If you've never grown a garden before, deciding to start your first one can be a daunting task. There is a lot to think about, but luckily the process can be broken down into simple steps. Here's a handy checklist for planning your first garden.
Step One: Decide where your garden will be.
A garden should be situated where it will get at least six (preferably eight) hours of sunlight, easy access to a hose or spigot for watering, and out of prevailing winds. Yeah, I don't have a spot like that either. Look for the sunniest part of your yard and put the garden there. You can work the rest out later. If you're a balcony gardener, your site is pretty much set in stone, but do take note of sun and shade patterns on your balcony. You may be surprised to find that one part of your balcony gets an hour or two more sun than the other. That can make a big difference.
Step Two: Figure out how you're going to grow.
Are you going to garden in containers? Raised beds? A traditional garden bed, dug into the soil? If you're going with containers, then soil condition is a non-issue. If you're gardening in raised beds, you'll want to plan to smother any existing grass and weeds, but you can fill your beds with good soil and compost, so soil quality isn't that important for you, either. If, however, you're planning on digging (or double-digging) a garden bed into the ground, you should dig a nice sized hole and do a few simple DIY soil tests, as well as taking note of issues such as prevalence of rocks or tree roots - all of these will have to be dealt with. I personally like raised beds or containers because I can make just about any site work simply by adding good soil and amendments.
Step Three: Decide what you want to grow.
You notice that I didn't put this first. That's because your site will determine, in large part, what you can grow. You may want to grow peppers, but if you're on a balcony that only gets four hours of sun per day, you're not going to have much luck. There are vegetables you can grow in part shade, so focus on those if you don't have adequate sun. If you have full sun, then you have many more options open to you.
Take into account how much space you have, the amount of sun the site gets, and what you like to eat. Make a list of those vegetables you decide you can successfully grow in your garden. A good way to learn more about what's available for your garden is to peruse seed catalogs online. Simply do a search for "vegetable garden seeds" or "vegetable garden plants" and spend some time looking through the results. A good book about edible gardening is very helpful here as well.
Step Four: Determine your garden's layout.
Deciding which plant goes where is a pretty important step. You want to make sure that tall plants aren't shading shorter plants, that you have space to trellis or cage plants that need support, and that you are not over-planting or under-planting your space. Again, a good book on organic vegetable gardening is a big help here, but there are also many web resources, such as Mother Earth News' organic gardening section, which contains tons of information for a wide variety of common vegetables. Draw your plan out on paper (graph paper if you really want to) so you can see how many of each plant you'll need and whether or not you really have room for all of the plants you decided to grow. Step Five: Gather your supplies. If you're gardening in containers, make sure you have plenty of pots, buckets, or other containers on hand for your garden. If you're building raised beds, obtain any wood, bricks, or other items you may need. If you need to have soil or compost delivered for your raised beds or in-ground garden, start looking around for quality sources and put an order in several weeks before you'll need it (you'll typically start a garden after your last spring frost date). Order plants and seeds from catalogs now, or you can purchase starter plants at nurseries in spring. If you don't have the tools you need (a spade, hand trowel, rake, watering can, and pruners, at the very least) get them now so you have them when you need them. Step Six: Plant your garden, and enjoy! Sometimes the hardest part of any endeavor is just getting started. If you take care of steps one through three, above, you're ready to grow. There will be challenges during your first gardening season (and every one after that!) but that is life as a gardener. The important thing is to keep learning more about gardening. Keep trying new methods, new vegetable varieties, and new ways of dealing with garden problems. There is nothing better than eating from your garden - the most local, seasonal food of all! Watch Video: Permaculture Gardening on Renovation Nation