The Q&A Archives: When where to plant a garden

Question: Sir/Ma'am, My family and I have just returned to the U.S. We are seeking advice for the best place in our yard to plant a garden, I also want to know the most efficient way to have a compost bin. We are wanting to plant sweet corn, green beans, carrots, peppers, lettuce, tomatoes and anything else that may grow well in the area or with the items mentioned. There is a spot in the yard that gets nice sun in the morning but, gets well hit by the sun light through out the day. I guess I am really asking where or what is the idea placement for a garden no matter the crop? I remember as a child planting and what we planted I just do not know the reason why we planted where we planted. Thanks Mike

Answer: Vegetables should be planted in the sunniest spot available. Plants that flower and set fruit, such as tomatoes, need at least 8 hours of sunshine a day. Plants that do not flower can get by with 4-5 hours of sun a day. These include leaf lettuces, cabbage, spinach, etc. So, find the sunniest spot possible to build your garden and your veggies will thrive. Before planting, amend the soil with organic matter to loosen it, help it hold moisture and release nutrients to the roots of your plants. Start by removing all vegetation from the area then spreading 4-5 inches of compost, shredded leaves, aged manure or any other organic matter over the top of the bed and digging it in to a depth of 8-10 inches. Level the soil, plant your veggies and then add another 2-3 inches of organic matter over the bare soil to help suppress weeds and slow water evaporation. At the end of the growing season dig this organic matter into the soil and add new organic matter. Repeat annually. After a few years you will have rich garden loam and a spectacular garden.

I love composting, because there really is no "proper" way--no matter what you do, eventually everything will turn into compost. To speed the process along, you need four ingredients: carbon (browns), such as leaves, straw, shredded paper, woody prunings from the landscape; nitrogen (greens), such as grass clippings, kitchen fruit and veggie scraps, fresh clippings from the landscape, manure; water, and oxygen. An easy way to start out is to mix the carbons and nitrogens in about a 50/50 ratio. As you construct the pile, sprinkle it with water from your hose. The ingredients should be as wet as a damp sponge. Don't try to make the pile and then water it all down from the top. The water finds paths to pour through the bottom! The pile should be at least 3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet (1 cubic yard) to have enough mass to insulate and retain heat. As the microorganisms that are doing the decomposing die off, they release heat. When the pile cools, they've probably run out of oxygen, which is where turning the piles frequently comes in. The more turning and reapplying of moisture, the more quickly the materials will decompose. On the other hand, you can construct a good pile and then just let it sit. It will decompose, but take 6-8 months. Hint: the smaller the ingredients, the faster they will decompose. This is just a quick outline to get you started. For more info, a great book is "Let it Rot" by Stu Campbell and it's usually available at libraries and bookstores.

Best wishes with your new garden!

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