Garden Planning: Getting to Know Your Growing Space

Starting a vegetable garden is extremely exciting. Imagining lush, bountiful rows of organic homegrown food in your own backyard! What could be more wonderful than that?


As exciting as sowing seeds is, there are a few steps before planing that can be very beneficial for your future vegetable garden. 


The first step is really getting to know your growing space,


Getting to Know Your Growing Space. 


Before you begin anything, take some time to get to know your growing space. Where does the sunlight fall? How does the sun move across your space throughout the day? What type of soil are you working with? What is the elevation of your growing space? Are there high and low points on your land? What growing zone are you in?

Knowing this information can help you decide which plants to bring into your garden, and it will give you a better idea of the best layout. 


Soil Composition 

Knowing whether your soil type is clay, sand, silt, loam, peat or chalk will help you choose the right plants for your garden and maintain them in good health.

To determine the soil composition in your growing space, examine the soil texture by rubbing a moist (not wet) sample between your forefinger and thumb or by firmly squeezing a moist soil sample in your hand. 


Clay soil is sticky and will easily hold its shape. It is easily rolled into a loaf shape and can be smoothed to a shiny finish by rubbing with a finger. If is it not a heavy clay it won’t get quite as shiny or be as easy to roll into a loaf.

Sandy soil has a gritty element – you can feel sand grains within it, and it falls through your fingers. It cannot be rolled to make a loaf shape. If it is not a coarse sand and perhaps a sandy loam it may stick together better 

Loams are comprised of clay, sand and silt that avoid the extremes of clay or sandy soils and are fertile, well-drained and easily worked. They can be clay-loam or sandy-loam depending on their predominant composition and cultivation characteristics. (This is generally what we’re aiming for).

Pure silt soils are rare, especially in gardens. They have a slightly soapy, slippery texture, and do not clump easily

Chalky or limerick soils may be light or heavy, but are largely made up of calcium carbonate and are very alkaline. If soil froths when placed in a jar of vinegar, then it contains free calcium carbonate (chalk) or limestone and is lime rich.

 

pH Levels


Another important aspect of soil type is the pH (acidity or alkalinity). This will also affect the type of plants you can grow and how you manage your soil.

 

Working with your Soil

Now that you know what type of soil you have, you can start to work with it.

Clay Soil
It retains moisture and nutrients, but has poor drainage and can impede root penetration when too compact or dry.To improve soil that is heavily clay based, add soil from your compost and perhaps even some sand. This will break down the clay into smaller pieces, not only improving drainage, but making the nutrients in the clay more readily available for your plants. 

Sandy Soil
This soil type is usually low in nutrients, and lose water quickly due to it being free-draining. By adding organic matter (compost), you will increase the nutrients and boost the water holding capacity of your soil. You may also consider using compost tea as a fertilizer to give your plants and extra boost of nutrients in this case.

 Silt Soils
These soils are composed of fine particles which are easily compacted. They contain more nutrients than sandy soil and hold more water so tend to be more fertile, however, adding compost can help improve growing conditions as well. 

Loams
The gardeners best friend. This soil is considered the perfect balance of all soil particle types. However, adding organic matter/compost regularly is necessary as your plants absorb and deplete the nutrients from the soil.

Chalky Soils
Chalky or Limestone rich soils are alkaline. They are tricky to remediate so it is best to opt for plants that will thrive in alkaline conditions. 

 

Elevation and Drainage 


You may also want to consider the elevation and drainage of your growing space. Plants that require a lot of water would fare well at the bottom of a slop, where plants that like more drainage will prefer higher scapes. You can manually obtain this by creating micro hills and valleys.
One does not have to get too caught up in this when just starting out, however, it can be extremely beneficial when it comes to water conservation.

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