Five important things to consider when planning a garden

It's no secret to those who know me well that I am solar powered. It's not that I hate winter - far from it. I love soup, I love big wooly sweaters, I love reading by the fire, I love cooking on the woodstove, I love snow and Christmas and the way that icicles hang on tree branches. But as the winter wears on, I gradually wind down, like a toy running out of batteries. By late January, a dreary grey day can kick my butt to the point that I'm tired all day, and I start to fantasize about moving to Florida. Just kidding. Kind of.

But what keeps me going is the knowledge that soon, I will be able to plant my garden. Planning starts early - it's what gets me through that last month or so where I'm really starting to flag and my Vitamin D levels are at an all-time low.

A very wonderful guy called Tim came by and tilled my garden the weekend before last, doing the whole thing, around 3,000sqft in a fraction of the time it would have taken us with a small tiller. And, after enduring the Georgia clay for so many years, this finer, softer ground up here is a welcome sight!

So here's my list, and it's one that should help anyone condering a garden choose the very best things to plant in it to maximize your productivity and the use and joy you get in reward for all the hard work you're going to put in!

  • Choose plants and seeds according to what your family likes and eats. If everyone in your household hates greens, then there's little point in stocking up on spinach and collards seeds. In our household, we eat greens by the buckletload, and we love spicy food, so we always make sure to have a wide variety of hot peppers.

  • When you're planning, leave room to succession plant. For a good supply of vegetables right through the summer and fall, you'll want to plant at roughly two to three week intervals. If you plant everything at once, you'll suddenly find yourself with a glut, all in one go. Greens, beans, root crops and squash are good examples of things I like to make three or four plantings of through the season.

  • You know what they say - location, location, location. Pay attention to where the sun rises, its path, and where it sets. You need your garden to have as much sun as possible throughout the day. Fruiting crops - tomatoes, peppers, squash - all need as much sun as they can get. If you have a shaded area, don't despair, use it for greens and root vegetables, which don't need as much sun. Try to plant your rows so that they don't shade each other throughout the day.

  • Plan ahead for next year: plant heirlooms. Seeds can be harvested and stored for following seasons, meaning you only buy seeds once and you stay away from the dreaded Monsanto. No GMOs here, please and thank you.

  • Work with what you have. Make the most of what you have, rather than trying to twist and force it to fit what you want. Consider your ground when you choose varieties. Some types do better in certain kinds of ground, and there are also practical considerations; don't expect to grow 5" carrots when you have Georgia clay. Ask me how I know this. Choose the shorter, fatter kinds, like the Danvers.

I'm not going to lie to you, gardens are hard work. There's always something needs tending, weeds pulling, watering in hot weather, harvesting, preserving produce... the list goes on. But at the end of the day, you have all this beautiful, fresh produce to share with your family and friends - and nothing tastes better than home grown!