There are options and there are options you may have never even considered…but will after you read this article. This guide, Planning Where to Put the New Garden, offers suggestions in placing your main, sustenance-producing garden used for canning as well as your seasonal needs. The concept of “a garden” should not narrow your view to a designated, single, squared plot of ground with ebbing rows and lulling troughs. Your homestead IS your garden and the whole of your property should be considered when planning your garden. Don’t limit your thinking to the small plot out back that you’re growing a few tomatoes on.
You’ve got your shovel, hoe and 1 or 2 of your least-reluctant children out on the lawn. You’ve been wanting a garden forever and today is the day where the spade cuts the turf and you begin unleashing the bounty of your soil upon your dinner table. Then it hits you like a 50-pound bag of steer “stuff;” where are you going to put this garden?
There are factors to consider when Planning the New Garden. Land is something we all wish we had more of but, after we have purchased or leased our homestead, we are limited to “what we got is what we got.” However, I am confident that you have more than one option as to where to put the new garden…even some options that you’ve never even considered. Sometimes the spot to plant in seems so obvious to you that you feel there is no need for research. But the lack of research may be why you believe that spot is the “obvious” garden spot. The Ah-Ha moment will come; keep reading.
In this article, we’ll learn the five considerations of planning the main sustenance-producing garden spot. In another article, we’ll elaborate on what permaculture paradigms we teased you with in this article. And still in another article, we’ll learn the steps on creating that sustenance-producing new garden. First: Where to put it. Then second: How to install it.
First and foremost is sunlight. We have the ability to get water to the garden without too much effort (for the time being). Sunlight takes precedence over water but not by much. If a list of decisions on where to put the garden is a mile long, sunlight and water would be an inch apart.
Consideration #1: Sunlight – “Freedom is the open window through which pours the sunlight of the human spirit and human dignity.” – Herbert Hoover
An average of 6 hours or more of sunlight per day is the goal.
When it comes to how much sun we get on our homestead we are subjected to many different factors that we cannot control such as the neighbor’s property features (house, trees, sheds, fence and the like), the location of our own home and outbuildings and the shadows they cast, the time of year vs. the parallel of latitude of the Earth we find our homestead on. Some of these factors have to be considered when deciding where to put your garden both for the now and for the future (the neighbor is likely going to water that small tree and it’s likely to grow taller). Other factors just “is what it is.”
Remember this rule: Your garden will do best if it’s south-facing.  In the northern hemisphere, the sunlight begins its journey across the sky starting in the east and rising higher and higher with a slight tendency to cast northern shadows. Eventually, the warmer light of the setting sun casts its shadows back toward the east. You will need an average of about 6 hours of sun per day to have the best chance for a productive garden.
What if you don’t get 6 hours or more of sun on any one spot on your property? You’d consider planting an abundance of root vegetables and greens. Inside of every problem is usually a very nice solution. Folks who live in Florida can grow oranges. Folks in Alaska can not but can grow cabbages the size of tractor wheels. Ignore what you cannot have and enjoy what you can. The restriction of the problem will usually open up your thinking to find a most favorable solution.
Above is an over-head of our current, blank-slate homestead. All of the yellow areas could be considered “south-facing.” One of the reasons I picked this property is because of the available growing areas. The neighbors have small trees and one day they will be big trees. No matter; the width of this property is 170.52 feet. Those trees will never make it long enough to make a dent in the amount of sunlight that hits my property. If you are looking for a homestead or property to buy, consider all the knows and the unknowns (with the “unknowns” always being the challenge).
Consideration #2: Water – “My fake plants died because I did not pretend to water them.” – Mitch Hedberg
You will need an average of 1 – 2 inches of water each week especially from mid-June to mid-August…for the most part. For my friends and family in Louisiana and Tennessee (the more humid parts of the world), you’ll need less. For my friends in southwestern Idaho (the dryer parts of the world), you’ll likely need more. Keep in mind that watering day will saturate the top layer of ground and on non-watering day that same top layer (the 1-2 inches) will dry out quickly. Consideration: initially your seedlings are young and their roots occupy only this top layer. Until the roots are more established, you’ll need to water more often…more frequent waterings with less water to start followed by less frequent waterings with more water each time. If you don’t water new plants often, those seedlings will dry up “or crust and sugar over – like a syrupy sweet.”
How water comes onto your property and the effort and expense necessary to get it to your garden is a huge consideration. And don’t only think about today. Any event that would cause an interruption in your water supply will be as bad as the sun not coming up one day (horticulturally speaking).
