Hello food garden enthusiasts!
It's that time again. The daffodils are peaking their little bonneted heads out of the ground, there are baby green buds on the trees, everyone is prematurely shedding layers (and then getting sick) and we're all thinking, "I'm going to grow so much fucking food this year!" Yah! You are! But if you are a novice gardener or you have had dejecting failures in past seasons, there is one imperative thing that you simply have to do before anything else: make a fucking plan.
Garden failure is all too often a result of poor planning or lack thereof. It's easy to get excited and over confident. You decide that growing food is simple enough for a small monkey, go buy a phonebookthick catalogue’s worth of seeds and willy nilly your way through it. This blind enthusiasm often results in low yields, dead plants and sad dejection. Lack of planning often turns the keen, newbie food grower into a sour, dispirited non-gardener. The garden becomes a nuisance demanding excessive work for little return. I was there. It super sucked.
Think of starting your first food garden in comparison to building a house. If you just went out to your local Lumber World, bought some wood and tools and began hammering materials together, you would more than likely end up with a shitty leaky roof, sunken warpy stairs, electrical fizz outs, wind holes and minor floods. And rats. Probably rats. You would quickly realize your folly and have to start all over again. How embarrassing. How costly! What a waste!!!
But you’d probably never do that. Most of us appreciate that building a house is a complicated endeavour that requires research, a blueprint and often the help of a professional or friend in the field. Your garden requires the same thoughtful process. Only it’s ALIVE so there are even more things to consider when designing your garden. It requires continuous watering, reseeding, fertilizing and love. It may sound daunting, but it’s really not. Once you have your plan, the execution is like clockwork.
So what to consider? HOW do I fecking plan my garden, bitch?
Here are the 5 most important things to do before you plant your first pea.
1. assess EXPOSURE
Wind and light are the most important elements to begin with when planning your garden. Which spots get the most light? Which potential planting zones get sun in the morning when it is weakest and which get the blaring, baking, afternoon beams? Do you have a sun drenched wall against which you can plant heat lovers? Where can you plant you lettuce so it's not in full sun all day?
Wind is also a key consideration because some plants don't like to be swept off their feet. Wind may disturb tender plants and can also rob those plants of precious heat. You wouldn’t want to plant tomatoes or a young fig tree in an exposed windy spot where they’ll be shivering at night and their precious branches may break if a storm hits.
2. CHECK YOUR SOIL
Before you reach for compost and fertilizer, check the quality of the soil you will be working with. Is it hard packed clay? Is it loose and sandy? Is it a bog swamp of eternal, stenchy sadness ? Whatever soil you begin with will dictate how you proceed with your garden plan. You will either need to amend your soil for increased drainage, water retention, or for fertility.
The ideal soil type is sandy loam, which means that the magical combination of clay, silt and sand will retain enough water and minerals for most plants but will still drain well.
A simple method to check what kind of soil you’ve been blessed with is the ribbon test. First wet the soil so it is moist but not soggy. Next, take a handful of soil and squeeze it. If you open your hand and the soil just falls away, your soil is too sandy. You will need to add a shit tonne of compost, topsoil and fertilizer because that sand ain’t holdin’ no minerals for nobody.
Alternatively, if your soil stays put in a tight ball, press it between your thumb and index finger. If it is malleable, creating a long connected ribbon, you have high clay content. Too much clay means that your soil is nutrient rich, but practically impenetrable so you will need to increase your drainage with sand.
Now, if you press your thumb into the soil ball and it softly clumps away like Grandma’s apple crumble, you have hit the jackpot. Sandy loam. Add some organic fertilizer and off you go.
3. look for PESTS
Before you plant your garden, take a survey of the existing creatures that call your yard home. To save your seedlings and transplants from becoming someone else's lunch, don’t wait until you notice the first signs of destruction.
Does your garden have a large slug population? If you plant now, will you be waging a savage salt versus slime war for the next three months?
Have you noticed a white moth fluttering here and there? Don’t be lured into a fantastical dreamland where she is your butterfly friend in a field of pansies. NO! She's a wicked banshee that will hatch her shitty little babies all over your kale and broccoli for them to gorge upon. Bye bye kale chips.
Also if you have deer, don't bother planting a fucking THING until you've built yourself a good tall fence. It'll take Bambi all of an hour to decimate your entire garden.
Research the best methods to deal with your specific pests and exercise preventive control methods before planting.
4. consider Slope
This mainly has to do with drainage. It's just gravity, people. Not a big crazy sciency thing that only gardeners know about. If your garden bed is high on one end and the lower end butts up against a wall, think what will happen when you water it. The plants at the top will get a little pathetic sprinkle before the water trickles away downhill where it will accumulate once it hits the low point.
To deal with slope and gravity stuff, either build up your beds so they are level or plant accordingly so drought tolerant plants are up top and buddies that love being soaked are hangin' out in the pool down below. Catch me?
5. measure and draw
Plan out where your beds are going to be built. Map out your crop plots in accordance to your expert exposure, slope and soil assessments. Plan the succession of your garden to anticipate your crop rotation next year. It will take an evening to organize your design, but you will thank yourself when you're not pulling the overpriced lettuce you bought two days ago from your fridge only to discover it smells nasty and has all sorts of little slimy goober bits all though it. Thanks $9. See you later. Fuck. (Lettuce from your garden can last up to two weeks after being cut. I know, right?)
Keep in mind that there are always set backs when growing a garden. Those hitches are all just a part of the learning process. If most of your carrots came out as stumpy, mangled knobs this season, you’ll know to apply sand to your soil so they can reach the depth they need to next year. If your beet tops were eaten by slugs, next planting round you will zap those slime ball fuckers before they have a chance to feast on your sweets. After a couple of trouble shooting years, your plan will be airtight and you'll be all gardeny kinds of awesome.
Food gardens are worth it but if you start out like a clueless jack ass, you'll likely end up buying your greens at the grocery store again and hate yourself every time. Save yourself the self loathing and shame - plan your shit.