If 2014 will be your first garden or your fiftieth, you have the luxury of looking at your space and determining the best place available in your yard, balcony, or windowsill to grow the garden you want. You may have already planned out what you want to grow, now you need to find the right place to set yourself up for success. The three most important considerations for where to place your garden are:
Full Sun: While some greens will do well in shady areas, most vegetables want at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight a day. Plants that don’t get enough light will have lower yields and have weaker defenses against insects and diseases
Water: How are you going to water your garden? If it is by hauling full buckets and dumping water on each plant individually, I hope you have a crowd of children ready to help out. (This was always my job when I was little). By putting your garden closer to a spigot, rain barrel, or other water source you will be making your own life easier during the heat of the summer.
Soil: This requirement is the hardest to determine because we aren’t used to looking at the dirt beneath our feet. Edible Evanston is even offering a course on soils taught by our very own Ken Kastman at the Ecology Center on April 26. Soil is the source of all the minerals and nutrients a plant gets, but it has to have the right texture so the plant can take them up. The best way to determine the state of your soil is to do a soil test. Contact any of the labs listed here to learn more about fees, sampling, and packaging the soil for testing. If you determine not to do a lab test this year, there are other ways to look at your soil. About 24 hours after a heavy rain, dig up a handful of soil and squeeze it in your fist. If water comes out, you need to improve your drainage. When you open your hand, if the ball falls apart it is too sandy, or if it is pretty hard it has too much clay. Luckily, all these issues can be improved by adding the compost you have been cooking all winter!
In Evanston we also need to consider issues like the rabbit and squirrels that come in and steal our produce moments before we go outside to harvest. If you have a solution to these issues, please share with us in the comments! You can fence rabbits out (don't forget to dig the fence in a few inches), but for squirrels the only approach that seems to work is balcony gardens!