Regardless of the space you have available to you, there are ways to maximize the space so you can grow as much as your area will allow. Learn practical ways to expand and extend your growing season, how to work WITH your climate rather than against it, what the MOST important thing in gardening is, plus other tips for getting your crops to produce the best they can.
It’s already 2022 and we’re updating this post from 2021 on garden planning basics. You can watch part 1 of our 2022 garden planning Pantry Chat below (we’ll be sure to add part 2 once it’s published!)
We’re already moving fast through the year and it’s time to start thinking about garden planning! How can you optimize the most amount of food possible from whatever space you have available?
Whether you have a large amount of space or a small balcony, the methods discussed in this video and blog post will work great for you!
There’s already so much you can be doing to get your garden off on the right foot. If you didn’t put your garden to bed for winter, you’ll want to check out these 12 things you MUST do to prep your garden for winter (hint: it’s never too late to do most of them!). That is unless you are buried in snow like we are for the winter, then you will have to wait for spring!
We’ve already discussed spring garden planning ideas, tips and tricks, so if you’re looking for more info after reading this post, it may be a great place to head next. From there, check out the top 10 common gardening mistakes to avoid.
Plan Your Garden Space
Before you plant your garden, you’re going to need to choose your gardening space. Where will you grow your food?
If you’re in an apartment in the city, you may only have a balcony available to you. For small spaces, we LOVE growing vertically in our vertical garden tower.
Or, if you’re in the suburbs, there may only be one area of your yard suitable for a garden. Did you know you can turn a sunny section of sod into a perfect garden spot? We did that along the south-facing side of our house.
But don’t limit yourself to what seems obvious, think outside the box! Maybe you have a sunny patch of soil along the fence line, or a nice large wall that gets plenty of sun. These are both great areas to utilize with pots, planters and even vertical trellises.
Basic Garden Needs
Wherever you choose to grow food, there are a few basic needs your crops will require:
- Good quality soil
- Adequate sunlight
- An accessible location
- Protection from pests
- Watering system (or watering plan)
If you’ve never grown a garden before, or perhaps this is the first year, we recommend doing a basic soil test (a simple pH test from your local extension office will suffice).
Having a soil test done will ensure you don’t have any serious soil issues before getting started. Trust us, there’s nothing worse than spending long hours selecting the right seeds for your garden, prepping your garden, starting your seeds indoors, then transplanting those starts into the garden, only to have them get stressed and have low yield due to soil deficiencies.
Soil Quality Basics
For good quality soil that will support your growing plants, there are a handful of things your soil needs:
- Carbon – what gardeners refer to as humus.
- Oxygen – your soil has to hold oxygen, so it can’t be too dense or heavy.
- Water – your soil has to hold water, not too much, not too little!
- Minerals – soil will always have minerals, but the right minerals in the correct ratios are reasons you may want to supercharge your garden by amending your soil with a Complete Organic Fertilizer (COF).
- Biological Activity – you have to have microorganisms and biological activity for growth.
- Correct pH – 6.5-7 pH range is good.
Getting a soil test will give you a basic overview of your soil.
How to Improve Your Soil
Microscopic critters! It may seem odd, but having bugs, bacteria, and other little microscopic organisms isn’t always a bad thing! We call this the soil food web.
The healthier your soil, the healthier your plants, and the better they’ll be able to resist the harmful pests.
I know this can get expensive, and many people want to skip this step, but the compost WILL pay for itself in the garden because your vegetable production will just be better and your vegetables healthier. To learn how to make your own compost check out How to Make Compost the Easy Way – Composting 101.
Six inches of good quality soil is a great start for a new garden.
If this isn’t an option for you, you could try and source a large amount of manure (cow, chicken, goat, rabbit, pig, etc.), and a large amount of organic materials (leaves, straw, or hay – be sure there is no spray, seeds or chemicals).
Allow everything to break down for about 6-8 weeks, then mix the two of them together. Though this is the harder route, it will be worth it to improve your soil.
If you have the time and resources and really want to get a garden going quickly or resuscitate one with depleted soil then follow the directions above in the fall or very early spring, then layer compost on that and mulch to follow where appropriate for what you are growing.
Amending Soil in Containers
Depending on what you grew in your container and how heavily you used the soil, you’ll want to eliminate about 50% of it and replace it with good quality compost.
You can use the discarded soil in your larger garden beds by mixing it in and amending it with some minerals and additional compost. This will work well for less demanding crops.
Amending Soil in Garden Beds
In a raised bed or a garden plot, you’ll just need to add about an inch of good quality compost to amend the soil.
Complete Organic Fertilizer – Steve Solomon’s recipe for a complete organic fertilizer is great and works in nearly any type of soil you have. Check out this information on complete organic fertilizer here.
Choosing Your Garden Spot
Depending on where you live you may not have a choice as to where your garden goes. If you live in an apartment, you’ll just have to make do with whatever sunlight your balcony or a sunny window receives.
Has Adequate Sunlight
Choose a spot that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight. This is a great average number of hours as some crops take less sunlight, while others take more.
If you’re not sure how much sun your garden spot will get during the summer months, use the Sunseeker App. It’s a great tool to help you plan out your garden space.
Work with your planting arrangements so your taller crops don’t block out your shorter plants unless this is something you’re trying to do to protect some shade-grown crops.
Think creatively about your space. If you have a wall of your home that gets great sunlight, think about planting trellising vegetables in pots that you could grow in that space.
Is a Viewable Location
Another tip we suggest is choosing a spot that’s a viewable location. The more you can see and interact with your garden, the more successful you’re going to be in the long run.
If you’ll be building raised beds, try not to make them wider than 36 inches. That way you can easily reach into the center of the beds without having to stretch, trample or damage crops as they grow in.
Utilize Your Landscape
If you have garden areas around your grass or near fence lines that get good sunlight, utilize this space. Create pathways, if needed, so you can access the entire area.
Grow pole beans, peas, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, and many other veggies vertically on trellises, DIY bean tunnels or hoop houses, or even just a pole.
Container gardening isn’t just for apartment gardens! If you have a sunny sidewalk or a small area that would work well for a container to grow veggies, think about growing vertically in a container!
One of our favorite containers that we’ve used ourselves, is the GreenStalk Vertical Tower Garden.
It has a great watering system that self waters very evenly throughout all the levels. We were very surprised at the “salad garden” we grew in ours last year, just how much food we were able to produce in such a small square foot area.
You can also use simple five-gallon buckets, cardboard boxes, milk jugs, or even straight in the bag of soil from the hardware store!
See what you have available to maximize your space for growing.
Protect Your Garden
Depending on where you live, there may be critters, large and small, that you’ll want to protect your garden from.
In our area, we need to protect our gardens from animals like deer and elk. To do this, we have a fence surrounding the perimeter of our garden.
If building a fence is cost-prohibitive, an inexpensive option is to use deer fencing and a few posts.
Fencing won’t keep out the small critters. If rabbits, gophers, mice, cats, or dogs are an issue, you’ll need to figure out the best solution.
If you have cats that are good mousers, they can be one of the best defenses to the smaller critters that may want your crops. However, some cats like to use the garden as their litter box, so you’ll have to determine if your cat is more of a nuisance or help to the garden.
If cats aren’t an option, you can try traps or even a pole hawk. But don’t use a pole hawk if you have chickens, you’ll scare them away!
Have a Watering Plan
No matter where you choose to put your garden, you’ll want to have a watering plan before your seeds even go into the ground.
The quality of your soil will determine how much you need to water (whether you have sandy, well-draining soil, or dense, clay soil).
The average water needed for a garden is about 1 inch of water per week. To make sure your soil is getting enough water, you need to poke your finger down an inch or two into the soil to make sure the soil is damp.
If the soil is dry, you’re not watering deep enough and the roots of your plants aren’t actually getting enough water to sustain the plant.
