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Amy Rhodes

How To Plan A Garden #1: Create the Design

How To Plan A Garden #1: Create the Design

Lengthening daylight hours and hints of springtime signal the time to plan your garden. This Tower Power blog post is the first in a series of three to guide you in planning a successful year of gardening.  We've crafted an infographic of the basics to get started!

 

(Click on infographic to enlarge)  (Click here to download a pdf of this infographic)

Planning a Garden Infographic Guide and Diagram

 🔗 USEFUL LINKS FROM THE INFOGRAPHIC ABOVE: 

1) Plant Hardiness Zone Lookup: 

http://www.gardentowerproject.com/news/gardening-ideas-recommendations/veggie-scheduling-when-to-start-seeds-plant-harvest

2) Companion Planting Infographic and Database: 

http://www.gardentowerproject.com/news/gardening-ideas-recommendations/why-how-to-companion-plant

  

A Garden Journal or Sketchbook - This doesn't have to be fancy. It can be as simple as putting blank pages into a binder or use card stock or repurposed cardboard as the cover. This is a great activity to do with kids! 

 

In your Garden Journal, you will record temperature and weather patterns, your garden designs, when and what you plant, as well as, your discoveries, successes and failures.  This post has specifics on what to include in your journal.  If you prefer going paperless, online options are available for a fee, like this one launching this Spring 2017 from GrowVeg.com.  

 

No matter how you decide to collect garden information, the most important thing about a Garden Journal is that you keep one. Once you have your journal ready, you are ready to begin planning your garden!

 

Location, Climate, and Weather

 

Begin by observing and taking note of the largest patterns present in your location such as the climate, seasons, and movement of the sun during different times of year. On this grand scale, Plant Hardiness Zone maps can help you determine the length of your growing season and which types of plants will thrive in your geographic area.

 

These zones are based on weather patterns and the average lowest temperature.  If you live in the United States, enter your zip code here to find your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone.  If you live outside the U.S., BackyardGardener.com provides helpful resources. The Old Farmers’ Almanac will help you find the range and number of frost-free days with the Frost Date Calculator.

 

Record in your Garden Journal:

  • Plant Hardiness Zone
  • Average lowest temperature in winter
  • Dates when frost-free season begins and ends 
  • Number of frost-free dates

 

Space and Tools

 

On a smaller, site-specific scale, the amount of available space and microclimates on your property will help determine the best place for your garden or gardens.  Microclimates are small areas or habitats determined by variables such as surface type, walls, wind, water, trees, or other physical features.  Answering the following questions will provide a clearer idea of where and how to create your garden.

           

Record in your Garden Journal:

  • Do you have full sun, partial sun, shade, or a combination of these?
  • Where are your available spaces? Patio, balcony, on concrete, in the yard?
  • How many hours of daylight do these areas receive?
  • Which areas are easiest to access?
  • What kind of tools do you need? Containers, shovels, tiller, hose, watering can?  

 

Plant Selection

 

Gardens serve many purposes. Food, medicine, beauty, therapy, habitat and wildlife restoration are a few general themes. What is the primary focus of your garden?

 

For inspiration, check out this list: 

 

(Click on graphic to enlarge) 

 

The North Carolina Cooperative Extension also has great Garden Themes for Kids. 

 

Explore different types of garden plants, herbs and flowers.  Select varieties that will work with your available space and chosen theme.  If you will have a small space or vertical garden, look for bush or container varieties.  These are smaller in height and grow better in containers.  

 

These sites provide great images and information for plant selection:

             

     

Plant companions are helpful friends that benefit others. For instance, marigolds are friends with many plants in the garden due to their ability to repel pests. Surrounding tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, and brassicas (kale, broccoli, cabbage) plants with marigolds to defend them from nematodes and leafhoppers. These charts will help you discover which vegetables, herbs, and flowers grow well together and which ones should be separated.

 

Time

 

Cliché as it sounds, timing is everything in gardening!  The successful growth of your plants depends on the season, length of time for seed germination, and days to maturity.  Pay close attention to these factors as you decide when to start your garden. 

 

The amount of time you have available to spend gardening is also something to consider.  Are you working full-time, a full-time parent, or both?  Are you retired? Do you travel a lot?  Think about how much time you will be able to commit daily to tending your garden. 

 

Garden Tower Designs

 

If you are planning to grow in a Garden Tower 2, check out these tools:

 

 

 

Aiyo A. Jones

Beginning Urban Gardener

Beginning Urban Gardener

I’m from New York City, having little gardening experience. All I used to know about gardening was that if you planted a seed in the ground and watered it, then something was supposed to happen. 


Now, I’ve grown so much food, I've had enough to give away! 

 

Bowl of Banana PeppersBack in 2015, my wife and I purchased the Garden Tower II (GT2). My wife wanted to purchase this vertical container garden mainly because you can grow root vegetables in it. The GT2 has 50 pods to plant in and a vermicomposting system. It didn’t take much for her to convince me that we needed to invest in this product, so after getting our tax return money, we bought the GT2. 

