Plan your garden now for healthy foods later

Planting seeds

Winter has come and gone and, though it may not feel like it, spring is here. Now is the perfect time to start planning the details of your personal garden.

When I was growing up, my parents always harvested fresh tomatoes, carrots, and cucumbers straight from the back yard. I’d like to try that myself. This spring, I’m thinking of planting my own garden. Planting and maintaining my own garden will be rewarding because I’ll be able to indulge in the fruits of my own hard work and I’ll know the origin of that juicy tomato in my salad. Plus, having fresh fruits and vegetables on hand will encourage healthy eating habits.

I’ve begun my research and would like to share some important ingredients for a successful garden that I’ve found so far.

Step one: Determine the location

Plan to put your garden in a location that gets enough sunlight. Most common garden plants, like tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach, and carrots, require four to six hours of direct sunlight. Be sure to keep the sun in mind when choosing your garden’s location.

Besides sunlight, another key aspect is the quality of the soil. Generally speaking, the darker the soil, the more nutrient rich it tends to be. You also want to look at the pH level of the soil. Most plants thrive in pH levels of six to seven. Test the PH with a simple pH tester. The nice thing about soil quality and pH levels is that you are able to easily alter the composition by adding elements such as organic composts, fertilizer, or lime.

Step two: What, when, and how to plant

I am looking to plant carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, spinach, and asparagus. These are all varieties that should be planted in early spring, depending on the climate.

When you prepare your garden, you’ll want to till the soil and add any fertilizers, compost, or lime to bring the nutrient and pH levels into recommended ranges.

A local garden store or co-op will have recommendations for planting techniques, depths, and soil composition that are unique to the climate and plant species.

Step three: Maintenance

Once the seeds are in the ground, the real work begins. Pulling the weeds and providing enough water are keys to a successful garden.

Weed and pest control is essential, especially early on. If you live around deer, raccoons, or rabbits, you may want to invest in fencing to help ward them off.

Soil moisture also helps determine whether your plants succeed or fail. University of Illinois Horticulturist James Schmidt said that a garden needs about one inch of watering per week during dry conditions. So, if no rain fall in a given week, water your garden until you saturate the top eight inches of soil.

Not everyone has space to plant a garden. But nowadays, many communities, apartment complexes, and even local farmers offer small plots at little to no cost. If you have exhausted all your resources, you can still get fresh, seasonal produce from local farmers markets or community-supported agriculture organizations.

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