Note: The information written is from a conversation between Carmen and Vicky. Carmen has written the article and Vicky has read and approved it for accuracy.
The first week of April may seem like a fine time to begin garden planning, but according to our expert Vicky Shaffer-you're probably behind. Vicky begins planning her garden throughout the previous year, but only begins to put her plan into action around late February-early March when she begins to purchase her seeds and growing her seedlings (primarily tomatoes).
While a seasoned gardener may have their systems in place, Vicky assures us-a garden is still quite feasible for those still figuring it out. First of all, if you had a garden last year and plan to use the same plot, Vicky recommends having your soil tested. You can buy kits in stores and online that can range from $20-$40 or you can take your soil into a garden specialty shop and have it tested there (call to confirm price). The soil test will determine how much PH is in your soil and whether the area you have selected is doomed from lack of nutrients or too much acidity in the ground. If you're debating between two places to have you're garden-testing the soil for each plot would be the best tie-breaker!
Second, Vicky recommends mapping a plan of the garden and what produce you want to include. Cross-comparing the map to the amount of space in which you are using for your garden. Measuring your garden may seem like a useless task, but when you walk your earth and remember how big the green bean and tomato plants get-you will be doing yourself a big favor.
Third, dont repeat last years map. Planting crops in the same place will only hinder the next years bounty. Why? Certain crops use certain nutrients from the ground to grow. By rotating your plants, you give them more access to the 'food' they like-so you can get the food you like! Ever notice that farmers rotate the corn and soybeans each year? Same idea.
Finally, when you are ready to buy seeds Vicky strongly recommends going to a specialty nursery and NOT a super-store. "You need to see the seeds you're buying to check for quality. Always look for vibrant shiny seeds-if they are shriveled, that is a dead seed. You wont get a plant from that!" says Vicky. Also, she recommends looking at the packaging the seeds come it, 'it should say '2013 planting seed'-if it has last years date, do not buy it. You don't know where they're stored off season and that can greatly affect your crop."
Vicky's final piece of advice for newer and learning gardeners, "Stick to the basics. Only grow what you're comfortable with. If you want to grow something new, add one item a year and see how you do. One year, I decided to grow cotton! My kids took the pods to school for show-and-tell. It was fun, but just for a year. Also, a true gardener with 'proof out' in July. Its hot, there are a lot of weeds, meaning: a lot of work. If you can make it through [July], you're good!"