How to Start a Garden: Part 1

In this series of posts, we’re going to dive into the process of building a garden from the ground up. It can be pretty overwhelming to move into a new space and set out to turn it into a dreamy, productive garden. Where to even begin?

Let’s assume you just moved into a new space with a half-acre that’s just begging to be transformed. This will be our new template and blank canvas. If you’re staring at your own yard, wondering what your first steps should be, then you’re in luck and we invite you to follow along closely. If you’re cooped up in an apartment with no empty land to speak of, or you’re already maxed out on your planting space, then you can join me in living vicariously as we dream the dream.

Let’s dive in! First up: assessing your space and getting to know the land. Here are the three steps you should undertake before anything else.

Step 1: The Soil Test

There’s no better place to start then a soil test. Most home gardeners, and many larger farmers too, breeze past this step and decide to just wing it. That’s fine, but in my mind, the more knowledge you have of your soil, the better. You can tell some things through just looking at your soil, but the test will help you learn a much longer list:

  • Cation Exchange Capacity
  • Organic Matter Content
  • pH
  • Nutrient Levels
  • Nutrient Balance
  • Soil Type

This simple test, which is pretty cheap through your local garden center or online through A&L, is where I start every year. To learn a bit more about basic soil chemistry, check out this earlier post.

Step 2: Draw A Map

This process is all about simplifying the steps ahead. When gazing out your window, through weeds and trees and rocks, the garden can be overwhelming. But if you reduce its key features to a map, it’s easier to get a handle.

I recommend including key features such as dimensions, shade and sun, water sources, and basic topography. It can be as basic or as complex as you want, just try to get something done on a big piece of paper that we’ll come back to later.

Step 3: The Master List

This is where your list your hopes and dreams. What are your favorite vegetables to cook up? What flowers can’t you live without? What shrubs have you had your eye on? What plants remind of you of a certain place and time of your life? You can add to this later, but this first step is designed to get you brainstorming. After all, this is supposed to be fun!

In our next post we’ll dive into refining your plan, and start to think about breaking ground.