Summer Harvest

The importance of planning for the harvest

Garden Life

Tips from Sarah the Gardener

Spring is just around the corner and spring fever is beginning to rise. After months of inactivity, there is a stirring, a desire to get outside and do something, to connect with nature. The most obvious outworking of this is to create a garden. Not only does it give the outdoor exercise being craved after months cooped up indoors due to miserable weather, but also offers the promise of delicious summer vegetables and seasonal crunch often missing from a winter diet of comfort food. From the remains of winter, it is a perfect idea with many rewards.

However well intentioned, an idea can go horribly wrong at various stages of bringing it to life. To have a successful garden and a good harvest at the end of the season requires planning and thought as well as significantly more action than often expected, but a garden can draw you in, making even the toughest chore a joy and a pleasure.

The first step to a good garden is planning and the ideal time to start is before spring starts. Besides there isn’t much that needs to be done at this stage anyway. The key things to consider when planning are:


Where you put your garden is the most important thing. Most of the crops you will likely want to grow require 6 – 8 hours of full sun, so you may need to sacrifice your sunniest spot in the backyard.
Other things to consider for the garden spot is to make sure it isn’t overshadowed by trees. They may not seem a problem now, but once the leaves come in the sun may struggle to reach the garden. The other problem with trees is their roots can invade a nearby garden to take advantage of the easily available nutrients and regular watering. This can make it extremely difficult for your crops to compete. Even raised beds are at risk of this potential problem.

Also find out where pipes and electrical wires run through your garden as accidentally digging through one can not only be annoying and expensive but also potentially dangerous.


This may be limited by the space you have or by your willingness to dig. But it is a good idea to have a clearly defined area for your garden before the detailed planning begins. If you know how much space you have it will help you to know how many plants you can grow. If you find your desire to grow various crops outweighs the space you have, you have three choices: extend the size of the garden, grow extras in containers or make the hard decision that there are some things you just can’t grow this season.
Tomato Crop


Now you know the space available you can start the fun part, choosing the plants. It is good to get the whole family involved, as they will also be the ones eating the harvest. There is no point growing things nobody likes to eat. Make a big wish list of everything you would like to grow. Then find out as much as you can about them: what conditions they like to grow in, how much space they will need, how tall will they become, and how long will they take.

The next part is the hard part because as there are so many exciting crops to choose from it is impossible to make a wish list that will fit even the largest garden, so a refining of the list is required. The easiest ones to cross off the list are the ones that don’t like to grow in the conditions your garden provides. As much as you would like to grow them, they will never do very well so if space is limited, it isn’t worth it. Consider the length of time a plant takes – could you use the space that it takes for one long term crop or several quicker varieties? Decide which is more desirable for you in your garden.

And finally, you need to look at the space individual plants need. They have their own sense of personal space and if they are too close together they have to compete for light, nutrients and become weaker specimens, vulnerable to pests and the reduced airflow is perfect for fungal disease. So once you decide what you want to grow you need to work out how many of them will fit in your garden.


The first step of physically gardening is to prepare the soil. This is the foundation of the garden, the home for your plants. It needs to be ready for them when they move in. All the weeds need to be removed – and their roots. This is an arduous task. Ideally, done in advance so you can leave it for a few weeks after weeding to allow any disturbed weed seeds to germinate and be weeded away. Covering the garden with cardboard to exclude light for 6 – 8 weeks can take care of most of the weeds. But if you don’t have that kind of time, then you need to dig, slowly and carefully and remove every trace. A little effort now will make the entire growing season so much easier.

Once the ground is clear, enrich it with organic material – compost and well-rotted manure to provide nutrients for the micro-communities and the plants, but also to improve moisture retention. Slow release fertilisers help to provide sustenance, especially for the plants in for a long time. Once the soil is well prepared planting can begin.


Plants also have their own sense of timing often driven by temperature and day length, so there is no benefit from starting too early to try and ‘get a jump on the season.’ Plants planted at the right time do better than those started too early in conditions too cold or even too wet. Gardening requires patience.

Bearing these things in mind, you can respond to the stirrings of spring with an action plan that will set you on the road to success with your summer garden.
Garden plan on paper