The trick to watering well is watering more, less often. This allows you to get a deeper watering with a chance for the soil to dry out and your roots to grow deeper and stronger.
We prefer an overhead watering system because it mimics rain and nature. However, if you’re in a dry climate or need to conserve water, soaker hoses or a drip system can work better (they’re just more expensive and more work to manage).
Our overall tip is to know how you’re going to water BEFORE the plants go into the ground. It’s very easy to end up with stressed plants that don’t end up producing well because you didn’t have a plan for adequate watering.
You also need to consider what you’re planting and how much water it needs to get sprouted. Things like lettuce and carrots planted near the surface will need daily watering (sometimes twice daily if it’s warm) as they are sprouting to make sure the seeds stay moist.
Hose timers can be a great way to be sure your crops get watered as needed without you needing to remember!
When To Plant
In some areas, you can actually get up to 3 plantings per year.
Cool-weather crops are able to be planted before the last frost date, as soon as the ground is workable for an early spring garden.
Then you’ll have your main summer garden, which gets planted after the threat of frost has passed.
And in many climates, you can often even get a fall garden planted mid-summer (usually mid-July to early-August) so you can harvest crops well into fall. (Here are 20 vegetables you can plant mid-summer and still get a harvest before your first frost date.)
We often utilize crop rotation methods and succession planting for certain crops, which means we plant fewer seeds more often to grow food that will give us a continual harvest for fresh eating throughout the season, rather than a large planting that’s ready to harvest all at once.
Clyde’s Garden Planner
Clyde’s Garden Planner is a great tool for knowing when to plant vegetables based on your last frost dates. Use code “homesteadingfamily.com” for 10% off your order!
Not only does the planner show you when you should be planting your seeds, but it will also show you the estimated harvest date so you can plan your preserving days, and also know when you can plant something else, once that first crop is harvested.
What to Grow
How do you decide what you should grow in your garden?
What grows well in your climate?
The number one priority is to know what grows well in your area. Don’t fight your climate! Grow what does best where you live.
But how do you know what grows best in your area? Our favorite tip is to ask your avid gardening neighbors! Each growing zone has many microclimates, so it’s good to have an idea of what your neighbors experience.
How much sunlight does your garden get?
You should also grow vegetables that will grow well with the amount of sunlight your garden area gets. (This may mean not growing tomatoes!)
You can also look at different varieties, hybridizations, and even open-pollinated seeds that are designed for specific needs such as low light.
Know how you’ll use your crops
Know your crop’s end purpose and the best way to preserve it. Is it just for fresh eating during the summer months? Or are you hoping to harvest and preserve it for eating year-round?
Some crops, such as zucchini, are really only good for fresh eating as there aren’t many great ways to preserve it that have favorable results. (If you’re looking for more ways to use zucchini, try this zucchini blossoms recipe and quick & easy zucchini pickles.)
Consider your space
Taking up a large section of your garden to grow zucchini when you’re wanting to preserve a lot of food for the winter months just wouldn’t be wise.
Give the food items that you want to preserve a larger garden area so you can grow enough to put up. But also consider how much space each plant takes and consider different ways to maximize your garden space (see growing vertically above).
Find a good balance of food you can eat fresh, preserve with minimal effort (like root vegetables), and even crops you’ll preserve by canning or freezing.
Think about the entire calendar year to decide how you want to eat (in June, September, and even February!).
Utilize companion planting
Find out what grows well together so you can grow more in your space.
Companion planting consists of three categories:
- Crops that benefit each other
- Crops that are neutral (neither beneficial nor detrimental)
- Crops that are detrimental to each other
Do your research to know what crops will work well together so you can maximize your space.
We recommend checking out the book, How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons.
And don’t forget to grab your FREE PDF download on getting a healthy garden in five easy steps.
Podcast Show Notes: In this Episode
- Josh and Carolyn describe how their food storage is going this year.
- Josh and Carolyn share stories about their oldest son getting his driver’s license.
- Josh and Carolyn talk about the best time to buy garden seeds and poultry.
- Carolyn discusses the new cadence with Pantry Chat episodes.
- Josh and Carolyn are busy planning a dairy class to come out in the fall. (Dairy Class now available here!)
- Josh explains how and why to check the pH levels in your soil before you begin your gardening adventures.
- Josh and Carolyn review best practices for garden sunlight.
- Why being able to see your garden is important for long-term success.
- How to maximize your space by choosing the right type of beans.
- Protecting your garden against various critters.
- Carolyn references 5 Steps to a Healthy Garden.
- Josh and Carolyn discuss how to get creative using containers and container gardening no matter what size your space is.
- MadeOn skin care products (use code “homesteadingfamily” for 15% off your purchase)
- 5 Steps to a Healthy Garden
- Greenstalk Vertical Planters (use code “homesteadingfamily” for $10 off your purchase)
- Clyde’s Planner (use code “homesteadingfamily.com” for 10% off your purchase)
More Spring Gardening Posts
- Get a Jump Start on Early Spring Gardening – Pantry Chat #75
- Spring Garden Planning Ideas, Tips & Tricks
- How to Use a Vegetable Garden Planner
- Learn How To Start Seeds Indoors (What, When, Why & How)
- When To Start Seeds Indoors
- Seed Starting Problems (& How to Fix Them)
- 10 Common Gardening Mistakes to Avoid
- How to Protect a Garden From Frost
- How to Finance Your Homestead
- Making Raised Garden Bed Rows & Super-Charging Your Soil
- How to Build a DIY Hoop House Greenhouse
- Are Quality Garden Tools Worth the Cost?
- Preserving Herbs in Salt – Two Ways
Josh: Hey guys, this is Josh.
Carolyn: I'm Carolyn.
Josh: With Homesteading Family, and welcome to The Pantry Chat.
Carolyn: This week we're going to be talking about garden planning for serious food production. This episode of The Pantry Chat Podcast is sponsored by MadeOn Skincare. MadeOn specializes in skincare, specifically for dry skin, and they use as few ingredients as possible to get the job done. You guys, this is the type of skincare I would make myself if I had time to make it in my own home, and the great thing is Renee even shares her exact recipes with you.
Carolyn: The Beesilk lotion bar is my go-to lotion when my hands get dry and cracked, and it's only made with three ingredients. Renee created it when she needed something to fix the splits in her fingers, cracks in her feet, and then she found out that it also worked great on her son's seasonal eczema. Go to hardlotion.com/homesteadingfamily to find out what Josh his favorite MadeOn products are, and also use the code, Homesteading Family, for 15% off today's purchase.
Josh: Okay. Well, welcome back to this episode of The Pantry Chat and we are going to be talking about some serious food production in your backyard today.
Carolyn: Yeah, I know a lot of you guys have this on your minds. It's on our minds as well, how to produce and harvest the most amount of food possible from whatever space that you have available. Some of us have large amounts of space, some of us have little teeny bits of space. Some of you guys have balconies or patios where you can grow food, but regardless of the space you have available, there are ways to maximize what you can harvest from that area. We're going to be talking about that today.
Josh: That's right. While these principles and things we're talking about today are universal, we're really going to be focusing kind of on the backyard garden, and then you can take it from there and take it down to the balcony garden, or if you've got a larger space, most of this is going to apply as well, but we really want to see you guys, just are wanting to know what to do with your space and grow as much food as possible. That's on a lot of our minds this year. We're going to help you out.
Carolyn: Great. First, the chit-chat.
Josh: That's right. What is going on with you here in the beginning of 2021?
Carolyn: Yeah. Well, it feels like a bit of a bumpy start to 2021. That doesn't feel super promising, but here on the Homestead, we've got a lot planned for this year. I think we've got a lot going to happen this year, but right now, we are still in that quiet, deep winter sort of time. For me, the focus has been really heavily on homeschooling, getting through school, taking care of the things that we need to do inside the household, and then of course, just keeping up with the food management, which, once you get a lot of food stored, you still have to manage your food storage.
