Though snow is on the ground, I have smelled spring! Yes, when the light, temperature and wind are just right, I can smell it and that smell immediately brings to mind daffodils and baby lettuces. Now is the time to begin planning and even building your new vegetable garden. Planning first.
I make vegetable gardens only in raised beds that have rigid sides. It is possible to make raised beds with no rigid sides but I have found these difficult to tend and wasteful of the soil surface given the shape needed to maintain them. Either raised bed method has several significant advantages. The soil warms more quickly in spring. Because the beds are never walked on, the soil does not become compacted (roots need porous soil). Control of the composition of the soil is easier, fertilization and mulching of the soil is easier and year-to-year use is easier. This is not the only method, but since it’s mine, we will continue thusly.If this is your first vegetable garden, assess how much time and work you can reasonably give. Maybe you should begin small and grow only a few special plants. It’s easy to picture a large, lush garden that produces every vegetable we dream of but they take work, time and commitment for a significant part of the spring, summer, and fall. The garden size can be increased yearly. It’s very discouraging to begin that large garden only to become overwhelmed by summer and then watch it go to weeds and untended sprawl. A large garden requires learning a lot of new information and skills. And now for the planning….
Locate a place with 6 to 8 hours of sun daily, easy access to water and easy access for you. It will need to be protected from deer! This will undoubtedly mean a fence. (Don’t even think about protecting your garden with deer repellant! Realize that all of your work can be gone in one night of deer feasting when they become accustomed to the repellant you have been using.) Be sure to check with your town or village about fence codes for your location. This is important given the time and money required to build a fence. Deer fences need to be at least 8’ tall. I have read that it’s possible to repel them by building two 4’ fences 4’ to 5’ apart, I have not tried this. Stockade-type fences do not allow them to see what’s on the other side and may discourage them from jumping. Supplies can be purchased locally. Don’t skimp on quality; get that heavier fence and those sturdy poles. Learn the proper methods for construction and use them.
If you’re planning a starter garden with a couple of beds, they can be fenced using tall bamboo poles and deer fencing material. But if you think there’s a possibility that you may expand your garden later on, build the enclosure large enough to allow for it. It can be used for things that need less work: miniature fruit trees, a blueberry patch, flowers, even an eating area.
And now I get out the graph paper. With the shape and size allowed by your chosen location, draw the perimeter of the garden. The beds should be no larger than 4’x8’. Four foot allows for access to the middle from each side and 8’ enables easy movement around the beds. They can be smaller, or differently shaped. Lay out the beds in an attractive but functional manner. Include paths between the beds. Two feet is the minimum but if you might be using a wheelbarrow make them at least 3’ wide. Leave paths between the beds and the fence. Locate gate openings and allow for their openings.
This step is critical. Next week…building the beds.
Jeanelle Myers is a professional gardener and consultant. For gardening discussion you can call her at 631-434-5067.