The Basics of Home-Growing
Somerset, Somerset County, New Jersey
Sure as a beginner you can just simply sprinkle some seeds in the ground, toss around some water, take a step back and see what comes of it, but chances are you will end up with anything but the picturesque garden. The result is likely to be having areas of your garden resembling a forest that you can barely walk through, while other areas appear to reflect the Sahara Desert, merely missing the presence of tumbleweeds.
Putting that enthusiasm aside for a moment of getting your first garden going, to sensibly blueprint your vision is your best bet, because planning and patience will yield the greatest results. The 3 key factors that need to be defined to home-growing that magical garden is Variety, Location and Method.
I see time and time again folks tend to pinpoint their gardens location first and then contemplate what to plant in it after, but I highly recommend doing that sequence in reverse. Different plants require different growing conditions, ranging from full sunlight to mostly shade, drier soil to consistently moist, or from requiring minimal space of a few inches to grow, upward of a couple of feet. First determining exactly what you would like to harvest, will aid you with not only noting growth conditions beforehand, but also with pairing, which is vital to adequate growth and future crop rotation. Pairing is the process of exactly that Pairing fruits and vegetables that necessitate equal growing conditions together, which is key to ensuring that you are efficiently utilizing your chosen garden space, as well will make crop rotation easy.
As mentioned in a previous article “Gardens on the Rise amid Pandemic” I suggest beginners utilize a Garden Planner for adequate growing. I personal recommend the Old Farmers Almanac’s Garden Planner. The Garden Planner will assist you in not only optimizing every square foot of your garden space, but will also specify which crops can be paired, keep you up to date on which veggies are ready to be harvested, and will keep track of your crop rotation timeline, as well as suggest what new vegetation can be replanted in previously harvested areas.
Location, Location, Location is Key! Once you have determined which crop you desire to yield, how much room each plant variety needs to grow, the difference in growth times and what amount of sunlight is required, you are ready to locate a spot that has a sufficient amount of openness and/or shade. If you are working with a relatively small space on a property, or an area that does not have many shade options, no fret, because there are workarounds that can be done that I will discuss shortly. Once you have located the ideal spot for your garden, you will then need to determine whether to go the route of planting traditional rows, or to utilize garden beds.
If you opted for the use of garden beds, but find yourself limited on your garden placement options, and discover that no matter where the garden setup is, it will have the sun completely beating down on it, then planting veggies companions will help. For instance, Flowering Vegetables like Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Peppers and Peas require full sunlight, while Root Vegetables like Onions, Carrots and Potatoes require several hours of sun, followed by several hours of shade, and more delicate crops like Herbs and Leafy Greens require mostly shade. You should plant all the full sun veggies together on one side, partial sun veggies in the center and full shade veggies on the opposite end. When dealing with a completely sun-exposed space, pay mind to note the suns exposure, position, and rotation on your property in that area. For example, if the sun is positioned at the hottest point of the day on the east of your garden area, you know to plant direct sunlight veggies in that region, and so on.
Corn being a full sun plant that reaches great heights and grows rapidly, would be a great option to use as a sun filter for those shaded veggies. Simply plant a sparse row of Corns around those shade requiring plants and let them do their magic.
If you are dealing with shade demanding fruits, using Mammoth Sunflowers instead would be the better option, that will also add a little botanical joy to your garden. Sunflowers will not only provide the much-needed shade, but also attract bees to ensure those flowering fruit are pollinated. Depending on the height of the garden beds you have chosen to use, whether Corn or Sunflower, the stalks can initially take 2 weeks or so to grow tall enough to tower over the select garden beds, so provisionally placing a lightweight dark-colored mosquito net over the box will filter out the sun up to 40%. Remember, the darker the netting, the higher the sun filtration will be.