If you are hoping to grow some or all of your family’s food this year, its time to get busy planning your garden. Even if you don’t have space for a full-fledged garden you can grow plants in containers.

Planning your garden is important because you don’t want to go off willy-nilly using up lots of energy and money that may not be needed or used in the best way. Growing a garden is work. Its as much work as you want to put in to it.  The more work you put in it, the more you will get out of it.

Begin your work by measuring your garden space and having the soil prepared. You’ll need to have the ground broken and tilled. If you don’t have a tiller, you’ll probably want to borrow one or pay someone to prepare the soil.

Next, you will need to perform a simple soil nutrient test.  Test can be found at most garden centers.  Complete tests can tell you if you need to add nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) in addition to a pH test.  Test sets range from $16 up.  They are simple to use. You gather soil from several spots in your garden, mix with water, add the test chemicals and then compare the color of the water with a chart on the package.  What ever the chart indicates your soil needs is easily added in the form of fertilizers.  pH can be raised by adding sulphur or lowered by adding limestone. To find out what the optimum pH for gardens in your area contact your local extension office.  They can also direct you to a more extensive kind of soil testing at state universities.

When your soil is ready you can begin planning your garden, or you can do it in conjunction with preparing the soil. I’ve found a new tool that I think will be very helpful to you. Its called Growveg.com Garden Planner.  I usually just plan my garden out on paper, but this is an easy to use, colorful and very information packed tool  I’m not getting anything for mentioning this product, I just like it!

Now, you’re ready to make a list of what you’d like to grow. Using the GrowVeg thingie makes planning the garden a breeze. You choose your plant and drag a little picture of it to your garden layout.   The site also gives you information like how close together you should plant each plant or seed.

Of course you could grow things really close together and use the Square Foot Garden method.  I really like that method of gardening and have used it at least on a small basis for many years.  Square foot gardening is great for small spaces.

Another great method for small spaces is Container Gardening.  Another good site to read if you are interested in Container Gardening is HGTV.  You can grow everything from tomatoes to zucchini in containers instead of right in the ground.

If you need help in choosing the best varieties of plants to grow in your garden you can find your local County Extension Office and ask them.

Now your planning stage is done and we’re ready to move on the the next thing: planting and caring for the plants. That will be in part 2.