Consideration #3: Start Small – “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” -Theodore Roosevelt
It’s like weight loss. The ads and gym bargains start coming out to encourage you to lose weight for the summer…in APRIL! Too late. You should have started that process months earlier…like you resolved to do on that one particular day in January that you forgot about a few days later. The garden mentality is no different; we start getting spring fever in April and resolve to get it all done by the first of May. It’ll never happen that fast. But it will…eventually and manageably.
First and foremost you need to start. But, you need to start small. How small? Depends on many individual factors beyond the scope of this article. If you began planning your garden and you start getting “that feeling” in the inner, rear part of you stomach…that’s a sign that you are about to bite off more than you wish to chew.
The garden of your dreams will begin just as soon as you get your first garden bed created and established. All the other gardening you’ll do this season will be for the next season’s garden. Who knows? You may have a second growing season and plant more seeds in garden beds you finish in July or you’ll be ready for planting your garlic and spring bulbs in September in beds you finished in August. Come next season, you’ll be rockin’ it baby! As for this first season…mark my words: If you try too much too soon, you’ll fail on all fronts and will spend your time pulling weeds and end up paying $64 for a tomato.
Consideration #4: Accessibility – “I certainly am interested in accessibility, clarity, and immediacy.” – Paul Muldoon
When you leave your home, by what route do you take? What I mean is: how to do you get from your home to your car? Me? I walk out the front door and down the sidewalk to the car. I frequent the east side of my home, the back eastern and northeastern sides of my property (where my staging areas and compost are). There is no access (yet) on the western side of the home from the front to the back. Let’s look at the property for a bit:
Do you see where I spend most of my time? Sure, the placement of a garden, fence access, pathway or other alterations may influence this pattern. Nonetheless, consider what places on this property that get the most attention and the areas that don’t.
How do you eat a cow? One burger at a time, right? How does weeding become fun? One or two weeds pulled here, another two or three there. When we put the garden spot in an area we seldom visit, we put the problems out of our minds for a bit (out of sight = out of mind). When we finally get time to go visit the garden, there’s weeds every where, the squash bugs have taken over and the neighbor’s cat has “muddied” up an extensive amount of garden spots in your nice, mulch bedding. In permaculture (an article…rather…a bunch of articles for another day), we call this Zone 1. Here is a video that may help explain zoning:
I will be “zoning” this new homestead property and posting articles and new videos specific to this property that we are working on right now. Check back for updates by signing up for the Back to the Homestead Newsletter.
Consideration #5: Drainage – “We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.” ― Thomas Fuller.
The odd thing about consideration #5 is sometimes we have too much water where we don’t want water.
When you break up the ground, you invite erosion and other possible disasters if you have too much water fall on your property in a short period of time. After a rain, have you walked out onto the area you are planning to turn into a garden? Does the ground feel smooshy? Does your shoe sink a bit in the soft soil? Here’s how to test the ground for adequate drainage:
Step 1) Dig a hole that is about 12” wide and 12” deep.
Step 2) Fill the hole in the early evening and let the water sit overnight
Step 3) In the morning, fill the hole again with water.
Step 4) Measure the water level in the hole with a tape measure and using a shovel handle across the top of the hole to measure from.
Step 5) Measure the water level every hour and make notations.
You are hope like crazy that you find a drainage rate of about 2” per hour. A bit slower or a bit faster (bit meaning less than an inch either slower or faster) is A-OK. If the drainage is less than 1” per hour, you will need to improve drainage (sand or organic materials). Then again, the problem may be the solution. You may enjoy growing plants that are tolerant of wet soil.
On the flip side, if your soil is allowing for more than 4” an hour to drain away, your soil is allowing too much water leave too fast thereby reducing the absorption time of the plants in the garden.
Adding lots of good compost and other organic matter to the soil will help in two ways: Holds on to the water long enough for your garden plants to get a drink and allows the water to drain away and a nice, controlled rate.
These five considerations should be first and foremost before you start digging you garden spot. The last thing you want is disappointment and the “what did I do, what did I do, what did I do” phrase being repeated multiple times. In summary:
- Pick a spot that gets 6 hours or more of sunlight each day.
- Pick a spot that has easy access to water
- Start small
- Easy and frequent access
- Adequate Drainage
If you’re reading this and thinking, “That’s it?” You are exactly right. It’s just that simple. So, get started measuring the duration of light, setting up a watering system as well as ensuring adequate drainage, getting the first planting going before moving on to bigger projects and enjoying your garden as you pass along pathways that skirt your little bit of heaven.
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 Remember this rule: Your garden will do best if it’s south-facing if you are in the Northern Hemisphere. If you are in the southern hemisphere, a north-facing garden should be your consideration. However, some of my mates “Down Under” say that they look for a south-facing garden spot just like we Yanks do.