Here's our Garden (Edited: this pic is from 2008...as the Gman reminds me) it performed pretty good for us! But it hasn't been simply a matter of waiting till the right time to plant, then sowing the seeds, standing back and then harvesting. There's more work involved than that!
We've been working towards improving our soil since June 2006, when we moved here. At that time, there was no garden. The dirt was clay. Hard clods of clay. Over time we have managed to improve it a lot!
There are 3 (at least!) things your garden NEEDS to have in order to provide you with healthy food (aside from sunlight - place your garden in an area where it will get at least 6 hours of sunlight a day). Here they are:
Food - Your soil needs to be fed. This should be an ongoing job. Add well composted manure as top dressing while your garden is actively growing. Once you are finished harvesting an area, then pull out the bigger guns. Add as much manure as you possibly can.
And leaves! Add as many as you can get your hands on. Even if you do not have access to manure, Everyone pretty much has access to leaves! Try and put a nice thick layer of 3 - 4 inches if possible. If you can't get your hands on that many leaves, even 1 inch is better than none. Over Winter, the leaves will break down....turning into....yes, compost!
Sometimes during the growing season, you may find yourself with a bare portion of garden. This happens because maybe you have already harvested that portion with a early finishing veggie. Do NOT leave that soil bare!
We use something quick growing....Buckwheat. It flowers within 5 weeks and while it grows, in completely smothers that bare area, which means that weeds don't stand a chance! If you have chickens or other poultry, you can cut the buckwheat and feed the seeds off to the animals. Turn all the rest of it under, into the soil. Your soil will thank you!
Now, come Fall, when you've basically cleaned out your garden pull out the Fall Rye! We sow Fall Rye in specific areas of the garden that have been harvested and are NOT going to be replanted with anything else that season.
Let that Rye grow..and grow...and grow. Got animals? You can take a cutting off it and feed it off to them. Let the Rye grow again. It will go dormant over winter. Come Early Spring, it starts growing again! In the Spring, we let it grow to maybe one foot high.
But before we sow the Fall Rye into the garden area, we first load up that area with LOTS of manure. Look at this picture. Can you see all the straw and hay in there? That's what came out of mucking stalls for the horses.
Add it all in, don't be afraid! If you can, fence off this area and let the chickens in there for a week. They'll do a great job of cleaning up all the seeds that have..ahem...gone in one end of the horse and out the other.
Water Well, it goes without saying that your garden needs water. I've read an inch per week, but we water more than that. The Gman has set up sprinklers on timers throughout the garden. These timers are well worth the money and you can get them for about $60. You'll be able to hook up 4 hoses onto the manifolds. Pretty inexpensive for allowing you to do other things rather than watering by hand.
So at our place, they come on automatically early early in the morning. By the time I roll out of bed at 6am, the top half of the garden has already been watered and the bottom half is being watered. After that one stops, the pop ups start watering the strawberry bed and raspberry beds.
If you need to conserve water (and really, who doesn't?) you can use mulch such as straw, leaves, newspapers etc. Lay these down the rows and tuck the mulch up close to the plants. Do this AFTER you have watered well. The mulch will work really well to keep the soil under the plants nice and moist.
Mulching helps with erosion control as well. And once you start working to improve your soil, erosion will become your enemy. Who wants to do all that work and watch hard rain washing you soil away?
Rest Every garden needs to rest. Since we garden from May - late October, the other months are spent resting.
By the time the snow starts to fall, we have layered on lots of manure, leaves and even some of the finished veggie plants. So we know that over the rest of that Fall and early Spring, the food we have fed the garden will, in turn, help to feed us the following year. And...that's a Good Thing!
Here's a picture of the Garden in early May. the Gman is tilling in the Fall Rye that was planted the previous Fall. Click on the picture and you can see how much the Fall Rye has grown, just since the snow left.
He tills it all under, and it in turn decomposes and helps to nourish the soil. You will find that after just a year of following this routine, your soil will vastly improve. It will be much more friable than it was the year before. But don't stop....keep up this routine for several years and improve your soil so that it is healthy and productive.
Over time, we will find that we no longer need to even till the garden. There are no-till methods out there that you can Google and find out about. We continue to till because we still need to improve the soil. But we look forward to the year when all we have to do is dig a little furrow, drop our seeds in, and relegate the tiller to the shed forever! (Or....until we make a new flower bed!)
So there you have it....your garden needs Food, Water and Rest.....hmmmm, not unlike us humans!