So just where will you put your garden or orchard? If you live on a small acreage, your choices may be limited in this regard. However, you probably still have some options, so do the best you can with what you’ve got. Here are some things to consider.
Probably the most important criterion for a good garden location is sunlight. Most plants will appreciate as much sun as they can get, the main exception being cool-weather crops in summer. In general, therefore, you will want to choose a sunny spot for your garden or orchard. You can always cover a shade-loving plant with shade cloth, but you will be hard pressed to get sunlight to a warm-season plant growing in the shade.
Take a good look at where the trees on your property are located. A few trees as a windbreak on the north side of the garden may prolong your growing season somewhat, but trees on any other side may cause a problem. And don’t forget that those little saplings are going to shade the surrounding area one day!
Your garden or orchard needs to be in a spot that you will visit frequently. The best place is by the house, since you’ll be more likely to pass it on a regular basis. Plus, if you need something for the kitchen you can run out and grab it quickly.
It’s even better if you can see your plants from the window of a room where the whole family spends a great deal of time together, such as the kitchen or living room. The garden will stay fresh in your minds and provide an excellent topic of conversation.
Did you know that even a small yard has a variety of microclimates? In general, the areas that receive the most sunlight, such as south-facing slopes, warm up the fastest in the spring and stay warm the longest in the fall. But there are other variables, as well. For example, a house radiates heat, which will keep nearby plants warm at night.
One of the best ways to identify warm and cool microclimates is to go outside on a morning with some patchy frost on the ground. If possible, avoid planting a garden in the places where you see a frosty crust on the grass; areas with only dew are a better bet. This type of planning can help keep the growing season going as long as possible.
Once you’ve narrowed down some of the possibilities, consider drainage. You don’t really want your garden to look like a pond in spring, so it’s best to avoid low spots. If you have no choice but to plant your garden or orchard in a poorly drained location, you may be able to do a little bit of landscaping to improve the situation. Build the soil up, and consider digging a drainage ditch or two.
Also bear in mind that your soil (see below) plays an important role in your drainage situation. Clay soils tend to drain very poorly. Adding plenty of organic matter will help.
You may not have any choice about the type of soil you’ll have to work with, but if your property is large enough to give you some options you may want to consider basing the final selection of a garden or orchard site on the dirt. Keep in mind, though, that sunlight, proximity, temperature, and drainage are far more important considerations. Poor soil can usually be remedied without too much trouble; a shady garden usually cannot.
The ideal soil type will largely depend on what you are growing. However, a good loam with a neutral pH will provide a happy medium that will suit just about everything you may decide to plant. Some perennials may appreciate either a more acid or a more alkaline soil, but for a diverse garden with frequent crop rotations a neutral pH will be more suitable.
If you have extremely acid or alkaline soil, however, you may need to correct it. Lime will raise the pH, while sulfur, sawdust, and peat moss will lower it. A particularly clayey or sandy soil should be corrected as well. In either case the solution is to turn in compost and/or well-rotted manure.
Those of you with black walnut trees on the property may want to be careful about where you put your garden. Black walnuts release toxins that will poison many garden plants. If possible, choose a walnut-free location for your garden. Those of you with small acreages and little choice in the matter may still have success growing vegetables in raised beds, provided that you keep the beds swept free of leaves and nut hulls.
You may also want to consider adjoining land use and take steps to avoid inadvertently contaminating your garden or orchard with chemicals from your neighbor’s cornfield. One common practice is to maintain a buffer zone between an organic farm and a non-organic farm. For those of you who will be seeking organic certification, this type of planning is a must. For more information, please contact your certifier.
Next week: Logistics