Josh: Yeah, throughout the winter.
Carolyn: Yeah. Whether it's your jars of canned goods, making sure that's getting rotated and using it properly, or it's stuff that's in the root cellar. We've got some squashes out here behind me that are just starting to show signs of age. I'm thinking, okay, we need to make sure we eat these really soon. That's a lot of what I'm focusing on right now.
Josh: I got to say, I'm loving having a lot more root vegetables on the plate this winter. I'm really noticing that, that we've got a lot more onions, potatoes, carrots, beets, and that's really exciting because we've been working towards that for a while, to increase that. We're going to keep working on that, but just through what we put into place last year and through your management, we're just seeing a lot more of that, a lot more of our own vegetables on the plate throughout winter so far.
Carolyn: Yeah, that's really exciting.
Josh: It's looking like we're actually going to get a good ways through winter. Just I was taking stock here the other day and we've still got a bit there.
Carolyn: We do have a bit there, and they're actually storing pretty well for a pretty makeshift root cellar situation. We have a video out on that if you guys want to see what we've done, but it's just some boxes down in the basement. I think it's actually going to get us, at least through the end of February, storing the veggies well, which is a good amount of time through winter, so that's really exciting.
Josh: Yeah. It's great.
Carolyn: Yeah. But how about you? What have you been up to?
Josh: Wow. Well, 2021 in January started off with a bang with a flooded basement.
Carolyn: Flooded basement. Yeah. Remember where we were just saying all those root cellar veggies were?
Josh: Yeah. Well, that's a part of the reason I was taking stock.
Carolyn: And everything else.
Josh: Because I was having to move those around because we had a water issue. Anyway, we survived that. It just feels on par for the season, I guess. That took up a bit of time, but thankfully, we got that resolved, no major damage, and really glad for that. Let's see here, you know what a really exciting one, I know it's scary maybe, is we have a new driver in the house.
Carolyn: Oh yes.
Josh: Our oldest son just got his driver's license so that is a new one for us. We've got a large family, a lot of kids, obviously. For those of you parents that have ... Your kids driving, it's really exciting, on one side. We personally love to see them getting their independence and getting to reach out into the world and do things. We're very encouraging of that. We're not ones that really want to hold them back. We want to help them get out there and go, but it's a little scary too.
Carolyn: I had this very interesting experience the other day of waving to my son in passing. He was driving and I was driving, and I waved to him and I was like, oh, that's a new one. I don't know about that. But it's a good thing. He's a good driver.
Josh: He is a good driver. He did great on his written test and the driving portion, they said he did great on, very solid, so we can have all confidence in him. I think, no matter what, though, just as a parent, turning them loose with a vehicle out there for the first couple times, it's like, okay, [crosstalk 00:06:20].
Carolyn: Absolutely, it makes you a little nervus.
Josh: But it's exciting too. He's able to get out and start doing some things he'd like to be doing. That's exciting, and my mind has been on that. Then, you know what? Just what we're talking about today, garden planning, not only are we continuing to settle this property as we move into our third full year, and I've always experienced, instead, it takes three to four years to really get a garden up and humming. So, I'm excited about the planning, about this coming year, and just even for ourselves, with our large family, we have never hit a place yet where we just say, wow, you know what? We've got enough space in production. We don't need to grow any more this year. We've got to keep increasing and taking new parcels of land ...
Carolyn: And putting it into production.
Josh: And putting it into production and use, so a lot of planning going on there to do that. That's great. It's a lot of work, but it's really exciting too.
Carolyn: I want to mention a few things to you, guys, right now, because 2021, I think has a lot of people feeling a little nervous, a lot of people thinking they'd like to grow more food, raise more animals. If you're thinking about ordering garden seeds and you haven't done it, I highly recommend you do that right now.
Josh: Get on it. Yeah.
Carolyn: The same thing with ordering any poultry, if you're going to bring in any chicks, meat, chickens, anything like that, honestly, preserving supplies, I would not wait until summer, or even early spring to put your orders in for these things because we're already seeing companies getting overwhelmed with orders. If you're not one of the people already overwhelming accompany, I would suggest you get in line right now.
Josh: Absolutely, and when it comes to ordering the animals, especially like chickens or turkeys, we ordered a lot more turkeys this year, just because you're ordering now, doesn't mean you have to get it right away. If you're not feeling ready, like you still need to come up with a plan, especially if you're first time or something, a matter of fact, most of the dates are probably going to be pushed out anyways, and that's why you want to get in there because eventually they're going to run out, or it's going to get pushed out really, really long, but you have some time.
Josh: Don't think that if you're just ordering right now, gosh, they're going to be here in a couple of weeks. You don't feel ready. You can order now, just be realistic about what you can do, but then you've got time to prep for that.
Carolyn: Yeah, you get to choose your date that you want them to show up.
Josh: You can choose your dates, just if you want to get it done.
Carolyn: Yeah, absolutely. Good. Well, another note, some of you guys have noticed that The Pantry Chats have gotten a little quieter. We decided to slow down a little bit on our video production because we have a lot of really exciting in the backdrop that are happening, but they're also taking a bit of our time. So, we had to let something slide a little bit. We're slowing down. We're not doing as many Pantry Chats. We're looking to do at least one a month right now, at least for the first several months of the year, and then we'll go from there.
Carolyn: But any of you guys who are thinking about homemade dairy and that masterclass that we talked about that's coming out this, hopefully September, that is in the planning phase and we are starting to work on some of those really fun projects along with maybe another project that we're not saying anything about yet.
Josh: Not ready to touch on that. No.
Carolyn: No, it's a secret.
Josh: But hey, the dairy class, we pulled you guys and gave you some options, and the dairy class, by far and away was what? Most of you guys out there in our audience was interested in. I'm excited about that. The dairy cow, if you have access to dairy cow, and even if you just have access to buying good quality, raw dairy, that can be, next to the garden, that can be one of the most profitable centers of the homestead as far as a return on your work and your investment. They're huge for us.
Josh: If you've got access to that, if you're thinking about that, it's a great option to be considering right now.
Carolyn: Yeah. Very good. Okay, well, we better dive into garden planning for serious food production because we have a lot to talk about.
Josh: Yes, we do.
Carolyn: Yeah. All right. I know this year, like I've already said, a lot of you guys are concerned about maximizing your food production in your space, wherever it is, and I think that's a really good thing. The world seems a little shaky, a little, I don't know, not so stable as it has been in our past, and certainly in 2020, we watch things become unavailable. For some of us in the first world countries, that was kind of a new experience. All of a sudden, we couldn't get what we wanted. It just wasn't available. I think a great way to respond to that is just to take a positive step forward in increasing your own food security by making the most out of the space that you have.
Carolyn: We've got, I don't know how many, really important keys to doing that, but we're going to start going through them right here. All right, what's the first one.
Josh: Okay. All right. We're ready to dive right in we're going to start with planning, and we actually sent out a poll, not too long, about what you guys wanted to know regarding planning a garden. We're going to cover your top items in here, and that just starts with planning your space. Before you get going, before you do anything, before you order seeds, you really just need to plan out your space.
Carolyn: Yeah. You need to know where you're going to grow. Right?
Carolyn: For some people that means that you just have that little balcony space, and for some people that means that you have that big backyard garden, but if you are starting brand new, there's some things you really need to think about if you're just putting in a garden.
Josh: Right. You want to start with, if you're on new ground that you've never used before, you want to do a basic soil test. Just a basic pH test and maybe a real simple test from your local extension, or something like that, just to make sure everything's in order. Now, if you've been on the ground, you know it, you've used it, and you're comfortable, great. Just go right ahead. But if it's a brand new ground to you, it's good, just to make sure you don't have any major problems. That's the first place to go to. I don't have a particular test just for pH. Get a local test at your garden supply, and your extension can also get you a basic soil test if you want to go to that level, but that is a great place to start.
