Local Lifestyle

How to map out a perfect summer garden

by Lisa Schauer

Snow might still be in our future, but this time of year is ideal for dreaming up the perfect summer garden and making plans to ensure it’s a success.

Planning a garden is a matter of personal taste, available resources, plant compatibility, and defense against pests, blight, and weeds.

The first step is to select a site with plenty of sun and good drainage. Keep in mind the leaves will block sunlight in summer, so pick a spot away from trees.

Think about where your water will come from, whether it is a soaker hose or well. Place a rain barrel in your garden. Prepare a shed or space nearby to store your tools, equipment, and garden supplies.

Strongly consider putting up fencing to keep deer and rabbits out. After tilling, cover the ground with newspaper, straw, or natural mulch to keep the weeds down.

Remove big rocks and debris, along with any slugs, snails, spiders, and larvae you see, before they set up camp for the summer.

Containers, trellises and raised beds are a great way to increase your gardening space vertically.

Purchase new seeds and start some seedlings indoors. Follow instructions on the seed packages and pay attention to plant compatibility to ensure your plants aren’t competing with each other for the same nutrients.

Start a compost pile in a wooden lean-to set up in a corner of your garden. Add grass clippings, prunings, coffee grinds, apple and potato peels, rotten vegetables, and eggshells. Turn the compost pile with a garden fork once a week and mix the compost into your soil to add organic matter.

Take a soil sample from your garden to the local extension agent for testing. Find out if you need to add nutrients or eliminate pathogens.

The WVU Extension Office is located at 80 War Memorial Trail, Suite C, in Berkeley Springs.

Next, sketch out a grid map of your garden space. Plan to plant corn nine to 12 inches apart, with at least two rows of each variety for proper pollination and ear growth. Surround the corn with sunflowers to deter deer.

Plant green beans in between the corn, about four inches apart at the base of each stake. Scatter squash among the corn and beans, just as the indigenous Iroquois and Cherokee people did to sustain themselves, calling mounds of corn, beans and squash the “three sisters.”

Plant your “three sisters” away from tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, dill, or fennel. They compete for the same nutrients.

Rotate your tomato plants, planted two feet apart, with your peppers, planted about 18 inches apart, yearly in separate sections.

Cucumbers, parsley, and basil do well when planted next to tomatoes, about two inches apart.

Plan to put down borders of flowers and plants that attract pollinators and detract deer and other pests. Encircle your garden with chives, oregano, marigolds, sunflowers, and elephant ear to deter deer.

Milkweed, lavender, bee balm, and blue, purple, and yellow flowers such as lilacs and pansies attract bees and other pollinators.

Plant mint to draw pollinators but be sure to put them in a container or raised bed, lest they take over your garden perennially.

Ask your local extension agent for more local growing tips. Keep notes in a gardening journal on your successes and failures in planning an optimized garden for next year.

The satisfaction of spending time outdoors, growing your own food, saving money at the grocery store, and providing nutritious food for your body, and your family’s makes all the effort and planning for a garden pay off.