Garden View

Garden View
Hello and Welcome! I decided to start this blog for everyone out there who has an interest, or WANTS to be interested, in living a life that is a little more sustainable. I am still learning, and invite you to follow this blog to learn along with me. I will share what I have learned as we go, and hopefully you will pitch in and share what YOU are doing to live a little more off of what you can grow and DO from home. PLEASE BELIEVE ME when I say, if I can learn how to do this on a very small backyard plot in a city, then ANYONE can do this!!

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Friday, January 25, 2013

Planning Your Garden...Nerd style!

I AM A NERD.  Phew, I am so glad that I got that out in the open!  I say that because I love spreadsheets and written plans.  There's a special surprise for my fellow nerds and non-nerds alike at the end of this story, so read on about how to plan your 2013 garden!
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So you want to grow some vegetables, but you're not sure where to start.  Well, obviously, we are going to start with...........


If you want your garden to be successful and provide you with the maximum amount of production, you need to start with a solid plan.  Start by making a detailed drawing of your yard.  Grab some graph paper and draw it all out (take measurements).  Make sure to include any existing structures, shrubs, trees, etc. that make up the components of your yard.  Make sure to also include your neighbor's large Oak tree in your drawing if it casts shadows across your entire yard most of the day too (yes, it's POSSIBLE that I am speaking from experience).

Next, take a day and make some observations in order to plant your garden in the best possible spot.  How much sun do certain areas receive throughout the day?  You can make notes on your graph paper of what you observe during the day and which areas are receiving the most sun at what times.  As Chris McLaughlin suggests in her new book (that I LOVE) called Vertical Vegetable Gardening, you can make what she calls a Caveman Sun Blueprint.  Take your yard diagram and make sun observations at 8 AM, 12 PM and 4 PM.  Draw a circle on your diagram at each time slot of the entire area that is covered in sun.  When you are done, you will have 3 overlapping circles-with the middle showing you the perfect area in your yard that gets the most sun!  I used the Black and Decker Plant Smart tool that I received as a gift when I showed an interest in gardening (my husband KNEW I needed all the PROFESSIONAL help I could get)!  I placed this fun thing in the area I had pre-selected for my first vegetable garden.  It can measure all kinds of things, including giving you a readout of the average daily temps and sun exposure length.


NOW for the fun part!  What do you want to grow?  I wanted to grow edibles, starting with lettuce and vegetables.  Since I couldn't seem to keep any plants alive prior to my bright idea of starting a food garden, I decided that I needed to find the EASIEST vegetables to grow for beginners.  Here is a list of those common veggies:  Radishes, Beet, Carrots, Green Beans, Peas, Tomato, Zucchini, Onions, Kale, Peppers, Lettuce and Spinach.  If you are just getting started, set yourself up for SUCCESS and choose things that are easier to grow; that way you won't get discouraged right away if you can't get some exotic-something to grow!  Make sure you also choose plants appropriate for your zone (find your USDA Hardiness Zone here).


After you have decided what you want to grow this year, it's time to plan it all out!  Now, before we go any further, did I mention that I am a Nerd (Yes,with a capital "N")!  I love plans, graphs and Excel spreadsheets!  You will need your list of desired plants and the dates they can be planted outside, or started inside, for your specific area (Hardiness Zone).  You will also need to know the First and Last Frost Dates for your area.  Visit your local Cooperative Extension office for your state or region for help finding these dates (ours is through the Colorado State University at this website).

Spread out those seed packets!  This is where you can finalize your planting plan and know what seeds to start indoors when, and which seeds can be planted straight in the garden!  Take a look at the back of your seed packet.  You should see planting instructions such as "When to sow outside" and "When to start inside."  Depending on the length of your growing season, you may do just fine starting everything outside.  Or if you are like me, you may have a shorter growing season and/or you just want to start plants indoors early so that you can have larger harvest sooner!

Here's how to do it:  From the Last Frost Date for your area count backwards,  or forwards, until you reach the number of weeks your seed packet says to plant before that average last frost date.  Let's use this beautiful seed packet of Lemon Cucumber from Botanical Interests as an example.

It recommends sowing these directly outside 1-2 weeks AFTER the average last frost.  If my Average Last Frost is April 15th, then I would plant these babies in my garden anywhere from April 22nd-April 29th.  Now, if I am starting some seeds indoors so that I can transplant them in the Spring, I will just need to count backwards to accomplish this.  For example, using the same last frost date as in the previous example, these Heirloom Brandywine Tomato seeds from Peaceful Valley need to be started indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost.

That means that I need to start these seeds anywhere from February 18th-March 4th.  Do this for all of your planned plantings and keep a list, spreadsheet and/or write them on your calender.  It will be make it much easier for you to have a well planted garden if you don't skip this step.


Organize a folder on your computer, keep a journal, or fill a binder with everything you have done.  Make sure to leave room for all that you will do in the future too!  My first year I kept everything from my yard drawing to my planting lists in one journal and it was nice to have it all in one place.  This year, I am trying the binder approach with sheet protectors to hold seed packets and protect my garden drawings from moisture since it is always outside with me when I am planting!  Write down what dates you plant what where, any adverse weather conditions that occur, harvest dates and any vermin or bugs you see in your garden.  This will not only help you to keep track of what you are doing in the garden, it will identify areas or seed varieties that you can improve upon to make next year's harvest the best one yet!


I have been compiling information and working on a spreadsheet for the past year.  I am SO EXCITED to share this work-in-progress with you all!  This is just the beginnings of what I hope turns into a massive collection of information as I garden throughout the years.  It includes a starter list of many vegetable varieties with "How to use and Info" sections, then moves into planting dates.
**Please note, this is designed for the Colorado region, so you will need to adjust the dates if you live elsewhere.  We have a shorter growing season (average 157 days) and I have used the Average Last Spring Frost (LSF) of May 15th and First Fall Frost (FFF) of September 15th for the spreadsheet.

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