The siren song of seed catalogues arrives while it is still too cold for anything put imagining your garden. Maybe you begin by sketching out on paper some ideas about the design, or listing the vegetables you want to raise out of the soil. While garden daydreaming is a lovely way to pass the cold days of early spring, you can increase the chances of those dreams becoming a harvest by keeping a few basic fundamentals in mind. That way, gardening will be satisfying and successful, rather than miserable and expensive.
The most important decision you will make is where to build your garden. Most vegetables require full sunlight to grow optimally. With this in mind, look for an area with full exposure to the south, which will catch sunlight throughout the day.
Another important consideration is drainage. You do not want to site your garden in an area that puddles and stays saturated after heavy rains. Since we are growing on Nantucket, it is particularly important to think about exposure to wind when building your garden as well. Hedges, buildings and trees all make excellent wind breaks that will help protect spring and fall crops from the harsh weather we regularly experience.
Lastly, make sure to build your garden somewhere close to a convenient source of water. Seasonal summer droughts are a common occurrence in southeast Massachusetts and you want to make regular watering of your crops an easy chore.
The size of your garden should be determined by what crops you want to grow and how much of them. A common mistake in home gardens is overcrowding, with too many crops planted too closely together.
It is important to know the proper spacing of the crops you are growing to ensure full sunlight exposure and good air circulation. This is particularly important on Nantucket, with our humid weather which can lead to foliar diseases.
In general, I recommend building the garden bigger than what you think is necessary. That way you have space to grow into as you become more proficient. I also recommend making the garden a regular shape, with uniform bed/row lengths. That way row covers, drip tape, etc. are interchangeable between beds and calculations for seeds, fertilizers, etc. are consistent between beds as well.
In an ideal situation, you prep your garden’s soil a few months in advance of planting any crops. This helps to remove any of the persistent weeds that can become an issue, particularly grasses. One easy method for this is to lay down a black tarp or sheets of cardboard for several months. Covering the area smothers the weeds and grasses, depriving them of sunlight. After a few months, remove the tarp or cardboard and rake off any vegetation that hasn’t decomposed.
Mark out your beds/rows and add compost to your soil. This will improve the structure and biology of your soil, which is likely thin and sandy since we are on Nantucket. Also, adding lime to your soil will likely be a benefit, since all of Nantucket’s soils are acidic. Crops grow well anywhere between 6.0-7.0 pH. Once amendments are added, loosen the soil with a digging fork or tiller in preparation for planting. The soil should be loose down to at least six inches in depth.
• Nantucket Long Pie pumpkin is an island heirloom variety. You can find the seeds at High Mowing Seeds.
• Tiren tomato is a paste/canning tomato, developed in Italy, that performs well in our climate. Find them at Johnny’s Seeds.
• Panisse lettuce is a green oakleaf type that performs well in our climate and has a long harvest window. Find them at Johnny’s Seeds.
• French Breakfast radishes are both fast-growing and tasty. They are easy to grow in the spring and fall. Find them at High Mowing Seeds.