To start growing, we purchased seedlings. Growing from seed hasn’t been my strong point, and we wanted some quick results. I had already done lots of research on growing plants, but I wanted to test some of the conventional gardening wisdom to see what was true and what wasn’t. Being willing to experiment on my garden was a big eye-opener.

For starters, we discovered that we didn’t need to spray our garden with anything, not even with organic sprays. I spent a few moments every morning inspecting the garden for pests and picking them off. I later discovered that wasps loved to eat cabbage worms! So, instead of looking at wasps as my enemies, I saw them as my allies. Whenever the wasps raided my garden, I just stepped inside the house and let them do their thing!

 

Comparing Garden Containers

Eggplant growing in GT2 next to eggplant growing in small container

2 large eggplant fruit next to 2 small eggplantsAnother discovery was seeing how important composting was for the plants. I did an experiment using eggplants in the GT2 and eggplants in conventional pots. The eggplants in the GT2 grew much larger and healthier than the ones in conventional pots.

 

The eggplant fruit produced by the eggplants in the GT2 were actually edible and nearly free of blemishes, whereas the eggplants in the conventional pots produced small, hard, and ugly fruits. The eggplants in the GT2 had access to compost, whereas the other eggplants did not.

 

 

Discovering Compost Critters

Perhaps the biggest discovery was the black soldier fly larvae. For a few days, I noticed that the compost contents were quickly reducing in size. Then I’ve discovered these maggots in my compost tube. After researching about them and seeing them in action, I fell in love with these guys! Unlike red wigglers or European night crawlers that eat veggies and fruit scraps, the black soldier fly larvae ate almost anything, including meat and cheese (two of which would usually be forbidden to add in a compost pile).

 

Success!

Because of my success with the GT2, I started a Facebook page called “The Back Deck Harvest.”  The page has a ton of photos of my experience with the GT2. I simply post what I’m doing in the garden. No silly memes, no articles, nothing but my work in my vertical garden.


The GT2 was a great investment. We have grown tomatoes, lettuce, eggplants, squash, peppers, basil, kale, mustard greens, bok choy, cilantro and parsley, and have even revived a few dying marigold plants I bought. We have eaten the fruits of our labor and have shared our fruits with others. We went from growing barely anything to growing a big crop of food on a small deck of 90 square feet. 

 

                      

 

Amy Rhodes

Seed Catalogs & Garden Planning to the Rescue!

Seed Catalogs & Garden Planning to the Rescue!

Woman lying in bed, snow outside window

If you live somewhere between Hardiness Zones 1-7, you may be lolling and snoring along to winter’s hibernation song right about now. The colors outside are drab, the daylight hours are short, and the “nothing-like-it” taste of crisp sugar snap peas and sweet cherry tomatoes picked fresh from the garden linger someplace off in the distance. 

 

Winter doldrums have you down? 

Here's a quick and easy way to snap out of the winter blah blues.  Put the kettle on for a cup of mint, lemon verbena, or ginger-turmeric tea. Sweeten it with local honey, and grab a stack of next year’s seed catalogs!  

 

My friend Kristi, an extraordinary cook who prepares nearly all her meals from local, pasture-raised meats and homegrown produce, is also an absolute connoisseur of seed catalogs!  She can’t wait for her selected catalogs to arrive in the mail. This time of year, her collection is scattered across her coffee table, dog-eared and littered with sticky notes marking her wish list for the garden.  Kristi told me, “It’s the vibrant pictures, unique colors, shapes and patterns of the seeds, flowers and vegetables that inspire me on these gray winter days. I also love discovering the newest heirloom and container varieties. I want to try them all!”

 

Request Free Seed Catalogs 

 

Baker Creek LinkBurpee Link 

Johnny's Selected Seeds LinkKristi also hinted that seeing pictures of fully mature plants in the catalog is important. This helps her visually plan how she will arrange her community of plants.  After marking the pages of the seeds she’d like to purchase, she draws a map of her garden and plays matchmaker with companion plants. Planning tools found in Johnny’s Selected Seeds Grower’s Library and Garden Tower’s Planting Design Guide are helpful when designing your garden. 

 

Planting season is closer than you think. Before you know, you'll be starting seeds and watching the world wake from its slumber.  Until then, enjoy getting lost in Spring and Summer daydreams and planning.  What will your garden grow? 

 

Cautionary note!! 

Looking at magazine

The enthusiasm induced by looking through seed catalogs can lead to ambitious plans and a bountiful garden with more produce than you can manage to eat.  This, of course, is a wonderful problem to have! Apply to sell at your local farmers’ market, start a food stand, or share with co-workers and neighbors. Your local food bank will also be happy to receive your extra harvest. Check out ampleharvest.org for a place nearby to donate.