Carolyn: That's just to know if, like you said, just if you're outside of normal range on anything. That way, if you have some major problems, you can take steps right off to fix that.
Josh: Absolutely, and of course, you can geek out on this. I don't. I mean, I love soil and I get into soil, but I don't geek out on all the technicals. You want to make sure your pH is in that good range, 6.5 to 7. It can be a little out there, and make sure you have the basics in your soil. You don't have any salinity problems or sulfur problems, or whatever. From my point of view, that's the main reason to do that. You can certainly geek out on get into specific pH for every plant and specific minerals and nutrients for every plant. That's a little bit much for all of us to do.
Josh: I don't encourage you to going down that path until you're way down the road, if that's interesting to you, but just making sure you've got a good foundation to work from, you can improve your soil, which we'll talk about in a minute, as long as it's in a reasonable.
Carolyn: Right. Okay. Then you need to make sure that you have adequate sunlight, and this is really a major key to gardening, especially if you're trying to pick the space that you're going to use. I think you need, at least six hours of sunlight, at least in a garden.
Josh: The general rule. You need a space that's got at least six hours of sunlight. Now, there are a lot of things that can take less, and there are a lot of things that need more. A great tool besides just observation on your property is an app called the Sunseeker, and that can actually show you your sun angles, your coverage throughout different times of the year.
Carolyn: Oh, that's nice.
Josh: You can even just get that on your phone, and that can help you. You can even see over your house and kind of see where the shadows are going to be. Because you've got three areas. You've got areas that get solid sunlight most of the day, or a solid chunk of the day. You've got partially shaded, and then you've got nearly fully shaded, which is going to be the North side of your house, or a tree, or something like that here in the Northern hemisphere, and so you want to know those areas to plan out your space. Because there are a few things that can grow in full shade, not very much. There's quite a bit that can grow in partial shade, and then a lot you can do within full sun.
Carolyn: Okay. Then there's ways that you can plant those plants in order to take more advantage of the sun. You can continue to work with your sun and the available sun that you have by arranging your plants so that your taller plants are not shading out your smaller plants.
Josh: Right. Absolutely. Then you can also get into, when you're thinking about space, not just two dimensional, we tend to think very two dimensionally. We want to start thinking three-dimensionally, and when you're in a small space, this gets very, very important that you want to grow up. Exactly what you were saying, you've got plants that grow vertically and shorter. You want to make sure those vertical plants aren't shading out other things, but you can also strategically put those vertical plants in particular places and grow things under them.
Carolyn: Yeah. Okay. Good. For cooler temperatures, even.
Josh: Well, you can create cooler temperatures. You can take advantage of hotter temperatures. You can do a whole lot by moving things around and taking advantage of that three-dimensional space.
Carolyn: Those different spaces.
Carolyn: That's really important to know because there's a lot of places, a lot of you guys are in places where it's really hot is actually some of the problems that you have, and you need to provide for some crops, cooler, shadier places, and maybe that's your problem. Maybe your problem is having too much sun and too much heat, and you can know that you can use other plants in order to provide some of those ideal environments.
Josh: Sure. One thing we did a couple of years ago, we were in California taking care of a family member, and I did a very impromptu garden and I grew lettuce under a decorative palm tree, and it was almost fully shaded, and it did great. That was a lot of fun.
Carolyn: It was very happy.
Josh: It was very happy. Yeah, likewise in our environment now, we need to take advantage of the sun. So, sometimes a vertical wall that gets a lot of sun can be a great environment. I know a lot of you, like if you live in the suburbs, you'll have a wall with a sidewalk or something, and maybe that gets good sun exposure. That can be a great place for some potted trellising heat loving plants.
Josh: We just get those wheels turning, looking at those different spaces creatively.
Carolyn: Now, I know one thing that's really important to me as the person who's cooking with the vegetables is to make sure that your garden is accessible and ideally viewable from at least the house, but if you can make it viewable from your kitchen spaces, it's that much better. The reason for that is, you're standing there, you're chopping vegetables for dinner and you look out and you're like, ugh, I'm going to run out and grab some of the herbs that I have growing outside, or I'm going to do this, or I'm going to do that.
Carolyn: Being able to regularly see your garden reminds you that it's there. It might remind you that it needs care. You look out and you're like, ugh, I'm going to run out and just spend five minutes a weeding, or I really need to water today, or whatever it is. But the more you can see it and interact with that garden, the more successful you are going to be in the long run. Somewhere where you can see it from the house, and ideally from the kitchen. Now, obviously that's working in ideals. We don't all have the ideal circumstance, so you kind of have to do what you have to do, but if you have the option, put it close to the house.
Josh: Well, and we've got a lot of things to juggle here. So, you're definitely going to have to take all these tips and prioritize them with organization based on your space. But the other side of that is getting it as close to the house as possible, and the things that you're going to harvest most, or that you're going to harvest daily, you want closer. The things that are maybe a once a year harvest, you can put out a little bit further. Again, like Carolyn's saying, that is going to keep you a lot more engaged in the garden and it's going to make your work less actually.
Carolyn: Yeah. It's going to increase your enjoyment too, because you're going to like looking out and seeing your vegetables. It is so much fun. It's very rewarding to see them they're in a green space. Yeah, absolutely.
Josh: Very good. Another tip when you're making beds, your garden beds, or your garden plots, try not to go wider than 36 inches. Leave yourself space on each side. That's just to make ease of use so that you can reach in from a squatting position very easily and get the things. Now, we tend to think very linearly with gardens and just a big garden plot and straight rows, but if you're in a backyard garden, you may have to take advantage of a lot of niches and different spots, and so you might have to get a little creative. You don't have to have straight 36 inch rows, but try to make sure, however you're shaping things that you've got access from every side.
Josh: Otherwise, you get to trampoline things, you get uncomfortable, and just makes it a lot more challenging.
Carolyn: If you're working in maybe a suburban backyard, you may have existing little flower beds around the edges of a lawn or something like that, and if it's getting full sun, you can definitely use those spaces to grow vegetables. But again, you have to be careful that sometimes those get really far reaching back into the corner to where the fence goes or something like that. You need to be able to harvest what you're planting, and work with it, weed around it and do things like that.
Josh: Right. So, you might just make a path back in there if it's too far and make yourself a narrow little path that you can access, and if that bed is just naturally deeper because you're working with existing conditions. Another one, which we mentioned already, is to grow vertically, is to start looking at how to get things growing up, not just out.
Carolyn: Take advantage of that space up, which would be things like pole beans instead of growing all bush beans, which are low growing. If you're growing the pole beans, you get to get all of that growing space up. You can trellis squash, you can grow peas.
Josh: Tomatoes, you can get growing more vertically, especially if you'll grow the indeterminates, cucumbers, you can grow and you can thin them so that you can get some light underneath and grow things underneath them and get them growing up. It's also nice for harvesting. I love it when we've got a lot of vertical growing and you can just walk up and harvest, and you're not spending all your time crouched down.
Carolyn: Well, I always like, when I'm doing the pole beans, like it becomes almost an exercise, start-up top overhead and you down, and then there's something on the ground below it that you're harvesting and harvest down there, it becomes this very nice motion that gives you a full range, so you don't end up with just this backache from being hunched over, getting something low. But you also gain a lot of growing space by doing that.
Josh: All right. Another spatial issue that a lot of you guys were asking about was protecting your garden from various critters. We're going to talk a little bit about large critters, small critters, and microscopic critters. This is part of thinking out your space because we do want to protect the garden. All right?
Carolyn: Okay. Good. That's good. If you have a lot of large critters in your area, that's going to include things like deer. I know that's a big problem in our area, deer, elk.
