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Locating, planning and preparing your garden

Article by: Ted Rosen  |  Picture by: Ted Rosen
Locating, planning and preparing your garden
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This article takes you through the steps from where to locate your garden, how to make a planting map and figure out your seed and plant requirements, where to locate what crop and how to get your soil ready for planting.

Remember, you do not need land to grow your own food. Sunny patios, balconies and terraces offer opportunities for container gardening and equal opportunities for bumper harvests!

Select a sunny, dry location
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For your garden, pick a spot that has the most sun exposure, is protected from wind and has the best drainage (no spots where water pools). Vegetables and small fruits need at least 6, preferably 8 to 10 hours of sun in a level area with loose, well-drained soil. Places that are shaded by a wall or a tree are not suitable.

When picking your spot, have a plan how you will water your garden. Easy access to water, such as a hose, makes gardening chores easier.

Also take into consideration potential hazards. For example, if your neighbour has an immaculate lawn free of weeds, that might be an indicator of the use of pesticide and herbicide spraying. In that case, you would want your garden as far away from the property line as possible. A major benefit of growing your own vegetables and small fruits is that you guarantee that they are organic and totally free of unhealthy pesticides and herbicides.
Talk to your neighbours!
Ask your neighbours how they located their gardens. Your gardening neighbours are bound to have many helpful gardening tips.
Make a planting map
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Measure the space available for your garden. If you have a lot of space and are having doubts about the size, start small and expand as you get more experience. Remember to plan for access spaces and walkways for weeding and harvesting. You may need a fence against dogs, cats, rabbits or other animals.
Draw a map showing the location of your crops. Arrange your crops by crop family and height. You do not want your tomatoes shading your herbs. Tall plants and trellises should be on the north side. Perennial crops (i.e. rhubarb, small fruits) should be planted to the sides, so they will not interfere with annual tilling.
When allocating space for different crops, take into consideration that each plant will grow. Small seeds turn into large plants, so allow space for you to access the mature plant. Picking tomatoes, for example, requires hand and knee access. See the individual articles about crops for information about spacing and mature plant size.
Use a different colour pencil for each crop family to colour your planting map. Using the same colour code each year will help you keep track of your crop rotation.
Crop families
There are about a dozen crop families. You should only plant from the same family once every two years in the same spot.
Calculate yields
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To calculate how much to plant, make an estimate of your family's produce and fruit needs. Distinguish between crops that need to be eaten fresh in small amounts but can be seeded consecutively throughout the season (i.e. lettuce) and crops that can be preserved or frozen (i.e. tomatoes, berries).
Your yield will also vary depending on that year's weather conditions (sunlight, moisture, etc). Remember: when harvest time arrives, you have to be ready to pick, refrigerate and process your harvest on the spot and quickly.
Not all varieties yield the same
Select your plants carefully - a 'cherry tomato' plant has a different yield than a 'beefsteak tomato', so take the different yields into consideration.
Keep a garden diary
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Keep notes in a diary or calendar about what you plant, when you start seeds, plant, fertilise, and any unusual events (insect attacks, excessive rain or drought, late frost). Note down harvest dates and yields. Save your garden diary and annual planting maps; they will be handy to help you select seeds/plants and figure out crop rotation in subsequent years.
Be sure to write down the specific seed and plant varieties that do well in your garden or save the packages, so you can buy them again. It is difficult to remember the different varieties from year to year.
Preparing the soil
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1. First you have to prepare your soil. With your pick and shovel remove any covering layer of turf, grass, weeds (don't forget to dig out the roots!). Also remove large rocks and rubbish. You might need to use a pick to break up the soil.

Once the soil is loosened begin at one end of your garden and dig a channel across the width or length of your garden to the depth of two shovels. When you reach the far border, start a second channel immediately next to the one you just completed tossing this soil into the first channel. Repeat the process of digging a channel and backfilling the previous channel across your garden. Because you are taking two shovelfuls from the same spot, this process is called 'double digging'. As you turn over the garden soil you may incorporate soil amendments such as peat moss, compost and similar organic matter.
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As a final step of soil preparation, rake the garden smooth and level.
See the article on soil, fertiliser, mulch and crop rotation. Consult with your local nurseries or other gardeners about your soil conditions and soil type.
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