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Many thanks to HOMEGROWN member Stacey, and to everyone who contributed their 2 cents to this 101, for your thoughtful advice on garden planning. Please keep the good ideas coming!

The most important step in starting your garden is deciding to do it. Already there? Awesome. Now that you're committed, you can make things a lot easier on yourself by doing some simple planning ahead of time. Written with the first-time gardener in mind, this 101 walks you through the key factors you'll want to consider and includes links to related HOMEGROWN resources and useful external sites.

 

1. SPACE: Determine your space availability and the best location for your garden. Finding space close to your house and near a water source is certainly convenient, but most important is finding a location that gets at least six hours of full sun per day. Spend a week or so observing your yard (or balcony or community garden plot or wherever you'll be growing) at various times throughout the day—and take notes. If you don't have a spot that gets several hours of direct sun, choose the sunniest spot available and consider plants that benefit from partial shade. Other things to note include drainage (you want it) and shade from surrounding buildings (some is OK, but a lot probably isn't great).

2. METHOD: You'll need to decide whether to plant in containers, raised beds, using vertical gardens, or in larger plots. One thing to remember is to start small. Doing so keeps your garden manageable while you learn! More useful resources:

 

3. GROW WHAT YOU LIKE: Think about what you like to eat. There's no sense planting broccoli if you'll never eat it! Once you've assembled a list, do some research and determine whether your top picks are things you can grow given your skill level, in your location, and using your method of planting. One tip: Growing delicious food is an especially crafty way to get kids interested in gardening. For a pint-sized top 5, check out Lola's Edible Gardens for Kids 101.

 

4. SOIL TEST: It's important to know if your soil is clay-heavy, sandy, loamy, or something in between. You'll also want to know the pH level. For more on soil testing, check out HOMEGROWN Life blogger Rachel's awesome 101. Ohio State also offers helpful information on soil testing and improving soil health.

5. HELP: When it comes to gathering free information on planting dates in your region, as well as how to care for your vegetables, your local cooperative extension is your best friend. Some extension offices will even assist with soil testing. HOMEGROWN member Christa has a great blog post on extension services that includes a link to the USDA's interactive map that will help you locate your agency. More help:

 

6. GET STARTED: Once you’ve decided what to plant and which method you'll use, it's time to finalize your plan. Careful planning will serve you well during your first years of gardening, as will tracking what you plant, where and when you plant it, supply costs, and what thrives and what doesn't.

 

MORE FROM HOMEGROWN

» Check out the Selecting Seeds 101 for everything you want to know about finding and buying seeds.

» What should you do with those seeds, once you have them? Find out in the Seed Starting 101.

» Matt shares a solid intro to four-season gardening in his Fall Planting and Winter Planting 101s.

» And don't forget the 101s above: Container Gardening, Raised Bed Gardening, Edible Gardens for Kids, and Soil Testing.

» HOMEGROWN Life blogger Rachel, of Bay Area Dog Island Farm, shares a permaculture-approach to site design, as well as parts 1, 2, and 3 on garden layout, and posts on fall and winter gardens, planting by the moon, and recommendations for how much to plant according to what the average family can eat.

AND THE BEST OF THE REST

» Eat Close to Home shares a free drag-and-drop tool for the square-
foot garden that calculates plantings, while the included month-by-month guide details growing stages, from seedlings to harvest.

» Gardener’s Supply Company features the Kitchen Garden Planner, a free drag-and-drop planning grid that's customizable to fit the proportions of your beds or rows.

» Grow Veg's detailed Garden Planner lets you and create your ideal garden layout. The tool includes growing information on 130 varieties, calculates the number of plants you can fit in your garden, recommends how crops should be rotated, and provides weather station information for your area as well as and a personalized planting and harvesting chart. Sign up for a free 30-day trial.

» And HOMEGROWN member Tom recommends Cornell University's Vegetable Varieties for Gardeners, especially for its plant variety and seed company recommendations.

SPEAK UP!

Got a question on garden planning? A tip or a tool to add? Post it below and keep the conversation rolling. You might also be interested in the Garden Bloggers or the Urban Gardeners group, and you can always find more things to plant, grow, make, craft, cook, preserve, and plot in the HOMEGROWN 101 library.

 

PHOTOS: (RAISED BEDS) LYNDA; (BED WITH WATERING CAN) COLLEEN; (RAISED BEDS WITH STAKES) MEGHAN ROSENBAUM

Tags: 101, garden, planning, planting, soil

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I'm going to open comments on the 101 so that y'all can add links that you recommend. I'll then integrate your feedback into the articles. Thank you for your participation!
Soil testing resources:
The USDA web site has a listing of all Cooperative Extension Offices – listed by county. The office in your area can help you test your soil, tell you what it might need for optimal growing. For example, in Pennsylvania, the Penn State Agricultural Analytical Services Lab has standard soil test kits starting at $9.00.
Also, UMass has a soil testing lab: http://www.umass.edu/soiltest/
I'm almost done with my soil testing post. I'm just waiting for my soil structure jar to settle (I thought it would take a day, but it's taking a lot longer than that).

I will be starting my first little garden this year.  Thank you for this great information!

Excellent information!!!  Thank you.

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