I’ve had several clients and new students ask about garden soil. It seems many folks that have tried to garden have wanted to quit because their garden didn’t do well. Most times it turns out it was their soil that was at issue.
Soil is the foundation of our garden and can grow our plants for us. I have put together a 5 Day Free email course on soil, so you can transform your understanding of good garden soil, to begin to transform your garden.
For Step 1: it is important to take time to document your garden vision, what goals you have, and your garden as you have dreamed it. Many folks don’t take the time to document this, so their dream garden becomes a vaporous ‘some day’ vague memory, vs actualizing the manifestation of their dream.
Step 2: Observation & Assessment
To avoid making a mistake on the type, size and location of the garden you put in, take some time to observe your space, light, water and other resources as well as your time. This way you can be sure the garden you put in not only is in the best place, but also fits into your lifestyle, and that is where Step 2, Observation & Assessment comes in. This is a critical step to be sure you get a garden that will work for you, and hence move you along that success pathway.
Step 3: Building Healthy Living Soil
Healthy living soil is the foundation of any garden, so building soil that will support your garden and grow plants for you is Step 3. You probably know that chemical pesticides and fertilizers kill your soil, but did you know that tilling does too? Tilling allows the carbon in your soil to be released into the atmosphere thereby depleting your soil of it. This is why commercial conventional growers add fertilizers, because they have, by their actions, depleted it from their soil. The soil becomes nothing more than an anchor for the plants, but it is the life in the soil, that grows healthy lively plants.
Step 4: Choosing Quality Plants & Seeds
Step 4 is choosing quality plants and seeds for your garden. Learn clues for buying plants, such as purchasing those with a USDA Organic tag or from small local growers you know are chemical free. Checking in on seed companies to be sure they have signed the Safe Seed Pledge, thereby committing to only offering non-GMO seeds, and belonging to organizations committed to organic growing and sustainable biodiverse practices.
Step 5: Garden Layout & Planting
Then, in the last step, it is time to layout where plants will go in our gardens and do our seeding and transplanting. Once you have done the other four steps, you can be confident that the garden you have built is the right one for you so those young plants and seedlings have the best chance of providing you the yummy home grown produce you desire.
Make the most of your garden space by mixing flowers and herbs with your annual vegetables.
Pairing the right plants together, those that gardeners have observed grow well together, allows plants to do some of your garden work for you. This accomplishes several functions as we can see…
One classic example showing some ways plants work together is the native American corn/beans/squash combination:
Poll beans climb up the corn stalk, so the corn is the support, or trellis, for the bean. So the corn just saved you from building a pole bean trellis. The bean is a member of the legume family of plants. This plant family are what are called ‘nitrogen fixers’, which means they capture nitrogen and store it in nodules on their roots, making it available for other plants to take it in. Corn is a heavy nitrogen feeder, so in exchange for the support the corn gives the beans, the beans feed the corn. The beans just saved you from having to add something to feed your corn. The squash plants wind all around the base of the corn and beans, providing them shade cover to keep moisture in the soil longer for all of them. The squash just saved you from watering as much or putting down mulch to hold moisture in the soil. A couple nice additions to this already cool combo are:
Sunflowers in the mix to also support beans and provide seeds for humans and birds.
Nasturtiums attract a ‘beneficial bug’ called hoverflies. Beneficial bugs are so named because they prey on other bugs that like to eat your food, although, in a diverse ecosystem, all bugs are beneficial to maintain balance. Hoverflies like to eat bugs like aphids and thrips. Nasturtiums repel loads of critters who want to eat your crops including: cabbage loppers, worms and weevils; squash, cucumber and bean beetles and more. In addition, the leaves and flowers are edible!
Companion planting is a good way to design your garden beds. See what plants go together and plant in those combinations. Start with simple combinations and then get more complex over time. Good places to start are:
Another reason to use companion planting is it makes a beautiful garden, as these photos show, and remember, beauty is food too!
Container gardeners, you can do this too! The same combinations apply, either in the same container, or containers that are next to each other.
I’ll write more companion planting, so check back.
There are many factors to consider when planning your garden, but here are three basic ones to get your started:
1. What do you like to eat. If you grow something you like to eat, and want to eat, you’ll be more motivated to take care of it, which translates into a more successful garden
2. How much space do you want to use. I tell people to start small even if you want to transform your entire property into food production. If so, do a whole property design, but then prioritize what order you want to create each area in. You can have it all, but take it a chunk at a time
3. How much light do you have in the space you want to use. Really knowing how much light you have in each area is critical to successful garden design, especially if you want sun loving plants like tomatoes and berry bushes for example. Cool weather crops that like shade in summer are easier because you have more options if you have shady areas. Knowing how much sun you have in each area of your space allows you to be more successful and not waste time trying to grow something that needs at least 6 hours of sun in a place that doesn’t get over 3 hours. Be realistic and grow what you can be successful growing, your rewards will be greater.