Josh: Deer and elk.
Carolyn: But maybe you have other large-ish type. Somebody was telling us they had a problem with wallabies. Is that right? I think it was wallabies getting into their garden.
Josh: Well, that's Australia. Yeah. We've got some friends in Australia.
Carolyn: That's not a problem we have here in Idaho, but there's a lot of larger creatures, and that can be people too, honestly. If you have a bunch of kids running around, you may have to protect your garden from the baseball game that's getting played right next to it in the backyard.
Josh: Especially if they're not used to having that garden around if you're just diving into this. That's just fencing. You just got to think of the appropriate fencing. You can order, what's called deer fencing if you want an easy solution. It's actually a plastic netting that semi-rigid, but it's pretty easy to work with, and you can put it up quick. People around here, I see them do it with tea posts and a couple of people can run it. It's not like a super expensive permanent fence. That's a great fast solution if you just look up, deer fencing, and see if somebody has it locally, or if they don't, you can order it online, but that's a great quick fence to protect from the large critters, whatever they are.
Carolyn: Okay. Then you have your small critters, which is going to be like your rabbits, your gophers, mice, maybe your household.
Josh: Maybe a household cat. We've actually had problems with cats as I've made beds, these long beds, I found the cats, for some reason, love them, just the way I started doing the beds last couple of years.
Carolyn: They really like it.
Josh: And all of a sudden, I've got the cats that are there helping with all the critters. Here's the deal though, is the cats actually, when it comes to the small critters, cats are the number one best defense. We've tried all kinds of things, and there are a lot of tools out there work, nothing works like a few good, we call them barn cats, but outdoor cats on your property that hunt. They're not lazy cats that just sit around and eat and lay on the couch.
Carolyn: And cats love patrolling the garden. It's their favorite thing to do. They love finding plants to lay under, and so it's like encouraging the cat to be more of a cat, but then they're going to fix your problems too, which is really good, as long as they don't dig up your plants.
Josh: I had to get used to them disrupting a few things, especially where I was starting seeds, but it's worth it because we had quite a few gophers when we got here, and we have almost none now, and we've done very little trapping. Now, you can trap. What we found over the years, and even talking to a few older guys, is really the traditional clamp gopher traps, when it gophers, are some of the best. You have to learn to use them right, but those are some of the best.
Josh: Then there's a ton of other methods. Another thing we've done well is the kind of hawk that goes on a pole, the kind of kite haw if you've got any breeze. It's been years since we've used one of those, but that worked really well.
Carolyn: That did work really well, but just to tip, if you have chickens nearby, don't use one of those, because it'll-
Josh: Or the chickens will bail.
Carolyn: It'll scare your chickens.
Carolyn: Okay. Good.
Josh: Yeah. Then the microscopic critters, this is the bacteria, the fungus, the bugs, so I guess maybe not all microscopic, but the little bugs, the pasts that bother our garden. That's tough because we want to be organic. We don't want to just be applying chemicals. There's a couple of things you could do. One is improving your soil. Just like you, the healthier you are, the better you take care of yourself, the more you're going to resist disease and different issues. Your plants, your garden is the same way. The healthier the soil is the stronger and healthier your plants are going to be, and the more they're going to resist those pests and diseases.
Carolyn: We're going to be talking about the health of the soil in just a minute, but I want to tell you guys, we have a PDF download for you guys of, I think, five steps to a healthy garden. Something like that, that you can grab. We'll put the link in the description. We'll probably talk about it again because it's a great, really simple layout on how to get a healthy garden, healthy soil so that your garden can be more resistant to some of these types of problems.
Josh: Absolutely. Another one regarding that is companion planting. There's a lot you can do, we'll talk about that in a little bit, that can help detour different pests, and even some large critters, along with just real quick compost teas. If you're looking for a topical because you got a specific issue, that's kind of a deeper dive, but it's something to get into that's an organic solution that can help with those kinds of problems.
Carolyn: In a lot of places, you can actually buy compost teas now. I've been seeing that nurseries now have compost tea, or you can buy a compost tea concentrate. I don't know how biologically active some of those are, but if you don't have any other option, they might be worth trying.
Josh: It's worth trying. There's a large discussion there, but you can certainly try and you can certainly make your own, which if you learn to do, is going to work with your local biology, that's going to be the best.
Carolyn: Yeah. Great.
Josh: All right. One of our last topics on space is getting creative and also using containers and container gardening. Not just when you're an apartment. I mean, that's a great place if you have no soil, but even in a backyard garden, you can take advantage of containers. There may be a lot of places. Sometimes, like I was mentioning earlier, you've got a sidewalk down a wall, and that gets some good sun. You're in a cooler climate, but you don't have any soil there, don't be shy to use some containers, and plant something along that wall and build some trellising.
Josh: That's a great option. You might have a deck or a patio somewhere that gets sun on the deck and it warms it up. That's another great place. There's a whole lot of areas where you can use containers to grow, and you can even get creative about the kinds of containers.
Carolyn: Well, even though we have a large garden and a lot of space, we experimented this last year with a growing tower called a GreenStalk.
Josh: The GreenStalk, yes. We've used that, and I know a lot of you out there have used that. The GreenStalk is a great system. It's a tower system that builds up in different shelves. They've got a couple of different kinds. It's got a patented water system that works better than anyone out there as it waters very, very evenly. We're going to leave you a link in the description for that and they will even give you guys a discount if you're coming over from Homesteading Family.
Carolyn: Oh wow.
Josh: That is a fantastic system.
Carolyn: Yeah. I was going to say, we were really surprised at how much food we could grow in a system like that per square foot, because it's that taking advantage of that vertical space. We were actually able to grow quite a bit in that that little tower. I was really impressed with it, and it made it pretty easy. There's a lot of options out there for being creative with your space.
Josh: Yep. That one's going to cost you. There's some low dollar ones, five gallon buckets or great old nursery planter pots that they're not doing with any more. You could even use cardboard boxes and double them up. Just get creative, milk jugs for smaller things, lettuces.
Carolyn: I've seen people grow straight into the bags of soil, that they just cut open the bags of soil that the soil comes in from the hardware store [crosstalk 00:28:38].
Josh: Especially for leafy greens, they don't have to be deep rooted, in larger plants like a tomato or a squash. Yeah, just get creative and look to see what you have available to maximize the use of your space. Alrighty. I guess we better move on.
Carolyn: I think so.
Carolyn: Now we're moving on to step number two or point number two. The first one was, in maximizing, figuring your space and planning out your space. Now we're going to be talking about planning, how to improve your soil.
Josh: If you are going to maximize your space, which means you're going to plant densely, and I guess that maybe we didn't dive into that idea of just getting as much into a space as you can by using the space three-dimensionally and getting creative where you use, you've got to improve your soil. This is the single most important thing to grow a lot of food in a small space. Really, it's the single most important thing for gardening, no matter what, but especially when it comes down to maximizing space, you've got to improve your soil.
Carolyn: I've got to tell you, if you have really good soil, you can grow phenomenally large amounts of food in that space. I know one year we took a very small bed. We brought in really, really good soils, and really good compost and filled it. We grew in, I think, six to eight weeks, we grew 80 pounds of greens out of-
Josh: Leafy greens.
Carolyn: Leafy greens, out of what? What size was that bed? It was-
Josh: I think about 30 square feet. Yeah, 3 by 10, something like that.
Carolyn: It was very impressive how much you can get into that garden. Then we cut it down and we did it again. We grew more in there. We had to give it a little bit of food, some soil food. So, you can do a lot in a very, very small space if you have good soil.
