Planning Your Garden
Planning Your Garden. You can’t start too early.
That’s me and my Dad. I doubt if we were doing much planning at that point. Looks like we were just trying to get our shovels in the dirt. Dad is gone, my hair is gray, but he has instilled a lifelong love of gardening in my soul. I have pretty much always had a garden, even at houses where I rented. I had great landlords. I think we should all go out and motivate a child to get started gardening…..today. Yep, let’s do this today. It will be the best gift we could give them. All of that being said, let’s get into the subject of planning a garden.
1) Keep it simple.
If you are just getting started, keep it simple. Don’t burn yourself out with too large of a space. Or, plants that need special care. Stay with the standard veggies that you see in your small hometown grocery store…lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, onions, beans, herbs etc. If you go too big at first and get too many plants with special needs, you are heading for failure. If you are experimenting with new veggies, try a few plants at first. There is no sense having a bumper crop of tomatillos to find out that you don’t like tomatillos. Then what do you do? Throw them out? Give them to your neighbors? Just try one or two plants of new vegetables.
2) Learn Your Zone
This should really be first. It is THE most important piece of knowledge in gardening. This dictates what you can grow and when you should grow it. If you are a first time gardener you will have to learn that carrots and tomatoes grow at different times of year. Learn your zone, learn when to plant. Here is a link to the USDA zones chart.
3) Figure out how many plants you need. If you are going to start your own tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, herbs, etc start them about 6 – 8 weeks before you will plant them in the ground. If you are new to gardening, it is probably a good idea to buy your plants at least the first year. No sense adding an extra layer of stress. This is a neat little tool I found online. Use the how much to plant calulator. It tells you how many plants of each crop you need for whatever size your family is.
4) Pick your perfect garden spot. This should be an area that has at least 6 – 8 hours of sunlight a day. If you only have a shady spot you will probably not be able to grow some of the crops you want. Make sure that you have enough space to plant the plants that you have calculated that you need.
5) Decide on what type of garden you are going to plant. Are you going with raised beds? Maybe a lasagne garden, maybe vertical gardening, or maybe just a good old fashion dig in the dirt standard garden bed. Maybe you are in a limited space and will need to start with container gardening. They will all work. Just figure out what is best for you.
6) Gather your tools. If you are doing a standard gardening, or even raised garden beds, you will probably need a tiller. We have been using a rear tine tiller for years. They are a lot easier to operate that a front tine tiller. Or, you may have a space small enough that you can dig it up with a good shovel. You will want a rake, a trowel, a hose or irrigation system, a timer for your irrigation, garden trellises or support for your climbing plants. Make sure that you have a water source nearby. You don’t want to be carrying buckets of water to your garden. And, nobody likes to drag water hoses hundreds of feet, especially me. (That is a pet peeve in case you didn’t notice. I can’t stand dragging a water hose behind me.Grrr)
7) Work your soil. You need to work your soil when it is moist, not wet. You want it to be dry enough that it will crumble easily when you squeeze it. Turn it over at least 12″ deep. Add 2 – 3 inches of compost and turn it into your bed. Cover it with a thick layer of natural mulch, or with plastic garden mulch if that is the way you are going to garden. Be sure to put your irrigation system down first if you are using plastic garden mulch. You may want to have your soil tested. To do this you can go to your local extension office and get a container. You then take a sample and return it to them. They will give you a report with recommendations on what amendments you need to add to your soil.
8) Figure out how you are going to use your vegetables. Are you going to only eat fresh? Or, are you going to preserve some vegetables for the winter? We do a lot of preserving, so our garden is way bigger than necessary for 2 people. We can, we dehydrate, we freeze. We keep and use our veggies all year long. I will discuss how we do this in later posts. Or, if you want fresh veggies all of the season you may want to do succession planting. This is waiting a couple of weeks and planting the same crop in a different spot in the garden. Once the first crop gives out you will be harvesting from the new plants. Be sure to allow room for this if you are going to grow this way.
9) Network. Go to the garden shows. See if you can find the booths manned by the Master Gardeners. They will be able to answer all kinds of questions for you. Go to your local extension office. They may have fliers and information for free that you will find useful.
10) Have fun. This is not a do or die situation. It is a learning curve. Remember, we all have our failures. Even seasoned gardeners. I lost all of my zucchini plants last year after harvesting one or two plants. My neighbor lost his also. We still don’t know why this happened. Sometimes things just aren’t going to work. And don’t forget the bugs that are not on your side. This is just part of gardening. When we run into an obstacle we try to overcome it. Don’t let this be a deterrent to you. Get out in the sun and get a garden planted. Your mind and soul will thank you. Not to mention your body being grateful for real honest to goodness food. Get out there and get growing.
