Do I have enough space?
What will my family eat?
Is my soil any good?
Prepare a plan to get the best use of space
Plant perennial crops such as asparagus and strawberries over to the side of the garden since they will remain in the same area for many years. Put all tall growing crops together where they don't shade out low growing crops. Follow quick growing, early spring crops with warm season crops during the late spring and summer. Many gardeners prefer to make one large planting rather than stagger plantings if crops make a good frozen product. This is especially true with crops like corn and greens.
Many factors should be considered when selecting the garden site. The size of the garden is determined by the number of members in the family and how the vegetables will be used. Each member of the family will need 2,200 square feet of garden space to provide enough vegetables to use fresh, canned and frozen.
Sunlight is essential to plant growth. Vegetables should receive a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight during the day. Tomatoes, corn, peppers, cucumbers, root crops and melons need full sunlight. Some of the leafy vegetables like cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower will tolerate more shade.
The roots of trees, large shrubs and hedges compete with vegetables for nutrients and moisture. Additional plant food and extra water help compensate for this competition but will not relieve shade problems.
Surface drainage of excessive rains is desirable. Using slightly sloping areas helps, and areas that are more sloped may be used if managed properly. Contour the rows to the shape of the slope (plant around the hill). Construct terraces if erosion results even with contoured planting.
Making Soil Manageable and Productive
Arkansas soils range from coarse sands to heavy clays. Each presents a special situation to the gardener. The type of soil is an important consideration if there is a choice. Sandy loam or loam soils are well adapted to vegetable production. Vegetables may be grown on heavier soils if they are well-drained.
Clay particles are smaller than sand and become quite hard. They are usually productive if they can be managed properly. Materials such as sand, finely ground bark, vermiculite or perlite can be added to clay soil to improve soil conditions and provided better air space for roots. Composted organic matter and organic mulching materials also help. On the other hand, sandy soils are quite workable but do not hold water or fertilizer nutrients as well as clay soils. Adding large amounts of organic matter such as organic compost and manures will greatly improve the nutrient and water holding ability of these soils.
Apply these freely each year since organic matter content is difficult to maintain. Use as much as 2,000 lbs. of rotted compost for each 1,000 square feet of area. Organic matter that is not well composted can be very harmful since the rotting materials will compete for nutrients with the growing plants.
Small garden plots can be prepared for planting by using a spade, shovel or spading fork to turn the soil. Turn the soil to a depth of 6 to 7 in.. Use a small tractor or garden tiller for larger gardens.
All litter or trash on the soil surface should be completely covered or worked into the soil when the ground is turned. Excessive trash in the upper soil level interferes with final seedbed preparation and later cultivations.
This is a good time to add compost and soil amendments such as agricultural lime.
Pulverize the soil. Establish a smooth, level surface by raking or harrowing as soon as possible after turning. This helps compact the soil, breaks up clods and leaves a smooth surface for seeding. Small seed germinate poorly in loose soil with clods, and growth of the seedlings may be slow and weak.
Soil left in rough condition for several days after turning may dry out and form hard clods, making it much more difficult to prepare a good seedbed.
Do not spade, plow or cultivate soil when it is too wet. Pick up a handful of soil and squeeze it. If the dirt sticks together and will not crumble after squeezing, wait until it is drier.
Planting the Garden
Decide what vegetables you wish to plant. If your space is limited, plant only vegetables that are liked by your family, but keep nutrition in mind. You might find it helpful to draw a garden diagram to find out if you have enough space to grow needed quantities. Don't forget repeat plantings. Some vegetables may be planted each month. This will greatly decrease the amount of space needed and keep the garden full for its most efficient use.
Many gardeners tend to stop after they have harvested their spring-planted crop. This is a serious mistake. Many crops that are normally planted in the spring grow as well or better in the fall. While insects and diseases are sometimes more of a problem in early fall, yields and quality are often better than in the spring.
Spacing of vegetables will be different with various cultivation methods. Tractors need wide rows. Rows in small gardens may be placed close together since weeding may be done by hand. To assure a good stand, it is often better to plant seed thickly and thin later. However, seed is normally expensive and should not be wasted. Plan carefully and buy only seed that is needed. If seed is left over, put it into a dry container and refrigerate for use later. Gardeners may be successful in using one-year-old seed, but old seed loses strength. Germination tests will not indicate seed strength, which is sometimes called "vigor."
Use of good seed is very important. Buy only from dealers who have a reputation for handling good seed. Saving vegetable seeds grown in Arkansas is not a good practice. Many vegetable diseases are transmitted through seed and planting diseased seed often results in severe losses.
Choose a variety well adapted to this area. Environment may cause certain ones to perform poorly. Recommended varieties for Arkansas can be found in Arkansas FSA 6021 Vegetable Cultivars for Arkansas Gardeners. Other good varieties are available and should be used where past performance is good.
Some vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower should be transplanted as small plants rather than planted as seed. Transplants will grow in soil that is too cool for seed to germinate. The use of transplants shortens the period to harvest and allows the gardener to complete a crop before it gets too hot or cold. Always remove plastic, or paper pots from transplants and crack peat pots so allowing roots to grow easily and unrestricted into the soil.
A starter solution helps plants grow quickly by providing nutrients to the plant quickly. Make a solution by mixing one tablespoon of a soluble fertilizer such as 10-20-10, in one gallon of water. Pour 1 cup of this solution around each plant as you set it out.
Depth to Plant Seed
In general, small seed like those of lettuce, mustard, radish or turnip should be planted about 1/4 - 1/2 in. deep. Large seed such as beans, squash, pumpkin and corn can be planted deeper 1 to 1 1/2 in deep.
Thinning the Plants
It is often necessary to thin a stand for individual plants to develop satisfactorily. This is especially so of the fine seed crops where a surplus of seed should be planted to obtain a stand. Lettuce, onions, and beets should be thinned to allow the remaining plants to grow and properly develop.