Josh: Some basics, we're going to run through this really quickly, but there are some basics that soil has to have good quality soil. You need carbon. That's the foundation of life. Of course, in the gardening world, we call that humus, but really it's just carbon. You need oxygen. Your soil has to be able to hold oxygen. Water, it's got to be able to hold water. You need minerals, which is always there, but you may want to add some, which we'll talk about in a minute to supercharge it. Then it needs biological activity. This is one that people don't think a lot about today. In today's modern world of gardening, we just see the soil as a structure and then we add in fertilizers.
Carolyn: We don't think of it as being alive and having alive components to it.
Josh: Right. We want to develop good biological activity and then we want to keep all the pollution out.
Carolyn: Yeah. Again, that PDF that we'll leave the link for, for you in the description covers these things, so if we're running through it too fast, you can check that out and see that. Okay. So, you go to your backyard and you've done a soil test, nothing's too crazy outside of normal. What are the steps you're going to take to improve that soil?
Josh: Well, if you're going to do it quickly and you're not going to take up composting, because that's going to take a while and it's a skill you got to learn, which we want to encourage you. But if you're just trying to get off the ground this year and get a garden going to produce as much food as you can, you need to just go buy the best quality compost that you can. People balk at this. They don't want to do this. They want to save money, and I get it, but this is the one place that you don't want to pinch pennies on. You want to find the best organic compost that you can find and use it and buy it. You will not regret it.
Carolyn: Yeah. It will pay for itself in the garden. I've got to tell you, we've done this year after year. When we've moved to new places, we've done it all sorts of times. It has, every single time, always paid for itself within the first year with the vegetable production.
Josh: Well, and one just real life example here real quick because people thought it was nuts when I was telling him I was doing this during the year, garden we were growing, and I bought ... We spent about $2,000, which we didn't have a lot of money. We were in a new place, living off of savings, trying to figure out how to develop an income, growing our knowledge base. I spent $2,000 on seeds and on soil amendments, compost and mulch, about 1500 of that.
Carolyn: So, you can get, seeds aren't very expensive.
Josh: Right, yeah. 15,00 to 1700, that was on the soil. I was sharing that with some of our neighbors that were new, we didn't know, and they thought I was out of my mind, that I was putting so much into dirt.
Carolyn: Now, I do want to qualify and say that this was a large garden space. It was probably much larger than your average backyard garden.
Josh: Yeah, it was a quarter acre or so. It wasn't gigantic. Anyways, we grew easily $8,000 worth of organic vegetables for ourselves that year. That is the power of soil. Not only that, you're producing healthy food for yourself, so you're making yourself healthier. Not that you need to spend that much money, but whatever your space is, if you want to get up and going quickly, you've got to amend the soil and you need to get the best in there that you can, and it's worth spending the money on. If it's a first year garden, you can use up to about six inches of good quality compost.
Carolyn: That is a lot on the top of your soil.
Josh: On the top, you can mix it in. I mean, I like to do no till, but I've done plenty of tilling. I've done plenty of mixing that soil in. If you need to loosen your soil, go ahead and take several inches and turn it in, because you do need to lose on the soil if you want to get it going, especially in a first year garden. You probably don't want to wait for that layering, lasagna gardening effect to get going. That's where you would want to turn some of that compost in, then layer it and mulch, but you just ... That's the quickest, fastest way to do it, is just get good soil in there. Good compost.
Carolyn: Let's say you just can't spend the kind of money to get that in there. Would you have another option to do that?
Josh: I do. Yep. You got to get scrappy and you're going to have to work hard, and that is to go find a lot of manure, cow manure is going to be the bulkiest. It's going to add to that, but rabbit manure, goat manure, pig manure, chicken manure, but to go find as much as you can, and then find a lot of carbonaceous green, not green waste, but organic material leaves would be great, straw or hay, just if it's clean, no seeds and no chemicals, and try to break that down, and you're going to have to start this about eight weeks before you want to garden, at least depending on your environment. But if you want to go collect all that, bring that in and mix it all up and let it start to decompose, and then turn it into the soil, that is a quick way to do it. You just have to make sure you give it enough time to break down. That's why I say at least eight weeks.
Carolyn: You're essentially composting in place.
Josh: You're essentially composting in place. Yes, it's not going to be as balanced and well-defined as a good compost, but we've done this. It does work, and it can get you going for a lot less, because you can probably find somebody to get some manure from, but if you're in the suburbs or urban, that's going to be a little tougher, and that's where again, I'm going to come back to the compost. It's worth it.
Josh: Yeah. Whatever you do, whether you spend dollars, or you go do the hard work and the hauling, you've got to improve that soil. That is key to your success in any gardening, but especially backyard gardening, trying to get it going now.
Carolyn: Okay. Let's say you're working in pots on your patio. You've got maybe even the GreenStalk system or something like that, and you've got soil in there sitting there from last year, maybe even a small raised bed garden, what are we going to do to fix our soil in there? How do we get ready for the new year?
Josh: Well, depending on what you grew and how heavily you use that soil, you're going to want to change some of it out in those pots. I would go for at least 50%, depending on what you're going to grow. Now, if you're just going to grow some lettuces on top or something that are pretty easy to grow, just take out a little bit of the top and add in some new. But you want to, again, how far do you go? How much do you want to grow? How healthy do you want those plants to be? The more you can change that soil and those potted conditions, the better it's going to do for you. Then take that soil and go mix it into maybe a larger bed somewhere and amend that as well for some maybe lower demand vegetables. That's kind of a rotation or a system that I would try to get going.
Carolyn: Okay. What if you're dealing with some small raised beds in your back garden? Are you going to try and scoop out 50% of the oil there and then put more on there? What would you do there?
Josh: No. The difference with the raised beds is your roots can still go down. In a pot, obviously they're limited. They can only go so far, so you need as much nutrition packed into that soil as possible. With the raised beds, you still have access to the ground, roots can reach down for water, they can reach down for nutrients. Generally, you're just going to keep building up, because most of your amendments, as you get going, they're going to settle over time, they're going to get used up, and you can generally just add to that. After that first year of adding several inches about an inch per planting, so if you're doing multiple plantings, high quality compost should amend your soil very well.
Carolyn: Good. Okay, great. Perfect.
Josh: Okay. We've got one more here before we move on. Another quick way to improve soil, but this is a biggie.
Carolyn: And this is a really good one.
Josh: Yes, complete organic fertilizer. Now, we are not proponents of industrial fertilizer. Honestly, we've been moving to a non fertilizer method because I believe that the nutrients are there in the soil and we want to use the biology, but that takes time and work to build up, to get that soil that healthy, so you can make your own organic fertilizer, and that is very, very powerful. We've also seen that work very well on first-year gardens and early gardens. A matter of fact, we're going to be doing a little bit of that this year, to just charge ours up. If you just want to Google, Steve Solomon complete organic fertilizer, there are recipes out there.
Josh: That recipe is a general recipe that's made for pretty much any soil condition as long as you don't have any major issues. It's a balancer. You don't have to worry about, am I too low on nitrogen or this or that, or phosphorus or whatever? Any of those issues. This is just a general good quality fertilizer. It works in sandy soil, clay soil, loamy soil. We've used it in the different places we've lived, everywhere. I would highly recommend doing that right out of the get-go. Any recipe you find should also tell you how to use it, how much. We won't go into that here. But that is very, very powerful.
Carolyn: Yeah. Very good.
Carolyn: Good. All right.
Josh: Exciting stuff. I'm getting excited about. I'm ready to get out of the garden and keep going here, talking about all this.
Carolyn: All right. There are a few other elements to being successful for a garden, especially if you are really densely planting your garden. One of the things you have to realize is the denser you plant, the more densely you have those plants in there, the closer they are together. Your soil can support it because you just got it really healthy and really charged up, but it's going to use a lot more water out of that soil. So, before you start planting densely, before you really have this highly productive garden, you need to make plans on how you're going to handle your watering. Don't wait until your plants are wilting before you try to figure out what you're going to do about it.
