Where should the garden be?
If you are gardening in a community garden, you may have no choice at all about where to garden – you get a plot, and that’s where your garden is.
If you do have a choice, your garden should be out in the open, fully exposed to the sun.
Most vegetables, flowers, herbs, and fruits do best if they are not in the shade.
The roots of trees and shrubs also compete with your garden for water. If possible, your garden should be close to a source of water. Soil matters a lot – if possible, choose a place for your garden where the soil is deep, without rocks. If you want to, you can contact a local university or TAFE College extension service and have your soil tested for various properties important for agriculture.
If your soil is shallow or rocky, though, that’s OK. – it can be improved.
If you are near old housing (built before the 1970s), you may also want to have your soil tested for lead.
Lead from paint can stay in soils for a long time and end up in your food.
Exposure to lead is very harmful, especially for the brains of small children.
How big should the garden be?
“A small garden well tilled is better than a large one neglected.” The most common mistake of the beginning gardener is still planting too large a garden.
Gardening may seem easy at the beginning of the season, but when weeds and pests appear later on, many people wish they had planted much less.
Go to any community garden in the middle of the summer and you will see at least a few plots that have been abandoned by people who just couldn’t keep up with the weeds (or who otherwise lost interest in gardening).
Your first year, you may want to start quite small – perhaps as small as 3 m by 2 m.
If you’re really serious about trying this gardening thing, you might want to go to a 6 m by 6 m garden.
You should probably wait until your second year to try a plot much larger than that.
It is easy to feel overwhelmed in the garden.
For this reason alone, beginning gardeners may do well to choose as few as four crops (perhaps peas or a flower, tomatoes, mustard greens, and lettuce), and try to grow these successfully before doing more the second year.
Consider using beds.
Rectangular beds are handy because they allow you a lot of flexibility to deal with plants of varying sizes.
If you divide your whole garden into beds 1 m (40 in) across (and however wide you choose), each bed can be used to grow either three equally spaced rows of small crops (like salad greens), two equally spaced rows of medium-sized crops (like beans) or a single
central row of a large crop (like tomatoes).
You can, of course, plant things in rows (or any which way you choose), but rectangular beds with one, two, or three rows are simple and efficient.
If you become a dedicated gardener, you are likely to buy at least some seeds every year.
You won’t necessarily need to buy seeds of every plant every year, however, because most seeds can be stored for at least a while. In general, most plants have seed that is good for 2-3 years.
After 3 years, the germination percentage drops a lot (meaning that if you planted 100 seeds, fewer than 50 of them would grow), and it’s best to buy new seed.
Seeds may not look very much alive, but they are, and too much moisture, cold or heat will kill them.
Store them in tightly closed containers in a place that’s dry and as cool as you can find without ever being freezing
An unheated garage or basement also works very well. If you live in an apartment, just put your seeds in the coolest spot they can find.
If it’s not cool, the next best thing is for it to be dry.