Gardening 101: Choose A Spot

Wow! Has spring sprung up with full force!  With these beautiful sunny days, it’s the perfect time to find the ideal spot in your yard for a garden.  Keeping in mind that the sun will shift a bit over the growing season, by chronicling the sun’s trek across your yard, you can see where the sun shines the most, and where unexpected shade appears.

The ideal minimum amount of sunlight for a garden is six hours.  Some greens, like spinach, will grow with just four hours of sunlight, but they really do struggle with such a small amount of sun.  Any spot where you can pretty much guarantee six hours of sun will work- more is obviously even better.  But even then, some shade isn’t necessarily a bad thing either.  Lettuces, for example, like to bolt when it gets too hot.  A bit of shade will slow the bolting and extend the lettuce season for you.

So what I like to do when planning a garden is to choose landmarks in the yard and make a simple spreadsheet on a piece of paper.  Choose a day when you expect abundant sunshine, and when you can be around to check the yard every half hour.  Mark your paper in half hour increments down one side, and across the top label with your landmarks- the landmarks would be potential spots for a garden location.   Then every half hour, check on each landmark and note whether that spot is in full sun, some sun, full shade- as well as what is shading that spot.   Once your day is done, go through your chart and add up the time.  As I mentioned, you want six hours of sun at minimum, so any space that is less than that should probably be eliminated unless that’s your only option.  (And in that case, you’ll want to focus on shade gardening, something I’m not as familiar with.)

Keep in mind, as you’re choosing a spot this time of year, that the trees are naked of leaves yet.  It’s amazing how much shade a scrawny little tree will provide, so note that down as well.  We’ve found that having trees on the north side of the garden can provide more shade than you would think from overhead.  Sometimes this can be good, but sometimes a few branches may need to be pruned.

But now you should have an idea where you should place your garden.  Next, you’ll want to think about the type of garden you want to plant.  A garden planted directly in the ground is good, traditional, and does work.  A raised bed can be much easier to work with, but it does require some planning ahead and more materials than planting in the ground.  Critters should also be considered.  Where we live, our gardens must be fenced- yes, there is wildlife even here in the city.  I also need to cover newly planted soil with bird netting or the squirrels will dig and decimate.

One of the beauties of gardening is that you can go as small or as big as you like.  As you’re considering your spot, consider the size.  If you’re opting for a raised bed, you really don’t want them any wider than four feet in one direction, as you need to be able to reach into the middle of it.  After that, they can be as long as you like.  My gardens are ten feet long, four feet wide, and absolutely perfect for me.  An in-ground garden can be wider, but you will want to account for walking paths- allow a good foot-and-a-half inbetween rows- two feet would probably be better.

There are many books and websites out there dedicated to raised bed growing- the most popular probably being Square Foot Gardening.  I love square foot gardening, but for anyone who is considering building a raised bed, I have yet to see a step-by-step tutorial as thorough as the one over at Pioneer Woman’s website.

So choose a spot wisely, choose your gardening method, and also start considering what kind of vegetables you would like to grow.  Up next, I’ll talk a bit about soil and what you need to know.