

 

Sowing

Yes, in the midst of winter, you can do some sowing: if you live in a comparatively mild climate zone, you can sow broad beans outdoors – or under cover, if weather conditions are harsher.
Frost hardy lettuces, such as lambs lettuce and Asian salad mixes, are also good winter crops.

You can get a head-start on some long season crops like chillies or aubergines. But you might need a grow-lamp to ensure they are getting enough light.

December is the perfect time to start onions from seed. Sow them indoors to give them a nice head start.

If you have a tunnel or greenhouse, you can start garlic in trays to plant out later.

 

Harvest

Harvest your winter veggies now. Leeks and Brussels sprouts are ready now.

Any young Brassicas you might have outside are at risk to be eaten by hungry birds. Cover them with netting and remove any yellow leaves to prevent mildew and other fungal diseases.

 

Trees and Bushes

 

Pruning

Prune apple and pear trees, and berry bushes, such as Black Current, Red Currents, White currents and Gooseberries.

 

Planting

Winter is the best time to plant bare-root trees and bushes. Think of the wildlife when you make your choice! Hawthorn, Rowan, Hazel, Elder, and Guilder Rose provide food for hungry birds.

Speaking of Wildlife…

Many animals are hibernating. They might be sleeping right under a pile of leaves or under the compost heap, so don’t disturb them until spring.

The birds are hungry all through the winter. Keep the bird feeders topped up and put out some water – they still need to drink!

Prepare for spring by building nest boxes and insect hotels.

 

Planning

Winter is dream time. Think of the summer to come and what you would like to harvest next year. Planning the garden early means you can sow and plant much more efficiently and harvest all year long.

Gardening Jobs in November

Gardening Jobs in November

What gardening jobs are there to do in November?

By the beginning of November, the gardening season is coming to a close. The leaves are coming off the trees, flowers have long gone, and everything seems to be going into hibernation.

But that does not mean that there is nothing left to do in the garden!

 

Planting

Late fall is the time to plant bulbs for spring flowers. You will be delighted when the first dots of colour appear in the spring, and the bees will love you for a welcome source of nectar early in the year. It is also time to plant perennials, shrubs and naked-root fruit trees.

 

Sowing

As for veggies, it’s now or never for planting garlic, shallots, and onion sets, before it gets too cold.

You can also still sow some hardy crops, but make sure to select winter-hardy varieties!

Of course, your climate zone determines what you can grow. So, check your growing zone, and use your own judgement – you know your micro-climate best!

In growing zone 7/8, likely candidates are salad greens, Asian mustards, and maybe even radishes.

Broad beans and peas, as well as hardy spring onions, are also good contenders.

The most impatient gardeners even start sowing certain long season crops like chillies at this time. But, that is only recommended if you have the space on a warm windowsill or in a frost-free greenhouse.

If you are not growing anything during the winter, treat your empty beds to a crop of green manure. These can be cut and dug under in the spring, to replenish the nutrients in the soil.

Harvest

If you have followed a well-spaced growing plan, you will still have fresh vegetables to harvest. Cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, celeriac and carrots are still in season. Leek and kale will soon be ready.

Don’t forget to cover the Brassicas to protect them from hungry mice and birds!

 

Tidying up

Traditionally, gardeners get their scissors out and start snipping off the dead foliage and wilted bloom once summer is over. But, if you value the wildlife in your garden, don’t do it! This apparently dead foliage is where the caterpillars attach themselves and spin themselves into a chrysalis to over-winter and transform into butterflies.

And, some of those dead stalks still have a cache of seeds that the birds will appreciate.

But, do rake up the leaves and compost them, or use them as mulch on your beds. They provide excellent nutrients to nourish your plants next year.

 

Cutting back

Cut the dead canes of autumn fruiting raspberries and dead or old branches of black currents and similar berry bushes.

 

Grafting

If you have trees that need grafting, now is the time to take hardwood cuttings so you can graft the trees early in the coming season. The cuttings must be over-wintered in a cool, dark place (fridge or cold basement) to keep the buds dormant until you are ready to use them.

 

Wildlife

It is now getting more difficult for the animals to find enough food to get them through the winter – especially for the birds. Fill your feeders with seeds and nuts or, make some fat-based seed cake

And, don’t forget, birds and hedgehogs that are not yet hibernating also still require fresh, clean water.

Gardening Jobs in October

Gardening Jobs in October

Gardening Jobs in October

The summer is over, and the garden is beginning to wind down. But there are still quite a lot of gardening jobs left to do in October.

 

Harvesting

To begin with, you are probably still harvesting the last of your summer crops. Pumpkins, courgettes, potatoes and late runner beans, beetroots, carrots, and broccoli are still in season.

Any tomatoes that did not turn red yet don’t have to go to waste. Bring them inside and place them into a bowl with an apple or two. Cover them with a towel, and they will soon ripen.

 

Sowing & planting

A cold frame is a perfect place to give your peas and winter hardy broad beans an early start. Asian salad mixes and spinach make excellent winter crops that will bring an extra dash of fresh green to the dinner table.

To rejuvenate mature perennials, especially spring-flowering ones, October/November is the time to divide their roots and replant these to propagate more plants.

 

Plant spring bulbs

Nothing announces the approach of spring more beautifully than watching early spring flowers emerge. Daffodils, hyacinth, alliums, tulips and crocus are great for spreading some spring cheer. These heralds of spring have bulbs, which can be planted now, ready to bloom in the spring.

 

Protect sensitive plants

Bring frost-sensitive plants inside now. Some plants are not easy to overwinter indoors, as it is often too warm for them. A frost-free place that gets some sun is best.

Plants that overwinter outside appreciate a thick layer of leaf mulch.

