Dec 15 2010

~Planning Food Growing Spaces~

Optimizing time and garden spaces takes many things into account.

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

                                           Rudyard Kipling, “Just So Stories” 1902

I now approach planning gardens with a journalistic mind.  Just as every newspaper article’s first paragraph should answer six things: who, what, when, where, why and how, “The Five Ws and One H,” the planning of growing spaces requires consideration along the same lines. See if you agree with me.

I’ll be switching the order of “The Five Ws and One H” a bit, but here, first make a list that describes you and your vegetable gardens, as you are now thinking about them:

1) WHO is going to be working on the garden and who is going to be counting on eating the food it produces?

Important questions because if you are one person trying to produce food for ten AND trying to hold down a full time job, the garden in addition to a job will be too labor intensive. But, picture the difference if, like Capt John Smith in Jamestown, Virginia, 1607, you establish a “No Work, No Eat” policy. Then, all of a sudden you’ll be able to enlist nine other pairs of hands to sow, transplant, weed, nurture and harvest. BIG difference. So, count who’s in and who’s out right from the get go.

Recycling an old mattress provides a strong bean trellis
from the springs and nice stakes for plant supports if money
for growing aids is a problem. It’s easy with some help.

2) WHERE do you live?

And that’s important in a BIG way and in a SMALL way. To properly assess our germination and growing strategies, we need to know: A) the zone for your part of the country, which you can find by clicking here ; B) the pH, or acid/base balance of the soil where you live and C) the amount of sunlight on the beds where you intend to plant. The pH you might already know, but if you don’t, you can test the pH of your soil by getting helps found here and here. The zone where you live and the pH of the soil will determine what you can easily grow and when you can plant outside, judging by the date of the average last frost date in the spring.

Now, both of these parameters can be modified depending on your willingness to do more work! If you live at a certain zone and the plants you would like to grow thrive at a warmer zone, you can germinate the seeds inside and then transplant when the weather is correctly temperate. And, if the plants you want to grow need a more acid or more alkaline pH than you find where you live, you can still grow them, you will just have to work to amend the soil to accommodate plants needs. We’ll go over the details of what to do next spring, but that gives you an idea of what to expect and how to pick your seeds.

Testing the pH of soil.

The third part of “where,” the amount of sunlight each area of your yard receives everyday, cannot be easily modified. You have to submit to planting shade loving plants in the shade and those requiring full sun in the sun. If you aren’t aware about the light levels in your yard, you will soon notice some spots will be sunny all day long while others will be in shade and others still will be mixed depending on the time of day. Transplanting plants to a light levels they enjoy insures a thriving, food producing dynamo.

You may know the basic light levels of where you want to plant. But, if not and if you love gadgets like I do, try hovering your mouse over the link below to preview a great “soil pH, moisture, temperature and light level tester” that I have just decided to buy and try out myself.

Digital 4 Way Soil and Light Tester for Plants and Lawn – pH, moisture, temperature and light level

So, think about your yard, the gardens already present with non-edible ornamentals that can be transferred over to food producing vegetables and about the lawn with non-edible grass that might better be used to feed your family. Get some graph paper and after pacing out the yard, make a drawing of what stays and what goes within its perimeter. Then start planning the shapes and size of your available planting space.  It can change a hundred times before spring and that’s part of the fun. It’s a good exercise, though, to start getting your thoughts down on paper.

3) WHY do you want to plant your gardens?

And, finally for today, are you planning on just eating fresh, nutritious food everyday or would you like to plant an excess, more than you can eat, in order to can food for the winter of 2011? These concepts are not as pressing as the decisions needed above, but are ideas to think about for the rest of winter. Thoughts of quantity and intent will help us plan what seeds to germinate and where to plant them in the days and weeks to come.

It is also important to define goals to assess limitations and recognize that each step of the process adds MORE WORK. For instance, do you know how to safely can food? Or will that be a new skill required to process your harvest? Not to worry. This is all part of the fun as we sit with hot chocolate and pour over seed catalogs with their glorious photos and compelling ideas to dream of our new found vegetable freedoms. Why, looking ahead, the cold of winter will just fly by!

Coming tomorrow, Thursday, December 16: Selecting What Seeds to Plant

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