Gardening can be an immensely pleasurable and enjoyable activity. You have the joy of growing your own food, knowing where it came from, and how it was grown. There’s nothing that beast the ability to harvest the freshest ingredients for your home-cooked meals.
While gardening is a relatively straightforward activity, there are a few things you need to consider if you want a avoid having a weed-filled garden that overwhelms you and becomes more of a chore than a leisurely pastime. For any edible garden, we’ve identified 5 things you must take into considering before starting, and how to best plan for a garden you’ll be able to boast about to your neighbours.
1. Sun Conditions
Why It’s Important
A highly productive vegetable garden needs a bright, sunny area that gets at least 6 hours of sun per day. The more sun you give your plants, the more they will yield. For urban gardens, common obstacles include mature trees, picket fences, and tall buildings like condos that compete for the sun’s rays. Despite the challenges, there usually is still an area that can work for growing some veggies, even if it is on a front porch or balcony. While some veggies will grow in a partial shade area, they generally do not do as well or produce as much as plants grown in full sun conditions. We suggest you stick to started plants and stay with leafy varieties like greens and some herbs.
How to Assess Your Sun Conditions
The best way to assess your sun conditions is to make some observations throughout the day to see exactly what areas receive sun and when. In an ideal scenario, we recommend taking a picture every 2 hours from the same spot to give you a rough idea of how much sun each area of your garden gets.
Keep in mind that the sun conditions will change as the trees, bushes, and vines fill out with new leaves in the spring, and over time as trees mature, and the sun’s movement in the sky changes with the season. If you do have a very shady area and still want to grow edibles, you can consider ferns (for the fiddleheads they produce in the early spring), or fungi like our shiitake mushroom logs.
2. Available Space
Why It’s Important
The amount of space you have, combined with your sun conditions will determine how much you can grow and also what kind of plants you can grow. If you have only a limited space, you probably don’t want to grow pumpkins or zucchini as they can sprawl and take up a fair amount of space. If you have only a balcony or deck to work with, containers are a great option to grow intensively in a small amount of space. For in-ground gardens, how flat and level is the ground? Also, don’t forget about vertical space too. If you have an arbor or chain link fence, you can use this other garden structures to grow climbing plants like beans, peas, and cucumbers.
How to Assess Your Space Conditions
A simple measuring tape or rough eyeball estimate will suffice to tell you how much space you have in a given area. It’s a good idea to draw a rough sketch of your yard to help plan the garden. What you also want to consider is how the rest of your space is /will be used. For example, if you determine the best place for a garden would be in the middle of you lawn, you wouldn’t want to put a vegetable garden there if the kids like to play and run around in the same area.
Consider building garden structures like an arbor to increase the vertical space you have available.
Why It’s Important
Creating and setting a budget will determine what kind of things you can invest in, like the size and type of containers, quality of soil, and size of raised beds you can purchase. For those on a tight budget, think about starting small and gradually expanding each year. Also popular is up-cycling or re-purposing items like old wine barrels, bathtubs, or scrap wood to get you started.
When starting out, the most important things to include in your budget are soil, seeds, and/or plants. These typically are relatively nominal in cost. As you start to think beyond this, you can start to upgrade to include more heirloom or specialty transplants, garden tools, different sized containers, as well amendments like worm compost to build the fertility of the soil.
As you continue to explore the possibilities, things like irrigation systems, rain barrels, and garden structures like greenhouses start factoring into the garden plan and budget. The great news is that gardening is an ongoing process and not a one-time project. You can start as modestly as you want and expand from year to year.
How to Assess Your Budget Conditions
Most people already have an idea of how they’d like their garden to look. Based on your sun conditions and available space, you can better determine the budget for the garden area.
Think of your garden like an investment. Over time, it will grow, mature, and give you a return on your investment in terms of the food that it produces. In-ground gardens get easier to work each year, durable containers last for many years, and raised beds continue to produce earlier due to being elevated off the ground.
Why It’s Important
A successful vegetable garden takes time to manage and maintain. You can’t just plant your garden and forget about it until the harvest rolls around. Time is an often overlooked consideration when people go to start a vegetable garden. If you are doing everything yourself, budget in more time at the beginning of the season, especially if you need to double dig and prepare an in-ground plot.
Time considerations also include going to your local farmers market or garden center to buy the right seeds and plants for your garden. It includes the time you need to water, weed, and manage your garden throughout the season is another overlooked area. It also means deciding on what you will do with the produce once you harvest it as many people like to can, freeze, or preserve the bounty.
Different vegetables also require different more work to harvest than others. Kale is easily and quickly harvested by hand, while beans need to be found under camouflage leaves and picked individually by hand.
How to Assess Your Time Considerations
Think about your current schedule now, during the spring, and throughout the growing season. Are you planning any extended vacations or business trips? Are there other people who can help out with the garden tasks? The time you have (or don’t have) can also be a limiting factor in how big of a garden you decide to grow.
Just like with your budget, think of the time you spend as an investment – not only for your garden, but for yourself as you get to spend time outdoors, getting some exercise and fresh air. Be realistic and think of the time in your garden as a leisure activity, and not another chore to cross off your to-do list.
5. Food Preferences
Why It’s Important
The last major consideration for any vegetable garden are the food preferences of you and your family. Why grow brussel sprouts if your family doesn’t like to eat them and you don’t have a lot of space in the garden? On a similar note, if you have a moderate to large sized garden, what are you going to do with the extra produce once the garden starts reaches maximum production? Do you have a plan to cook, preserve, give away, can, or dehydrate the extra produce?
There are hundreds of unique and heirloom varieites that are making a resurgence in seed catalogs and farmers markets. With so much variety, it is easy to want to grow them all.
How to Assess Your Food Preferences
What kind of produce does your family normally eat these days? How likely are you going to
It’s great to experiment with new varieties and unusual plants and we love to do that ourselves! Before you get too excited about the different possibilities out there, we suggest you keep the majority of your garden planted with your tried and tested favourites, as well the reliable and heavy producing plants like beans, tomatoes, and greens. That way even if the unusual varieties aren’t to your preferences, you will still have your favourites to fall back upon.
Were there any other garden considerations we’ve missed or ones we didn’t mention that you give to your friends? Let us know in the comments!