Finding the right garden spot and starting your planting

Ok, we’re getting into the warm weather at last. Ahhh, doesn’t it feel just fabulous? Now we can start to really see where our work is going outdoors. In a future article I will get into long term planning, but for now let’s start with gardening goals for this year. A little planning can go a long way in avoiding problems later in the season. Come with me, and we can do this together.

If you are new to gardening, this is an opportunity to pick the most appropriate location for your plot and increase your chances of success. Your garden should be in a well drained area that has direct sunlight for most of the day. If you have a section of your lawn where the grass grows fast and thick, that could be the spot to consider. A few trees or shrubs on the north and west side can provide shelter and but make sure your plot isn’t too close to large trees, as their long feeder roots will out-compete your veggies for water and nutrients.

Dig up the sod and turn it upside down early in the spring. You can leave the sod to decompose before you plant anything, or remove it manually. This can be a lot of work, so start off small. I suggest you avoid making your garden too big or the job of weeding in the summer can be a real challenge.

If left on its own, our PEI soil becomes quite acid and most vegetables prefer a neutral to slightly acid soil. It is also generally quite sandy which provides great drainage but at the cost of water-holding capacity. An application of lime every 3 years along with annual application of compost or well-rotted manure should fix these issues. Remember that manure can have MANY weed seeds so it is very important to ensure it is well composted to kill those seeds. These amendments are worked into the soil prior to planting. You can incorporate by hand, but it is easier and faster to use a motorized rototiller which can be rented. Or, ask around your neighbourhood–your fellow gardeners may just have a tiller you can borrow.

Now that your seed bed is ready, you want to start thinking about what to plant where. Think about how big the plants will be when they are MATURE. You can intermix different types of vegetables in the same row, but until you are well experienced, I would suggest keeping all similar plants together.

Look up at the sky and find the south. If you are looking where the sun rises, the south is on your right, and the north is on your left. Tall vegetables such as trellised beans, peas, corn, or tomatoes, should be planted on the north side so they don’t shade the rest of the garden when they are mature. I normally start with non-climbing peas and onions in my first row on the south side. These can be planted as soon as the soil is worked. I run a piece of string along the length of my garden with a couple of wooden stakes to make my rows straight. I use a hoe to make a furrow and place the seed in it and cover with soil, remembering not to plant them too deep.

Beets, spinach, or swiss chard can be planted soon after the onions, as well as any transplants of lettuce or cabbage family. The soil should be warmer for beans and potatoes, so I normally wait before planting them, approximately mid-May. Transplants like peppers and tomatoes should wait to be planted in the garden until the risk of frost is over-usually late May or early June.

Now that the first seeding is done, that brings me to another topic. You can learn a lot from your gardening experience if you keep a written record of what you do, when you do it, and the results. There are gardening journals or day-planners that are handy for this, but you can also use a simple notebook. Just remember to keep it close-by so you can update it regularly and not lose track of it.

You know, now that I have finished my morning coffee, I think now is a good time to head outdoors and do some planting myself. Happy gardening!


About Christopher Dunbar

Christopher lives in western PEI along with his spouse and 4 kids, on a property that was once owned by his great grandparents. He grew up in a large farming family and has deep island roots. This rural background and exposure to outdoor living has given him a keen interest in our maritime culture and the many plant types that grow here. He furthered his interest in growing things by obtaining a master’s degree in in plant biology. Not surprisingly, all of his 25-year career has been involved in agriculture and food. He spends some of his spare time growing berries, flowers, vegetables and tree fruits of all kinds in his gardens. He and his family really enjoy the unique lifestyle that PEI has to offer.
Writing creatively about adventures in rural living is also one of his passions. Feel free to contact him if you want to share any of your interests.

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