Preparations for planting a garden should begin in the fall of the previous year. Many times, first-time home owners try their hand at gardening because they now have a piece of land to throw some seeds and plants in the ground. There is more to planting a garden than just tossing a tomato plant in the dirt and watching it grow.
Choose a garden site where the soil receives 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight each day. Check the soil quality of the proposed garden with the soil testing kit for proper pH levels. Also check for proper drainage. The pH level of a quality vegetable garden is between 6 and 7. Proper water drainage means digging a hole approximately 1 square foot wide and deep, filling the hole with water, and having the water drain out within an hour or two.
Fix any soil pH problems by adding lime to raise the pH level or adding sulfur to lower the pH level. Lime sweetens the soil, making it more alkaline and less acidic. Vegetable plants prefer an alkaline soil. If you are leery about using chemicals in the garden, spread compost, wood ash, or other organic material onto the soil and till the garden site before winter. The pH changes will occur naturally over the winter so the garden is ready for planting in the spring. Adding the compost also fixes drainage problems from soil that is too compact.
Measure the garden site, and transfer those measurements onto the graph paper. Each square represents 1 square foot of garden space. Allow for walk-ways and paths between rows or garden sections for ease in caring for the plants.
Choose plants and seeds specifically designed for your planting zone. Most seed catalogs have planting zones listed beside the varieties of vegetable seeds and plants offered. You will also find the time to maturity listed in the description as well. For a good harvest always choose plants capable of reaching maturity where you live.
Decide whether to grow vine crops like cucumbers and pole beans on a trellis system. Small garden plots or first-time gardeners benefit from vertical growing methods because it saves room for other crops and relieves much of the work during harvest.
Till or spade the garden site in the spring two weeks before the last expected frost date to plant cold weather crops like peas and onions. Other early crops include carrots, turnips, beets, and radishes. All other plants and seeds should not be planted until two weeks after the last frost date. Tomatoes and peppers need special attention if the weather has a cold snap. These plants must be covered to avoid frost damage.