Josh: Absolutely. You need to have a plan. The average garden needs about an inch of water per week. That's just across the board average vegetable garden. That's about what it needs. Again, you can geek out and figure out this planning, whatever. That's just a bit much for both of us. If you think about an inch of water per week on average, unless you are in sandy dry conditions, which we've dealt with that, it can take a lot more, and like Carolyn's saying, if you're going to be really packing it in and trying to maximize your space, you're also probably going to need a lot more water.
Josh: You just have to go by field to figure out what that is. There's a couple of things you need to do. One is you need to be checking your soil regularly. Two things, one, not assuming that just because it's damp on top, that it's moist all the way through.
Carolyn: Okay, so you need to dig down a little bit.
Josh: You need to dig down a little bit because a lot of times you've watered, or you've gotten a rain and it felt like a good rain, or you turn the sprinkler on for a little while and it looks nice and wet, and everything looks happy and the soil looks moist, and you go down and just scratching it an inch deep and you'll find quarter inch, half inch down, then it's dry for an inch or two.
Carolyn: It's not good.
Josh: That can really trick you. So, you've really got to be careful and dig down and find out, where is the soil actually moist? Hopefully, it's close to the top, but it might be an inch down. It might be an inch and a half down. So, you've got to check that.
Carolyn: Yeah. Okay.
Josh: The trick to watering well is watering more less often.
Carolyn: watering more less often. Okay, got it.
Josh: Instead of watering every day or every other day, water once or twice a week. If you've got-
Carolyn: For a longer amount of time.
Josh: Right. This is in general. Again, if you've got like sandy, you might might be every other day, heavy watering, depending on your soil. We had a garden like that [inaudible 00:41:27]. They really needed watering, soaking every other day because the soil was so poor, especially the first couple of years. But you want to water heavier. By heavier, I just mean more water and let it soak in and soak down, and really nourish the plants deep down, that also encourages their roots to go down deeper and makes them more resilient where they're out finding water and nutrients. If you water shallow every day, those roots stay near the top. They've got very little resiliency and they're actually not going out and looking for more nutrient.
Carolyn: Yeah. You're actually forcing them to reach down for that water.
Carolyn: Which is good.
Josh: Yeah. It's developing their root base, they're stronger, they're healthier. They can take wind and they can take a drought if you forget to water once or whatever, it'll make a better plant.
Carolyn: Good. Okay.
Josh: One thing I know people want to know about a little bit is watering system. Everybody's always asking about watering systems. I prefer an overhead watering. It mimics rain, it mimics nature the most, and that's what I prefer to use and I've used most of the time. However, if you're in a very dry climate or you need to really conserve water, soaker hoses and drip tape work great. They just are more to manage, or if you're in a greenhouse, like in our hoop house, we use soaker hoses.
Carolyn: I think the real key here is to make sure you're planning how you're going to water before you get the plants in the ground. Make sure you know what you're going to do, make sure, even if you're watering by hand, make sure you have the hoses that are going to reach all the way across your garden if you're going to do that. Because it's very easy to end up with stressed plants that don't end up producing well, so you put all this work into the soil, all this work into getting those plants into the ground, and then you let them get stressed by not watering them adequately because you weren't prepared for it, you actually are going to throw a lot of work right out the window.
Josh: You also need to understand, and we didn't put this in our notes, what you're planting, how much water it needs to get sprouted. Corn goes deeper. You can water it less often, deeper to get it out of the ground, and that works great. Lettuces, carrots, beads, a lot of other things are near the surface, and in the beginning, you've actually got to water them every day, sometimes a couple of times a day, if it's very hot to keep them moist and get them up well. That's part of that planning is knowing, okay, if I'm going to grow a lot of leafy greens, or a lot of carrots, I need to have a plan for that, because I am going to have to get out there, or I'm going to have to have a timer on or something that lightly waters to keep the seeds moist.
Josh: There are a lot of timers. Timers can be very helpful. You don't have to have a fancy expensive system. You can get a hose timer on a sprinkler to you help make sure you're watering down to the timing you need in case you've got to go off to work or whatever it is have to do.
Carolyn: So, you don't necessarily have to put in big fancy irrigation systems. You can just go to your hardware store, get a few pieces with a hose on those tiny [inaudible] little sprinkler that sits on the ground and have it work for you.
Josh: Yes. One last one before we move on. I know we need to move on, but the other thing you need to think about in planning your watering system and with the seeds that you're sprouting is those small seeds can't take very well the heavy water from a large rotational sprinkler, or one of those oscillating, which those can work great for a garden. That's a little more mature. But you need something that sends out smaller droplets. There's plenty over the counter options in your garden supply store, but you just need to think about that if you're planting a lot of shallow, small seeds, because those water drops will push them and knock them around, even when they're starting to sprout, will actually keep them from taking root. So, you got to consider how you're watering.
Carolyn: That is especially important with those little seeds, those carrots, those lettuces, like you were just saying, so you just have to protect those guys while they're little. A great way to do that is actually to cover them with something. Get the soil damp and then cover them with something a little bit so that they don't dry out so fast, but they also don't get moved around by any water [crosstalk 00:45:31].
Josh: Yeah, you can do that. You just got to give them a little more attention so that they don't get scorched or something once they start to sprout.
Carolyn: Okay. We still have a little bit to cover here, but I think this is all going to go together to help a really productive garden this year, and that is a plan when you will plant. Now, this is really important because a lot of people think of their garden as we get around to the last frost date, we put our seeds or our transplants in, we harvest that, and then we're done.
Josh: Sounds nice.
Carolyn: It sounds nice. Sounds easy, but the reality is, is in most areas of the country, you can get three plantings into your garden.
Josh: Sometimes more.
Carolyn: Sometimes more. You can get the early spring when it's still too cool for your main season vegetables, you can get greens, brassicas. There's a lot of things, peas, a lot of things that love that cool weather, and can handle the freezes, or frosts at least. Then you've got your main season, things like your tomatoes that really need that heat and are not going to handle a frost at all. But then you also have your fall season, and even for some of you guys, you can go straight through the entire winter, right back into the early spring, because you've got things like, again, your kales, your brassicas, your mustards, things like that.
Carolyn: Mustard's actually brassica, but things that, spinaches, things that love that cool weather and do really well. You want to make sure that you don't allow spots in your garden to sit empty when something could be growing in there.
Josh: Absolutely, so you're taking advantage of space and time here to grow more often. If you want to grow more food, you've got to plant more seeds more often throughout the, and like Carolyn was mentioning, you have these three basic core times, but you can also be planting throughout the whole season. We actually plant once a week a lot of times during the season to take advantage of spreading out our lettuce growth, carrots, beets, even potatoes. We'll break that up a little bit to get more fresh weeding.
Carolyn: We don't plant potatoes once a week, but we do plant them multiple times.
Josh: No, yeah, right. Yeah, I might've mixed that up. We don't. Lettuces and leafy greens, we will. Carrots and the root crops, we don't, but we'll plant them a couple of times in the season, not just for harvesting once and storing, but for eating fresh. Because again, like lettuce, you can harvest carrots when they're small. If you have enough space, you can plant several iterations. Now, a lot of you're going, how do I know when the plant and what to do? This is where you need a garden planner or a slide chart. We really like Clyde's. You can see this Clyde's Garden planter. This gives you lots of information for all your main vegetables that you're going to plant based on frost dates.
Carolyn: You get to choose your frost date on the chart.
Josh: It's going to show you when you need to plant things indoor, start them indoors, when they can go outdoors, or when they can start outdoors, when the anticipated harvest is. So, you can begin to chart out. One of these is invaluable in taking advantage of knowing when to plant. This chart also got a lot of information on companion planting and expected yields and spacing. Really encourage, if you don't have one of these, to get one. Clyde's gives our Homesteading family followers a discount, so we'll leave you a link for that and you can check it out. This thing is invaluable.
