Spring Gardening – Planning Your Summer Vegetable Garden

Spring gardening can be a great way to get the whole family involved in a fun project that will provide the opportunity for hours of together time, enjoying a hobby that spans all generations. Starting in the early spring by getting everyone’s input on what they’d like to plant. Doing the research together on when to plant, discussing what it will take from each person to help grow your own vegetables, and imparting some important life lessons along the way, your families spring garden will be a project that you will all be able to enjoy together for the next several months and years. Enjoying your own vegetable garden is just as rewarding for the individual gardener as well. Having your own garden to nurture, maintain, and reap the rewards from, can be a great way to reduce stress by allowing you to get away from the daily grind and stress of work.

Planning Your Garden

The first thing you’ll need to plan is where and how big is your garden going to be? Plants such as tomatoes can be grown in an area as small as a single pot or window box, which can be great if you’re living in an apartment or condo where you not able do something larger. All that’s needed is a window that gets at least ½ a day of direct sunlight if possible. For the most dedicated, but space or sunlight challenged prospective gardeners, there are also a wide variety of sun/grow lamps available as a substitute. The ideal place for homeowners to choose for their garden will be one that has a southern and western exposure, which will provide the maximum hours of sunlight each day. When possible it’s good to avoid the lowest parts of your yard so that heavy rains won’t cause prolonged flooding. The actual size (square footage) of your garden is completely up to your individual situation and desire, keeping in mind of course that the bigger your garden the more you’ll need to weed, water, and fertilize as the summer goes on.

Types of Gardens

Some very popular types of gardens are window box, plot, and raised bed. When space allows, I’d recommend using the raised bed method because it allows for soil to warm quicker, remain warm longer, and allows for good drainage. In northern climates, raised bed gardens can help extend your growing season up to 3 or 4 weeks, especially when combined with a thin layer of mulch around the base of mature plants. Weeds are kept to a minimum with this type of garden as well because there is little to no room for them to take hold in the raised bed. Weeds will find their way into any garden and it’s important to keep them tended even in between the rows. If not they will soon seed and begin taking over the entire garden.

Garden Layout

The layout of your garden will of course vary depending on space available and sunlight conditions. It’s good to think about planting taller plants along the northern edge of your garden to prevent them from shading other parts of your garden. Planting your vegetables in beds that are at least 3 feet long is important because it allows for a beneficial mini-climate to form just above the soil around the plants and just below the soil it allows for the development of important micronutrients near the root system. You will need to allow for rows in between the beds to allow for weeding and harvesting, but keeping the width of the rows to one foot helps to conserve water and humidity. An overall square layout of your garden is preferred when possible over rectangular because it also promotes a better micro-climate and conserves water since they tend to dry slower.

Fertilizers & Preparing Your Soil

The first year you prepare your garden area for planting will be the most difficult from a manual labor stand point. Removing sod and proper loosening of the soil is very important to getting your garden off to a good start. I’d recommend using a rototiller over a hand shovel and they can be rented in most areas by asking at your local home and garden center or purchased for about the same price as a lawn mower. Loosening the soil to a depth of 8” to 12” before ever planting an area will allow for better root development, good drainage, and more oxygen to enter the soil. In most areas of the country, if your soil supports good grass growth and you want to keep your garden as natural as possible you could plant without adding any special fertilizers to your soil. There are many fertilizers available and very safe for use in home vegetable gardens as well and when using these you’ll want to use one that is balanced in the nutrients it provides. Fertilizers come labeled with 3 numbers, such as 10-10-10, which is recommended for vegetable gardens. The numbers indicate the percentage of major nutrients it contains, nitrogen being listed 1st, phosphorus 2nd, and potassium 3rd. In areas that have sandy soils, or a heavy clay content, it’s also good idea to add a mixture of a vermiculite and top soil in as you’re tilling your garden area.

When to Start Planting

The biggest factor to consider when deciding what vegetables you’d like to grow is your growing season. When to plant seeds is decided by the length of your growing season. This is determined by where you live and when frosts occur, which can be determined by a hardiness map. It’s best to plant in the spring right about the time of your first “soft frost”, which means temperatures are getting just below freezing for a short period (a few hours overnight). Gardening season ends about the time of the “hard frost”, when temperatures get several degrees or more below freezing for longer periods.

What to Grow in Your Garden

Once you’ve determined your growing season the next thing to think about is the eating habits of you and your family. You’ll want to make the best use of your available space by planting vegetables that everyone will enjoy the most. This can also be a great time to get the kids involved in deciding what they’d like to grow, how to grow those and what they’d like to eat. All this while helping to promote a healthy life style and good eating habits at a young age. Plants like tomatoes, asparagus, carrots, beets, and lettuce are very popular and will do well in most every area from Upstate NY in the east to southern CA in the west. Things that require more space, such as pumpkins and corn can be fun to try and tend to be very popular with the kids. Unless you’ve got gardening space approaching ½ of an acre or more, you’re really not going to get a big enough harvest of these to eat. More likely you’ll be able to make some great grow your own Halloween decorations from your garden’s corn and pumpkins, which can be lots of fun too.

For all your other vegetable needs, (for the ones you don’t grow yourself), don’t forget to visit your local farm stands and farmers’ markets in the late spring,summer and fall.  Send us your garden photos, we would love to showcase your green thumb here on our site.