As a Pennsylvania gardener, I’m often relieved when winter comes. I can sleep in without worrying about weeding and watering before I get ready for work. I at least have the illusion that there’s very little to do, but actually there’s only a few weeks when that’s true.
Gardening is a way to use your mind and body to produce something beautiful, tangible and, in the case of vegetable gardening, nourishing. Winter is when the real brain work of vegetable gardening begins.
Right before Christmas, seed catalogs start arriving in the mail and I leaf through each of them with dizzying thoughts of (probably unrealistic) garden bounty. I come to the spirit-crushing realization that I do NOT have the space to grow four different varieties of heirloom summer squash and enough Brussels sprouts for Thanksgiving dinner. Nor can I grow potatoes for winter storage and enough beets for pickling.
But, what I can grow with proper garden planning is astounding – a dozen tomato plants representing five different varieties, two kinds of carrots, snap peas, broccoli, turnips, parsnips, three kinds of lettuce, bush beans, runner beans, kale, melon, three varieties of eggplant, two hot peppers, two sweet peppers, and lots of herbs.
It’s true that I will have lots more space in this garden than we did at our previous home, but I still want to get as much from my eight raised beds as possible. After a not-so-successful first year in 2012, I’ve learned a lot. This year, I’ll be ready!
Garden Planning Tips for Success
1. Find a planning system that you like. I used to use plain old graph paper. However, and I’m not making this up, I use my hands to write so seldom that now I cannot do it. I mean, I can do it, but I can’t read it. So, this year, I turned to the fabulous Mother Earth News online garden planning tool. It’s probably over-engineered for someone like me, but it has a lot of functionality. I can “draw” my garden beds, indicate north, south, east, and west, play with the placement of gazillions of different plants, track plant varieties, plan for succession planting and even order seeds from my selected vendor right from the tool. I know there are lots of tools available, but this is the best one I’ve seen yet.
2. Take copious notes. I regret not keeping better notes in the past. I don’t know why some plants thrived while others didn’t, nor do I know what I planted when. Now, with my new garden, I feel like I’m starting from scratch and learning it all over again.
3. Know your first and last frost dates. Some plants will need to be started indoors a certain number of weeks before the last frost date in the spring or direct sown a number of weeks after the last frost. Everything hinges on those dates. If you use an online planner, it can determine those for you based on your location and growing zone.
4. Start smaller than you want to. What a buzz kill! It’s the advice all beginning gardeners want to ignore, but without heeding it, you could easily become overwhelmed with gardening tasks and discouraged with poor results. Isn’t it better to end the season with some great success stories than the agony of defeat?
5. Give thought to the sun and which plants could shade others. Locate north in your garden – I used the compass on my iPhone since I’m directionally-challenged. As a general rule of thumb, you should put your tallest plants on the north end of your garden so they won’t shade other plants. “Fruits and roots” (for example, tomatoes, eggplant, carrots, and beets) need full sun, at least six hours of direct sun each day. If you’re after the leaves, like with lettuce or spinach, you can get away with less direct sun.
6. Think about succession planting, or planting in intervals. For example, in my new garden, I have room for more than 50 carrots in the spring, but there’s no way Mr. President and I will be able to eat 50 carrots all at one time. I am going to plant at 2-week intervals so I get a more gradual harvest. Some plants are not in the ground the entire growing season either, so it’s possible to squeeze in a harvest of a different crop once you’ve harvested something. Radishes are perfect for this since they are so quick to mature.
7. Plan for a fall harvest. Just when you think you’ve finished your plan, I’m throwing a whole ‘nother season at you! Fall is a wonderful time for the vegetable garden. The weather is much more pleasant for gardening and you can often replant many of the same cool-season crops from the spring and enjoy them again. Crops to consider for planting in late summer for a fall harvest include spinach, lettuce, radishes, cabbage, kale, peas, broccoli and cauliflower.
Garden planning may be old hat for you, and many seasoned gardeners do almost no planning at all. For the rest of us, going through the exercise of garden planning is educational because it requires you to think through all the variables.
Finally, avoid beating yourself up over things that don’t go as planned. Gardening is supposed to be a journey- a fun journey. Your road to food security will be littered with all sorts of challenges, but each year, it will get easier and you’ll enjoy a sense of satisfaction that can’t be beat.
Sites That Link to this Post
- Organizing Garden Seeds: A Noble Cause - Tomato Envy : Tomato Envy | January 24, 2014