Carolyn: We pull that out constantly. In our own garden planning, that thing is always right there. Something that is so important about a planner, like a slide planner, is that not only does it show you when you should be planting out your plants the first time, but it shows you the harvest, expected harvest dates as well. The importance of that is that you know when you're going to be getting things into the kitchen, roughly, but you also know when you're going to be able to plant something else into those garden spaces after you have harvested.
Carolyn: You can look ahead and plan, okay, I'm going to be able to harvest this thing, maybe mid-June, what can I get into the garden in that space after mid-June to grow on for the rest of the season? Something like a garden planner, like Clyde's Garden Planner is really going to be super helpful in that. That way, not only are you using your space as well as you can, filling out your space all the way, you're filling out the time that you have throughout the season inside that space. That is a major key to getting the most that you can, food-wise, out of a garden in a season.
Josh: All right. Well, we know we're getting down here a little bit, and we're taking a bit of time today, but this is really important stuff, and this is really going to help you get out there and just maximize your space. We got to cover one more topic, and it's a little bit of a big one, but plan what you're going to grow. Now, we're getting to the part that everybody loves, and is the seeds. What am I going to grow? What am I going to put in the soil?
Carolyn: Picking up the seeds.
Josh: what do I get to eat? Or what do I get to put up?
Carolyn: Surprisingly enough, you might have heard us say this before, it's not the prettiest picture in the seed book. That's how I like to pick seeds. Like, wow, look, they're purple. I didn't know they came in purple.
Josh: Not me. I'm the bean counter, and I want to know how much are we going to get for the work that we're doing?
Carolyn: Absolutely, and even that might not be your number one priority.
Josh: Yeah, not always.
Carolyn: Number one priority is to know what grows well in your area.
Josh: Right. Don't fight your climate too much, especially getting started out, and especially if you are growing with a bit of a survival mentality, or look, I want to get as much fresh food and as much put up as I can, then you need to work with your environment. You can always develop systems over time to grow the other things. There's a lot of creativity to put to work there, but right now, you want to get a lot of food in, you need to work with what grows well in your area and in your specific location.
Carolyn: To find that out, a great way to get a better understanding is to ask other local gardeners, "What grows really well for you every year here?" When you find that out, focus on those things, make the other things that don't grow as well, smaller.
Josh: Right. Yeah, check out your hardiness zones. Then once your average first, or your average last frost date, and your first in the fall, you can also understand your main growing window and you can compare that to the things that you're thinking about growing, the seeds and how long they take to maturity, and all of that can help you come up with a plan for what's going to grow well for you in your location.
Carolyn: You also want to grow and select plants based on what kind of space you have available. Now, what you're going to grow in a little patio, a pot, on a patio is going to be vastly different than what you're going to grow in a big garden space, so you have to pick varieties for the space you have available, but that can also mean picking variety, or types of vegetables to grow based on the light that you have maybe. Maybe you don't have a great space with the perfect ideal sunlight and you have modeled shade, a little bit of shade all day long. You're probably not going to choose to grow a whole lot of corn and tomatoes.
Carolyn: But there are a lot of things you can grow. Just, when you're working with the environment that you have, you're not going out and buying a new piece of property to put a garden on, you can choose varieties, you can choose vegetables that's going to work best in those spaces.
Josh: There are also so many varieties, hybridization, and even open-pollinated seeds that are developed for different conditions, and so you want to look at that when you're looking at the seeds, and like, man, I really want to grow tomatoes. That may not be the best thing for you, but if it's really cold, but there are varieties that do better. So, you can get into that varietal exploration a little bit to help you out.
Carolyn: Right. Exactly. Good. Now, another really big one when you're selecting your seeds is to know their end purpose. How are you going to use them? Are you selecting this particular vegetable seed just for fresh eating throughout the summer months? Are you selecting it for putting up for preservation in the end? That's really important to keep in mind when you're doing your garden planning, because you can get yourself so many fresh vegetables that just don't lend themselves well to preservation. Zucchini is kind of the classic example of that.
Carolyn: A lot of times people put in much more zucchini than they need. They can't eat it all. It's not really great to preserve. It's not a really easy preserver. It takes a bit of work to preserve it in any way that people like to eat it again. You just want to limit your fresh eating vegetables to what you need during those fresh eating months, but then, you might want to maximize the space that you need for your preservation vegetables, for things that are going to preserve really well, your family's going to love to eat them preserved and you can get them on the shelf or in the root cellar.
Josh: Yeah. I want to counterbalance that though a little bit, because a lot of people tend to grow for preservation, and then they miss out on eating fresh and on growing things that don't take a lot of work to get from the ground to the plate. Because all that preserving has all these different places of work in them.
Carolyn: Has different steps.
Josh: Growing leafy greens, growing root crops, a lot of those, you can either eat fresh, right out of the ground, or you can store them without a lot of preservation, and it's less work and you want to find a balance in there as well.
Carolyn: Yeah, and so that's where that planning really comes in. Think about how you want to eat throughout the year. When you're growing throughout the season, like we talked about in the last step, and filling out your garden throughout the calendar, you've got those ends of the seasons to be eating fresh leafy greens, and maybe broccolis and things like that so that you don't have to be dependent on the pantry. So, maybe you don't have to put quite as much up for preservation. Just make sure that you're thinking about it as you're selecting your seeds, as you're planning out your garden, how am I going to use this? How do I want to eat in June? How do I want to eat in September? How do I want to eat in February? And plan accordingly.
Josh: Absolutely. Okay. Well, one more, and this is probably one of the most important when it comes to growing a lot of food in a small space next to soil. Soil is top of the list.
Carolyn: Soils are number one.
Josh: The most important thing. But the other thing that you can do is that companion planting and figuring out what grows well together so that you can grow more in your space. We covered this in talking about growing vertically, planting things underneath, but you've got to make sure those things work together, and that's what we call companion planting.
Carolyn: Right. Good. Sometimes this is categorized as folklore and not really like a science or something that actually works, but it is actually a very, very important method to keep in mind.
Josh: There's three categories. There are things that benefit each other, they can actually help each other below the soil and above the soil. There's things that are neutral, which is actually the biggest category, which is kind of cool. A lot of things are just neutral. They don't really care when you [crosstalk] together.
Carolyn: You can mix and match them.
Josh: Right. Then there are things that don't get along well together and they're detrimental, and so you've got to stay away from those. But by knowing those, you can really ... It really helps you impact how much food you can grow in a small space and it can also help you deal with pests and problems, when things like each other, they'll help repel certain problems, or they'll actually help create beneficial bacterial environment or fungus environments that help each other out. The deal is, this companion planting is a pretty complex subject.
Carolyn: It's big.
Josh: There's a ton of information, it's a hard place to get started, and one of the best places for all around learning about that, along with a lot of other subjects is How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons. This book is an encyclopedia. It's got a great section on companion planting that will get you going on the basics, but it also has a lot of information on everything that we're talking about today in planting strategies, small space strategies, along with soil management. It's full of great stuff for growing as much food as possible in a small space and making it nutritionally dense.
Carolyn: I do want to remind you guys that, that Clyde's Planner also has a basic version of companion planting lists on it. So, if you're looking to just be simple, maybe you're not ready to dive in really deep, but you want to play with companion planting, there's some information on that right there too.
Carolyn: Hey, don't forget to grab your copy of that PDF, where we're talking about the five steps to a healthy garden. It's got a lot of really good information in it, and will help you to maximize your growing this year.
Josh: All right. Well, we hope you have a successful garden year. It's been great hanging with you, and we'll see you soon.
Josh: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Pantry Chat, food for thought. If you've enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, rate, and review.
Carolyn: To view the show notes and any other resources mentioned on this episode, you can learn more at homesteadingfamily.com/podcast.
Josh: We'll see you soon.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.