Outlined below are some factors to consider when planning your garden. These will need to be adapted to your own particular situation.
- What size garden is needed for your family
- Where best to Locate the garden
- Will the garden be organic or conventional
- Decide what to plant and obtain seeds or sprouts
- Draw up a garden design—where to plant what
- Soil test to determine what amendments and fertilizers are needed
- A plan for irrigation
- Possible use of hoops and row covers
Size: The size of your garden depends on several variables including what space is available, size of your family and your ability to plant and care for the new garden.
A moderate sized garden for a family of 4 might be 20x10 feet. For larger families or more enthusiastic gardeners, a plot of 20x25 feet will feed the family and have some left over for neighbors or preserving. For those with very limited space, many vegetables may be easily grown in containers or mixed in with one’s ornamental flower beds.
Location: A vegetable garden needs to be situated in full sun, or a minimum of 6 hours of sun daily. If rows are oriented North-South, it will maximize sun exposure. Cool season crops will tolerate some shade, but still need half a day’s sun to produce well. Locate the garden away from trees and their roots to prevent competition for water and nutrients. Remember, tree roots may extend out more than twice or more the distance from the drip line. Also, the wind is a consideration in Oklahoma; ideally, the garden should have some wind shelter.
Another important consideration is that the garden ideally should be conveniently sited. The closer it is, the more likely it will be monitored and cared for daily. Closeness also makes irrigation more convenient.
Organic or Conventional: Organic gardening is a method of combining basic gardening techniques with emphasis on environmental preservation. The main distinguishing feature is the use of naturally occurring materials for all phase of production. Synthetic pesticides and nutrients cannot be used. The USDA has set national standards for the production of organically grown products which are sold commercially.
Earth Kind Gardening: This technique combines the best of organic and conventional gardening, utilizing science-based methods to produce maximum garden and landscape performance while protecting the environment. It emphasizes water conservation along with reduction of conventional fertilizer and pesticide use. Biological and botanical methods are suggested for disease and pest control. OSU has several excellent fact sheets on Earth Kind Gardening.
What to plant and where: Personal preferences dictate what to plant—some people are happy with a few tomato, pepper, lettuce and onion plants, while others prefer a wider assortment of vegetables and more than one variety of each. OSU fact sheets “Oklahoma Garden Planning Guide” and Vegetable Varieties for the Home Garden In Oklahoma are great resources to help with these decisions. These guides covers both warm season and cool season vegetable production in our area.
Obtain seeds and sprouts from reputable seed companies and local nurseries. Although old seeds may be viable if stored in the cold, try to get fresh ones. When deciding on which varieties to purchase, always consider disease resistance, yield, maturity date and flavor. If you plan on growing your own transplants, read OSU’s fact sheet “Growing Vegetable Transplants”.
Garden Design: To assist you in the planning and organization, draw up a sketch of the garden. Consider the mature size and heights of your veggies and locate them accordingly. Plan on placing tall plants like corn and pole beans in the back of the garden to prevent them from shading the rest. A separate area should be set aside for perennial veggies, such as asparagus. Asparagus may produce for many years in the same spot if undisturbed. Be realistic, a sprawling squash plant will not work in a 5 x 5 garden.
Soil Preparation: Garden smart, get a soil test of your plot to know what you have and what you need. The test will determine what nutrients or soil acidity adjustments may be needed.
To maximize garden performance, plan on tilling in a generous amount of organic material yearly. This will help loosen clay soils, increases water and nutrient holding capacity of sandy soils and makes soils easier to till. As the organics decompose, they release major and minor nutrients into the soil.
There are two ways to add organics. You may plant a green cover crop such as annual ryegrass in the fall and till it under in the spring. Most people use organics such as composted manures or compost from your own compost bin. All manures should be allowed to compost for several months to decrease their salt content; if used fresh, they will “burn” your plants.
Irrigation: One cannot grow veggies in Oklahoma without irrigation. Generally in the summer months most vegetable plants will need 1-2 inches of water per week—either rainfall or irrigation. As with all plants, they are best watered in the mornings to allow leaves to dry before nightfall. This will help prevent diseases. Irrigating deeply and less often is better than frequent shallow watering.
Hoop Houses and Row Covers: Go to our section on “How to Build” for instructions on how to build these. Hoop houses and row covers may significantly extend the growing season—both in fall and spring. In addition row covers may be very effective in excluding many insect pests.
Methods of irrigation are usually by hand with a hose or with drip irrigation. Both are effective. Drip irrigation, after instillation, is the least labor intensive, conserves water and is most plant friendly. It is relatively cheap to install and maintain. Go to our soil section of the website for more information.