Mini Greenhouses or Season Extenders
Get a Head Start on Your Growing Season
I am anxiously waiting for the day when I can get my Spring garden planted. I imagine most of you are feeling the same way I am. But, we don’t need to sit by and patiently wait. There are several ways that we can get a jump start on our growing season. This is done by using mini greenhouses or season extenders.A few examples of these are cold frames, low tunnels, a 4 tier stand, a pop up greenhouse and a mini lean to greenhouse.These are typically inexpensive and temporary set ups. But, what an added benefit they give us in the early Spring.
Growing Vegetables in a Cold Frame
This is a picture of my cold frame a couple of years ago. As you can see in the picture we had the covers off on that day. That is a typical setup for a cold frame. The covers will either be removable, or you can prop them up for daytime ventilation. These are excellent for getting an early start on cabbages, lettuce, beets, radishes, carrots, pak choi, spinach and cilantro. We dig down about 5″ and put soil cables in the frames to add extra heat to the cold frames. We have attached the soil cables to the bottom of a piece of hardware cloth so that we don’t damage it when we are digging. We then cover it with our soil mix. When we are planting carrots, etc we always choose a shorter variety so that the soil cables do not interfere with their growing. This is a great way to get a head start on growing your vegetables. Most of these crops really just need protection from the frost, but they will do great growing in this setup.
Low Tunnel with Slitted Cover
Low tunnels will enable you to plant in your garden about 2 weeks earlier. You can also use these in the fall to extend your harvest season. They are available in a perforated cover (maximum temperature retention) or a slitted cover (maximum ventilation). They will warm the soil and give you frost protection both. If you use the black plastic garden mulch under these covers your soil will be warmed even more. These are temporary and only meant to be left on about 3 – 4 weeks. But, I am a great believer in experimenting in the garden. In Louisiana we plant our strawberries in the fall. When the temperatures drop below freezing (which typically is not very often) we cover our plants with a row cover. A couple of years ago I covered my strawberries for the entire winter with the slitted cover. The cover held up surprisingly well to our harsh winter winds. The only problem I had was in the Spring when the plants started to bloom. I had to hand pollinate all of the blooms. I quickly gave up on that and removed the cover. But, I was very happy with the outcome of this experiment.
Pop Up Greenhouses
These are temporary greenhouses that you can use for a variety of purposes. You can start your seeds in here. Or, if you start your seedlings in your home you can use this to harden off the seedlings. These greenhouses virtually Pop Up! There are no tools required to set these up. There are tie down stakes to keep them secured to the ground. You can also use these to overwinter some plants that do not require higher temperatures. These are great season extenders. There are even openings for ventilation which include screens. Portholes are supplied for water hoses or electrical cords. These come with the rip stop polyfilm coverings for durability. What a great place for your plants in the winter.
4 Tier Stands
These are super mini greenhouses. They come with 4 tiers and a cover that has a zippered door. They are great for starting seeds or protecting frost sensitive plants. These stands are lightweight and will fit nicely in a spot on your back porch. The covers are removable if you want to use these later as a plant stand.
Mini Lean To Greenhouses
These lean to greenhouses do not attach to your home. They have a back in them and can be placed up next to a wall. The lid and doors both open offering easy access to your plants and supply needed ventilation. The shelves are adjustable for a variety of plants. This season extender is covered with a polycarbonate covering. It can be used for a variety of purposes.
So there you have it. Just a few ideas for trying to get ahead of Mother Nature (and your neighbor). I have a neighbor who I compete with for the first vine ripened tomato of the year. No sense in not taking advantage of some of these great tools that are available to use. If we get just a little bit creative, we can probably come up with our own mini greenhouses. I have seen people cut the bottom out of liter pop bottles and place these over top of a plant for added warmth and frost protection. You would have to be careful with these and monitor your plants during the day. You don’t want to bake your precious seedlings. Also, if you garden in a raised bed you can make a pvc frame and cover the frame with a clear plastic. You have probably seen me talk about using only 6 mil, 4 year UV protected polyfilm for greenhouses. But, for a temporary structure such as this you could probably use any clear plastic. Again, just be sure to ventilate this during the day if needed. So hopefully this will give you ideas of your own and you will get out there and get a head start on your garden this year! Happy Growing. Tammy
10 Free Greenhouse Plans
10 Free Greenhouse Plans
Here in Louisiana we call it Lagniappe [lanˈyap]. It’s a little something extra……for free! Everyone loves free. I get asked all of the time how to build your own greenhouse. So, today I have gathered together 10 free greenhouse plans for you. Not everyone can afford or needs a glass greenhouse kit. Tom and I have reviewed the plans and have added our comments to each. These comments are based purely on our years of experience building greenhouses. We have not received any compensation of any kind from any of these plans. So, enjoy and get busy building a greenhouse this week. Please keep in mind that as far as we know no engineers were involved in these plans. In other words, we do not feel that any of these plans have been built with heavy snow and/or wind loads in mind. Also, as a general note: A lot of the plans mention using plastic sheeting that is not UV protected. Don’t expect any more than 1 years use out of non UV protected plastic. We always recommend using 6 mil, 4 year polyfilm to cover greenhouses. With the appropriate waivers in place, let’s get busy building!