 

Improving the soil

Now the vegetable beds are pretty much empty, seize the opportunity to feed the soil. Spread a good layer of well-rotted manure on top – you don’t even have to dig it in. The worms and micro-organisms will do that job for you. Or, you can sow a green manure crop such as clover that fixes nitrogen in the soil.

 

Gardening for wildlife

The wildlife is beginning to prepare for winter. Those that hibernate are looking for a cosy, warm spot for the dark season. But before they go to sleep, they are also looking for food to assimilate some reserves that will sustain them.

Gardeners are often a bit obsessed with making their gardens look neat. But the wildlife does not appreciate those efforts. The little critters would prefer if the windfall fruits were left on the ground and the dead stalks of the perennials, many of which still offer plenty of seeds, would be left standing.

You can help wildlife by creating suitable habitats for them by not being overly tidy. Insects, amphibians and small animals such as hedgehogs appreciate wood piles constructed of different kinds of logs and twigs with plenty of nooks where they can find shelter.

Birds don’t hibernate. To survive the winter, they need a high-fat diet. See how you can make a simple birdseed feeder.

Gardening Jobs in September

Gardening Jobs in September

Summer is coming to an end, but that does not mean the end of the gardening season. Quite the opposite! It is time to harvest the fruits of your labour! Zucchinis, pumpkins, tomatoes, beans, potatoes and chillies – there is a glut of veggies to harvest now. Often, far more than anyone can eat. To make the most of the harvest, preserve it now for the lean times ahead.
Check out how to preserve the harvest 

Extending the season

If you want to extend the season to still harvest some fresh veggies until at least the early part of the winter, you should now sow some winter crops.

Salad ingredients

It’s such a wonderful thing to be able to harvest fresh greens even as nature is winding down and retreating for her winter sleep. You can now sow Miner’s lettuce, Lamb’s Lettuce, Asia salad mix, and cress, and radishes.

Veggies for overwintering

Some veggies also appreciate the early start and can continue to grow through the winter.
Spinach, winter peas, broad beans, winter carrots, and if you live in a mild climate, Swiss chard, can all be sown now. But check the varieties – there are always early and late ones and ones that are winter hardy. That is what you want to sow now. You can also plant onion sets now. They will be ready to harvest in July.

In situ or under glass

If you don’t yet have enough space in your plots, you can start the winter crops indoors or in the cold frame.

Propagating

Now is also the time to take cuttings, so you can propagate your perennials and bushes. Take cuttings from this year’s growth that have not become woody yet. They work best if dipped in rooting hormones before planting them into pots. Mix the soil with perlite or similar to improve the drainage.


Happy gardening!



Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

What Gardening Jobs are there to do in August?

What Gardening Jobs are there to do in August?

August is a fabulous time for all gardeners! The explosion of colour, scent and texture is a fiesta for the senses. But above all, allotment gardeners love this time of the year. Harvest is finally here. Finally, all the hard work from the spring is paying off.

 

Harvesting

Just what you will harvest now depends on what you sowed earlier. I tried to grow carrots this year (again). Alas, to no avail. I don’t know what it is about me and carrots, but I have never managed to grow them – except a stray one that is volunteering among the Basil, in one of my balcony planters. If you had better luck, you are probably feasting on them right now.

Fortunately, my other crops are doing fine. There are runner beans and courgettes to pick, almost daily. Peas are over, but the tomatoes are now kicking in.

Perhaps you are picking cucumbers and early potatoes, as well as onions and shallots. The beetroots are swelling here, but yours might be ready to pick. Spinach is now past its best, but Swiss chard picks up the slack. I love the colourful varieties best, although they all make excellent and versatile summer greens.

 

Sowing winter vegetables

You might find that picking and processing all those fantastic summer veggies is enough of a job, and nothing could be further from your mind than winter’s approach. But, beware, it’s August, and before long, summer will be over. So, now is the time to start thinking about late crops and veggies you would like to overwinter.

In milder climates, it is well possible to extend the season to the end of October. The cabbages are particularly hardy. If you started some earlier, you can now plant them out into their permanent positions. You can even still sow some: kohlrabi or turnip and some spring cabbages (check your seed package). Cabbages are particularly popular with bugs and caterpillars, so you might want to protect young seedlings with a fine-meshed cloth. Plant the seedlings out once they have developed 5-6 true leaves. Remember that they will grow big, so give them plenty of space. They also need a sunny spot and do best in a bed that had a different crop in it the previous year (no brassicas!)

I have not had much luck with cabbages. The caterpillars and whiteflies always get the better of them. I prefer growing Asian salad greens, which are easy, prolific and not as vulnerable to bugs. They are hardy, too. Alternatively, spinach and corn salad will also provide welcome winter greens when little else is available.

 

Salad ingredients

Some fast-maturing crops can also now be sown again, such as Rocket, Mustard greens, and Radishes. Spring onions can also be sown in late August, but won’t be ready to pick until the following spring.

 

Watering

Make sure you water regularly and deeply. A little sprinkle does not reach the deeper roots. Instead, it encourages superficial root growth close to the surface. Mulch well to keep the moisture in the soil. Feed with compost or diluted liquid manure.

 

Wildlife

Don’t deadhead all the flowers just yet. The birds are looking for food! They also appreciate a source of clean water for a drink or a bath. The hedgehogs will make use of it, too. Bushes with berries, such as Cotoneaster or Hawthorn, are popular bird food. Starlings and blackbirds just love them!

For ideas as to how to preserve your harvest, check out:  Preserving the harvest 1

or if you prefer a more spirited way to make the most of excess fruits and such:  Preserving the harvest 2

 

Check out SeedsNow for your organic gardening supplies!

 

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

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