Urban Homesteading: Planning and planting seedlings

June 15 | Guest post by Melissa
From plans to plants!
From plans to plants!

So we got our seedlings planted, now it's time to plan our garden!

Planning a garden properly is super important. You have a limited amount of resources (space, light, growing season, etc.), and you need a good plan to make the most of it!

In my space, I have a 20×6' garden that only gets sun from the west, with a medium-length growing season, and a fair bit of rain (go West coast!) and sun.

Here's my plan:

garden map

Consider the sun whores

All of my tallest plants — corn, beans, and cucumbers — are on the right side, because all of the sun is on the left. I don't want the short guys stuck in the shade of the tall guys. Also, the top gets the most sun, so all of the sun whores (tomatoes and corn) go there to soak it all in.

If you're growing on a patio or terrace

Keep in mind the space things need to grow. Some plants grow very high and narrow (pole beans, corn), some grow very low and deep (potatoes, carrots), and some grow wide and bushy (tomatoes, cucumbers). Keep enough room for everything to grow. Some also need a structure to grow on (pole beans and tomatoes), so give them something to grab on to.

You can't outsmart the plants

I KNOW how tempting it is to cram more veggies in to your space to try to get a bigger harvest. I've done it myself. It totes doesn't work. You can't outsmart the plants. They will just grow wimpily, and you will have sad little veggies. Vegetables are introverts, and they need their alone space.

I'm also doing something called companion planting

Companion planting means planting several different vegetables in the same space, because each vegetable is doing something the other needs. In this case, corn, beans, and squash are grown together in a grouping known as The Three Sisters, a traditional growing method of the Iroquois. Each of the three plants provides nutrients the others need: the beans grow on the corn stalks, which helps support the corn, and the squash provides shade and keeps away pests.

If you want to give companion planting a try, I recommend doing some reading first:

Now that we have a plan, we can start planting!

Make sure you have a chunk of land or pots with good soil (see this post for soil conditioning). Make sure the soil is very well tilled if it's earth and pretty loose if it's potting soil.

Make sure any seedlings have three to four leaves on them before you transplant them. That's in addition to the first two leaves that they sprouted with. For example, this plant is not ready to go:

not ready to go

But this guy is:

photo of more leafy tomato plant

If you have more seedlings than you need, select the best, fullest ones. Transplant those to the final growing area (yard, pot, or planter). Dig a hole deep enough for all the roots and add a little bone meal for fertilizer. Take the seedling out of its pot, gently loosen its root ball, put it in the hole, and add soil up to the stalk. Don't bury the stalk (except for tomatoes, they're totally cool with that), and gently pack the soil over the roots.

Seed potatoes are the easiest things to grow. Bury a seed potato in some well-tilled soil under a big mound of dirt. When the plants pop up, bury them again in a bigger mound (this forces the potatoes to grow down, into more potatoes, instead of wasting resources on the plant). We'll talk about "hilling" later.

Hello, potato.
Hello, potato.
Goodbye, potato.
Goodbye, potato.

It's also not too late to grow from seed, unless you have a really tiny growing season, or you can buy seedlings from your garden centre.

What are your tips on planning and planting seedlings?

  1. Thanks! I'll be keeping these tips in mind for the upcoming year, along with everything I'm learning from this year's attempt to grow some edibles.

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  2. I just planted out potatoes too! Thanks for showing how to hill them properly, I always thought it was done later on and killed a few before giving up on hilling them.

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    • So, say a person failed to hill her carrots…will she be doomed to have insanely tiny carrots and a lot of carrot greenery?

      • I have never thought to hill my carrots! As far as I know, that could also be excess nitrogen in your soil because that promotes green leafy growth. I've also forgotten to water them regularly each time I've grown them, which is my main problem.

        While I'm saving up for a watertank, I've also been adding coir peat to all of my gardenbeds for better water retention and to help with my hydrophobic soil. The only thing with coir is that you have to add extra calcium and magnesium, otherwise the plants can't access nutrients as efficiently (thanks wikipedia!) which means I had blossom-end rot on my tomatoes for the first time ever as I'd forgotten to sprinkle dolomite over their gardenbed.

        • Good to know. Thanks! So I take it that my carrots will be better if I don't add coffee grounds to the soil? I tend to dump the grounds on all my plants as a fertilizer…again, I know very little about what I'm doing…

          • Coffee grounds are awesome! Just not so much for carrots because they prefer less nitrogen than other plants. That's why, if you practise crop rotation, they're the last crop in a gardenbed. I prefer to put my coffeegrounds in the compost tumbler, because it's easier and my roses already have a nice layer to make them happy.

            Don't worry, everyone else is still learning too (as you know from my surprise at potato hilling!)

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