Monday, June 22, 2009

Gardening Basics: Preparation

A backyard gardener breaks new soil

Here are my recommendations for getting your garden started. People learn in different ways, at different speeds, so you might find some of the following steps to be unnecessary or out of logical order.

1. Assess your growing space for sunlight, soil, and water.

Sunlight is critical. You need a minimum of eight hours of direct sunlight per day to grow above-ground crops (root vegetables like carrots and radishes can get by with less). If your yard is shaded by tall fences and/or trees, observe how the shadows move with the passage of the sun, and select the least shady spots for your vegetable garden. Cut back or remove obstacles to direct sunlight if possible.

Good soil holds moisture, drains well, and is rich in organic matter (e.g., humus, compost). The rich topsoil layer should be at least six inches deep so your plants can develop a healthy system of feeder roots. If your native soil meets the first two requirements you can purchase compost, in bags or in bulk, and work it into the soil with a tiller or a spade. If your ground consists heavily of clay, rocks, or sand, you can either dig a trench or build a raised bed (remember: at least six inches deep or high) and fill this with good soil. My backyard is solid gumbo clay, so I use raised beds.

Water should be easily accessible. Make sure your garden hose is long enough to reach the veggie patch, or install an irrigation system.

2. Gather information.

Experienced local gardeners are your best source of information because they know what works in your soil and climate conditions. Ask them what they grow and how they grow it. If you don't have any relatives, neighbors, or friends who garden, the Web is replete with sites and discussion forums. Here is one excellent gardening web site.

Collect at least some hard copy reference materials: how-to books, gardening encyclopedias, etc. Depending on how far and how fast the economy deteriorates, electrical power might become unreliable (as it is in Third World countries) and this will limit access to the Web. Used book stores are usually good, inexpensive sources for these materials. Print out any useful articles and guides found on the Web and save them in a binder.

3. Assemble your tools

Buy high quality gardening tools, new or used, the best you can afford: Shovels (pointed and flathead), heavy duty rake, bypass pruning shears, hoe, gardening trowel (to dig small holes for transplanting seedlings), a wheelbarrow. Several sets of gardening gloves. Watering can. You can find bargains at garage and estate sales and, I presume, on Craigslist. Keep your tools in good condition. They might not be easy to replace when they wear out.

The next post will cover seeds and seedlings.

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