California Style Roof Greenhouse
California Roof Style Greenhouse Plans – We used to sell and install sunrooms. That is how we really got started with greenhouses. Anyway, we used to sell a sunroom that looked like this and it was called the California Roof Sunroom. These plans seem very thorough. They even tell you how to square up your base. It is a bit distracting to try and read the plans on their website due to all of the ads, etc. But, they do offer a downloadable set of plans (ad free) for $5. Might be nice to have these to take to the jobsite.
YellaWood Greenhouse Plans
YellaWood Greenhouse Plans – These plans are from the manufacturer. They do give you a lot of specifications about the building materials, but the plans are pretty much a line drawing with measurements. If you are an experienced builder, you probably would not have much trouble with this. If you are a beginner and need more detailed instruction, this might be one to pass on.
Barn Style Greenhouse Plans
Barn Greenhouse Plans – They state one weekend for this. I am a bit skeptical of that time frame. This greenhouse has a lot of miter cuts and will require what seems like a lot of fitting to me. But hey, who can resist the looks of a barn style greenhouse?
Raised Garden Bed with Removable Cold Frame
Raised Garden Bed with Removable Cold Frame – This is a super plan and will work nicely along side of a standard garden and greenhouse. They are stating a 10 – 15 degree increase in temperature inside the cold frame. This is a great project for someone with limited space, or someone who just wants to get a head start on the garden.
300 Square Foot Hoop House
300 Square Foot Hoop House – This is a well thought out design and plan. I do however have a couple of issues with his recommendations. First is to use landscape cloth as a shade cloth. Why wouldn’t you just use a shade cloth that is made for greenhouses? Also, this is a little bit large not to have a ventilation system. I think a couple of roof vents and a ventilation package would make this greenhouse a whole lot more useable in the warmer months.
Attached Greenhouse Plans
RunnerDuck Greenhouse Plans– I really like the looks of this greenhouse, although I am wondering what it would look like with a small overhang on the roof on all sides. He has stated that you can adapt this to make a freestanding greenhouse with these plans as well. I do like the dutch door feature and the fact that he used a roof vent with an automatic opener.
Bamboo Greenhouses Plans
Bamboo Greenhouse Plans – What a great way to use bamboo! I would suggest using batten tape also when securing your film to your frame. I am not really crazy about using a door that is secured with velcro. If you are in a high wind area I would think this would give you problems. Other than that a great simple plan.
GeoDome Greenhouse Plans
Geo Dome – This may not be for a beginner. Lots of angles to cut for the frame to fit together properly. But, who doesn’t love the look of a dome greenhouse? Sounds like they did a whole lot of research before designing this. If you have some skills and time I would consider this plan.
$50 Greenhouse Plans
$50 Greenhouse – Of course this is if you can recycle a whole bunch of materials. But, he states that even with new material you can build this for around $200. If you are in an area with high snow be sure to look at the picture of what happens when you get a couple of inches of wet snow. His greenhouse collapsed. So, I would definitely rule this one out for snowy areas.
10 x 16 Greenhouse Plans
10 x 16 Greenhouse – These are nice plans. I think he is very realistic when he gives a one week time frame on building this. I would suggest a ventilation system and roof vents with a greenhouse this size. He mentions covering it with polyethylene/foil sheets. I am not really even sure what this is. I would recommend using 6 mil, 4 year greenhouse polyfilm.
In closing, my first, and second greenhouses were both ones that we built ourselves with our own plans. They were both covered with clear plastic (non UV) film. We did not know where to get the UV protected film at that point. One year is the life expectancy of the non UV material. I wish at the time we would have known the difference, but we just kept recovering. Also, not to tell tales on myself, but at the time we were building these greenhouses there was no internet and no free plans. What a help that would have been! Most of these plans are from individuals who have taken their time and energy to supply these plans for us. We thank them for their help.