The success of a garden hinges on a lot more than putting the right seeds in the ground and hoping for the best. There are many factors to consider when it comes to thinking about how you will provide enough food for your family today and in a world when grocery stores and other modern conveniences are not an option. A garden should provide enough food for you to eat when it is in season as well as extra for you to preserve to eat during the winter.
Your garden isn’t necessarily going to be your only food source. However, it is going to be your main source of fresh food that contains vitamins and other necessary nutrients that your body is going to need to stay healthy. Fresh fruits and veggies can keep up your immune system and prevent you from getting every little virus that comes around. This is going to be critical to your long-term survival in a world where medical care is not readily available.
The following eight tips are what you need to build your own successful garden.
1. Plan the Right Location
Your garden is going to need plenty of sunlight. When you are looking at your property trying to determine where to put in the garden, you need to evaluate the area for a full day. Check the area in the morning, midday and again in late afternoon. Identify any areas where there is shade. If the garden isn’t bathed in sunlight for a good majority of the day, you will want to look elsewhere or consider removing the barriers that are creating the shade if possible. A little shade in the late evening is okay. Your leafy veggies will appreciate the break from the sun.
Good garden soil is essential to healthy, thriving plants. You can use a test kit to see what you are working with, whether the soil is acidic or alkaline. These are easy fixes and with a little animal manure or lime, you can quickly balance it out and make it perfect for your plants. You also want to know if your soil is sandy or loamy. Dig a small hole, pick up a handful of dirt and make a fist. If it blows away, it is too sandy and is going to need compost and manure to give it some substance. If the dirt holds in a firm ball, it has high clay and/or moisture content. A little gypsum and improving drainage will do the trick. Dark loose soil is ideal for the roots of your plants. Earthworms in the dirt are an excellent sign of good soil.
3. Plan Your Garden Layout
This is crucial to a successful garden. It not only uses every inch of space, but it can also be beneficial to your plants. Some plants enjoy being next to each other and sharing a space, while others will fight for nutrients and end up stunting the growth of one another. Plan based on sun exposure and make sure you don’t put corn in an area that is going to cast a shadow on the plants next to it. Plants that need full sun and those that need conditions a little cooler should be planted based on the location map you did in the first step.
4. Buy Quality Seeds (Heirloom Varieties Preferably)
Buy seeds from a reputable dealer with good sprouting percentages. You can’t expect every seed in a pack to sprout and go on to thrive, but you can expect at least ninety percent or better to sprout. Read the packs and do your research online before putting out any money. Check dates on seed packs. Seeds that are a year or two past their intended planting season may not be viable. If you can, buy heirloom seeds. These seeds grow fruits and veggies with seeds that can be harvested and used in the garden next year. Yes, they cost a little more up front, but you won’t need to buy seeds again. Hybrid seed varieties will not produce fruits whose seeds can be harvested and used for planting. Those seeds might sprout, but they will not produce the same kind of fruit as their parent.
5. Know Your Zone
When buying plants and seeds, choose varieties that will grow in your hardiness zone. The warm climate in Florida is going to need different varieties than up north. In some areas, it is really futile to try and grow certain veggies. You need to know your growing season. Don’t waste your time with a vegetable that takes one hundred and twenty days to harvest if you only have a ninety-day growing season. Do some research on last frost and first frost dates. A late frost can wipe out a month’s worth of growing in a single night. Only put out plants and plant seeds when you are relatively certain the frost won’t bite them. Be prepared to cover plants with sheets or plastic if there is a chance of a late or early frost.
6. Weed Control
Weeds are the bane of every gardener’s existence. The darn things grow ten times as fast as a vegetable seedling and in many cases, the weeds in the garden will mimic your vegetables and you don’t realize it until the weeds have choked out your plants. The only way to stay on top of this is a visit to the garden every day for some manual weed pulling. You can help cut down on the work by using mulch and weed barriers. However, this can be expensive and isn’t one-hundred-percent effective. Be wary of using weed killers that could damage your plants. Your best option is to stay on top of the weeding.
7. Pest Control
These little bugs are worse than the weeds. They will sneak in and kill a crop before you even know they are there. You must be vigilant. Watch for ants, slugs and beetles and do your best to prevent them from discovering the garden. Using herbs, like mint, around the perimeter of your garden is an excellent, safe deterrent. Marigolds are another option for keeping pests away. Manually removing the bugs is an option, especially with potato bugs that will cling to potatoes and tomatoes. A plant that is being decimated by pests needs to be pulled and removed from the area right away.
Birds, deer and other animals that want to feast on your garden can also be an issue. Put up high fencing, and if necessary, cover with netting to keep birds from dining on your garden.
Obviously, every garden needs water, but it isn’t quite so simple. It requires the perfect balance. Too much water and the roots will rot. Too little water and the plants will starve. Ideally, water that is delivered directly to the roots via a drip line/soaker hose is your best option. This conserves water and keeps water from sitting on leaves and the fruits causing spots and damage. Set aside a time, late evening or early morning, to water the garden for a set amount of time. This will ensure you don’t overwater. It is important you consider rainfall in your watering routine, so you don’t overwater.
These eight tips can help you build a strong, healthy garden that will provide plenty of food for you and your family. Study companion planting to help you take advantage of your garden space. Talk to those in your area who have been successfully growing food and get tips about when to plant and typical frost dates. The locals will always be a better source of information than the Almanac.
This article was originally published in the Survival Dispatch Insider Volume 2 Issue 7.