on garden planning

The onset of spring-like weather has turned on the switch for me:  I'm SO ready for the growing season.  The ideas pile up as my brain soaks in some warm sunlight, and it's easy to get overcome.   I guess it's a good thing that there's not much you CAN do this time of year (excepting in the hoop house), so you can funnel that energy into (hopefully) good garden planning. 

There are two sides of the process, for me anyway.  The theoretical and the realistic.  On the theory side, this is the time of year I pull out my notes, records and diagrams from last season.  In reality, I walk the space, now clear of snow and full of leaves, the everlasting kale, and a few emerging weeds.  The records remind me what went where, and how many I planted.  The walk lets me visualize, reminds me of repairs that are needed, gives me ideas for potential expansion.  It takes several rounds of both for the ideas to gel for me.  I'm not quite there yet. 

This time of year--actually, a little after this, when it's almost too late--is when I get a lot of questions from newer gardeners.  So here are a few more tips (continued from last year) on the planning side of things:

Pull out those records!  Have in front of you a list of what you planted last year, anything new you have or want for this year, and a diagram of your space.  This can be as complicated as a spreadsheet, or as simple as a a bunch of lists on scrap paper.  I find a map of the garden space very important: make a master blank version, and a bunch of copies. 

If you didn't keep records (and we all fall down on this at times), look around you for evidence. Do you have photos that will remind you what was growing where?  Look in your  freezer and pantry:  what do you have a lot of, or what do you wish you had more remaining? 

How much to grow:  This is a post in itself, but to simplify:  Look back at last year, and assess (realistically) if you need more or less.  Were you overwhelmed by tomatoes?  Adjust your plan to grow as much as you can handle.  Did you eat every jar of dilly beans the first two weeks of winter?  Maybe expand the bean patch this year. 

Expand, but within reason. We all fall under the spell of bigger is better.  I'd like to think it's wiser to make a too-big garden than buy an SUV.  But, if it's not what you need,  or what you can handle, it's not much different.  An overgrown weedy garden that you give up on, because your dreams were bigger than your skill set, or because you overestimated how much time you have, will only make you frustrated.  Nothing encourages more than success, and being left wanting a little more for next season.  And, expand with an eye for simplicity and design sense:  if your garden is easy to access, easy to mulch/weed, and above all a pleasure to be in, you will want to work in it more, and you will work smarter.

Don't be afraid to delegate.  In our space, and due to pests, we found it's senseless to grow corn.  Sweet corn is readily available and cheap in season, so we "outsource" it to local growers.  So if you're new, or if your space is limited, pick a few things NOT to grow.  Likewise, if you have a neighbor or friend with a sunnier yard--split up the effort:  have them grow more peppers and share your lettuce and spinach. 

Lastly, and maybe the most important:  Don't forget to rotate.  Again, this can be a post in itself, but crop rotation is a skill that gardeners need to learn from farmers.  You might think that one spot on your garden is perfect for tomatoes, but growing the same crop year after year depletes the soil, and encourages pests and disease.   Remember that peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, and potatoes are all in the same family (Solonacea), and try to follow up with something different: beans, root vegetables, or squash.  Instead of feeling limited by your choices, try to use it as an excuse to try new families.  If you're limited with space, remember that consecutive plantings can assist:  start with peas, follow up with a late planting of cabbage, and you get two rotations a season.  And if you're stuck re-using a spot, remember to feed the soil with compost and mulch, and try to squeeze in a cover crop for the winter to help rejuvenate the soil.

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  1. I don't think that I've taken the time to tell you how much I enjoy your blog. Just the title alone makes it a winner, but it is also so nice to see what other local gardeners are doing and to have little reminders about the process from someone else. It freshens it up a bit. I was in a garden-planning slump the last two weeks, and this week I'm jumping back in because I'm getting so excited.

    1. Aw, thanks! :) I like have local-ish gardeners to follow along with too!

  2. I've got my garden divided roughly into thirds and I've got my rotation down. I must say I'm envious of your hoop house- and your organization.
    Happy gardening.


    1. Cool--one thing I tell myself if we ever decide to move or start over, is that at least I could design the new garden with all the things I've learned in mind. As it is, its grown kind of piecemeal and not that easy to rotate.

      I don't know if my messy piles of paper currently are a good sign of organization, but I'm trying!


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