Garden Planning and Seed Buying TipsFeb 28, 2022
The photo you see above is a before and after of my little garden in 2013. I was living in an apartment in this old brick house and got permission to plant in an area of about 3.5 feet by 5 feet. But WOW I sure did grow a lot of food there and learned a lot.
I share this to encourage anyone who is wondering if they can do it? (YES you can!) Is it worth it to start when you only have a little space? (YES it is!). What if I make a mistake or it doesn't turn out? (That is called GARDENING and it's a learning journey for all of us, even after many years of experience!)
This blog post was inspired by Half-Acre Homestead community member Conni, who had some great questions about how to approach garden planning and using seed catalogues effectively. Thanks, Conni!
Each year, I enjoy the quiet time of the winter season. It allows me some extra time to work on my writing, enjoy some time by the fire reading, and to plan my garden for the next year. I am going to share some of the tools I use to help me plan my garden each year, and to learn from what I am doing, so that I can improve my knowledge.
My Garden Goals
I have a few goals for my garden that help me make decisions about what I am doing. I focus on my top priorities for my garden. Then, only if there is time, would I focus on other things. I have five main goals for my garden
-I like to get greens from my garden as early as possible. I often try to over-winter kale and plant early turnips for this.
-I want a substantial roma tomato crop to can and barter with (I don't generally eat a lot of these tomatoes before they are canned)
-I want a maximum weight of squash and root vegetable harvest to tide me over the winter. I select long keeping varieties for all of these (squash, potatoes, beets, carrots)
-By mid to late summer, I want to be eating mainly from my garden: zucchini, cherry tomato, kale, lettuce, baby carrots
-I am aiming for self-sufficiency in saving my own seeds, so I select my varieties based on this goal.
Importance of Garden Records
One habit I have picked up over the years is to keep garden records. This doesn't need to take a lot of time. I have a notebook, which has lasted several years. I keep brief notes on when I plant and my garden challenges and solutions. You could think of this as a kind of journal for your garden.
I remember what kind of spring we had last year, but it is harder to remember the spring from the year before. Keeping brief notes on the weather conditions, even just "wet spring, followed by extreme early summer heat" can help you identify reasons for some plants that are thriving and some failing. For example, my zucchini plants didn't like the very wet spring this past year. If we keep having springs like that, I will change how I plant them.
The Garden Map
My first step of garden planning is my garden map. My memory isn't what it used to be, and having the map of my garden allows me to know where each type of plant was located the previous year.
One of the reasons I want to know where my plants were last year is that I want to change their location from year to year and rotate my crop. Doing this can prevent the soil from becoming overly consumed by high demand plants (corn is one example). As well, moving your plants around can prevent certain diseases (esp. for potatoes). Another benefit is that you can stop some insects from taking over your plants this way.
My Garden Plan from 2019
You can see below here my Garden Map from 2019. This is approximately to scale where each square is about 1 square foot. Notice that I recorded the planting date of each row, as well. Here are some of the shortforms I use: Z Zucchini, P Pumpkin, S Squash, BSpr Brussels Sprouts, Y Yellow cherry tom, R red cherry tom, SK Siberian Kale, LK Lacinato Kale. other short forms record the variety of some veggies, like Beets. I will have a future post on my 2022 garden plan, so I'll leave it at that for the details.
How I Plan my Garden Every Year
Each year, I look at my map from the previous year and start with a fresh map. I move the plants from where they were the previous year. I don't make a lot of big changes from year to year. Most of the time, I keep the same varieties of plants. They have become my "tried and true" favourites. In this way, I am not changing a lot of variables each year. The weather always changes. Pests can change. I find varieties that do well in my garden. Then, I don't change them. I am not adding any more space this year, so I will not grow any more plants, either.
Each year, I usually try only one new thing. This take some extra time and may have a learning curve. This year, I planted corn for the first time. I was very pleased with the results, but it did take a lot of extra time and effort. This year, I will be trying crop covers to hopefully reduce cabbage worms.
In a future post, I will list what seeds and varieties I am planting this year and how many plants I plan to start of each kind. So, you will get a detailed view of how I get ready to plant my garden.
Using Seed Catalogues Effectively
I find that my garden goals can help me use my seed catalogues effectively. It can help to jot down what your goal is and what you are looking for before you dive in. For example, "Cucumber for family use, seedless best, not too big, pest resistant." Then, you could have a look in the catalogue just for that one goal. Doing this in shorter spurts can be easier than opening up the catalogue and trying to look for your whole garden.
Dancing with Overwhelm
Gardening involves a lot of learning, and that can feel overwhelming at times. in my own experience, I have found that doing something challenging, like gardening, will mean we are visited by overwhelm. Now I see this as part of learning, and not necessarily a bad thing.
I think of it as a dance. If I get into a catalogue and feel overwhelmed, I say to myself "Hi there, overwhelm! What do I need to do right now?" Maybe I can review my notes and remind myself why I'm in the cataloge. Maybe I need to take a break. Maybe I have some questions that I can't answer and I decide to email the seed company.
Another way I use the catalogue is just to day dream and have fun. I make a great cup of coffee and I just flip through it...I look at vegetables I don't have any interest in growing and I read some of the educational tips the catalogue experts have written. Browsing like this can also be a useful way to use the catalogue. You might find some random item that turns out to be a favourite this way!
The Gardener Mindset: A Scientist
One way to ensure a joyful and abundant gardening experience is to consider your mindset. If you approach the seed catalogue feeling like there is only one right variety of carrot that you've got to find: you are going to feel PRESSURE!
What if, instead, you saw yourself as a scientist....you are going to pick the best variety you can with the knowledge you have today....and then you are going to try it and see what happens. That is the scientist mindset....you are on a journey to learn and grow...and whether something works or not...you can learn from it! In future posts, I will share some examples of my own learning from both successes and challenges in my garden.
Some Tools for your Gardening Tool Box
In this post, I have shared some of my best tools that I use from year to year to plan my garden:
-my garden goals
-my garden map
-my garden planning process
-tips for using seed catalogues
and finally and perhaps most importantly, the gardener mindset: thinking like a scientist
I hope that these tips and tools are as useful to you on your joyful gardening journey as they have been for me.
I look forward to my next blog post.
Until then, Happy Garden Planning!
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