Garden Planning & Plotting

Around the end of January or early February I think just about everyone who lives in a northern climate starts daydreaming about spring.  Inevitably, the thought of springtime work comes creeping into those daydreams and the next thing you know, you are planning your garden.

My garden planning always starts the year before.  It’s not to say that I have it all perfectly planned out in advance but I know the importance of plotting out the current year’s garden to make the next year’s planting rotation easier.

My 2016 layout was all over the place due to our recent move and the fact that it was hurriedly planted.  Never the less, you can see the approximate location of plantings in my garden plots.  If I wouldn’t have written this down last season, I probably would have forgotten a few things.

During the summer of 2016 , I added notes.  This is important when you require soil amendments or notice disease appear in any areas of your garden.  For instance, here I noted the need for calcium as my tomatoes developed very mild end rot as the season progressed.  Had I noticed any tomato blight, I would be sure not to plant my tomatoes in the same area the following year.  Per my notes, more organic material was also need in the potato area as the soil proved to be full of small rocks and compacted soil with some clay.

A quick list was drawn up for plants I’d like to include in my 2017 garden.  I went over this with my husband to see if there was anything he’d like to try or found interesting in the seed catalogues.  When doing this I always think of the previous year’s garden and what did well, what had low yield or just didn’t suit our needs.  I also think of the pantry and what things I tend to use most over the winter or what I found myself buying because I didn’t grow it.

This year, we will have a few new additions!  Because I was always using canned beans such as kidney beans, I wanted to try my hand at growing my own this year.  Whether I store them dry or can them prepared in jars, they will come in handy all winter long for soups.  Also new to the list would be jalapeños, sweet potatoes, peas, broccoli and cabbage.  I also made a quick note that I would be cutting back on the zucchini (although I misspelled it) as we had it coming out of our ears last year!

Let the seed ordering begin!  After taking stock of what seeds I had saved on my own, I pulled up my favorite website for organic seeds,  Seed Savers Exchange has a wide variety of seeds and you’ll find many heirloom seeds passed down from generation to generation.  Another great site I used for 2018 is Burgess Seed & Plant Company – great prices for heirloom, non-GMO seed as well as traditional seed varieties!

The great thing about this company is it’s dedication to preserving hard to find strains of vegetables.  In the past, their catalogues featured the historical significance and origin of particular vegetable seed stock they were offering.  These varieties tend to be hearty and very different from what you find in your local garden supply store.  They also allow their customers to take part in the exchange.  If you save seed from Great Grandma Johnson’s lettuce patch and you know it’s unique, you might just have the opportunity to pass on her legacy to the rest of us.

When ordering large volumes of seeds it can get expensive especially when opting for USDA organic varieties.  The way I cut costs is by exchanging seeds with friends or harvesting my own from original seeds purchased through a reputable company such as Seed Savers Exhange.  In fact, in 2016 I was able to set aside plenty of string bean pods to mature on the bush.  Not only was I able to secure enough seed for myself but I also sent some home with my mother in Michigan who shared them with my cousin.  As you can see below, what would have easily cost $2-$3 per 50 seeds was free to me with a little planning and forethought.

Soon, I will be testing my self-harvested seed for viability.  In this way, I will know for certain if they will sprout and I will be prepared to order fresh seed in advance if they don’t.  With some of the seed, such as peppers, I will have to start them inside if I want them in my 2017 garden.  Check the back of your seed packet for maturity dates.  For northern climates, 80-90 days is doable but over that you might want to consider starting your transplants inside unless the variety is cold hearty.

Once you have your final list of the produce you’d like to harvest in your next garden, it’s time to start plotting.  Because certain areas have limitations for growing such as my clay/rocky soil in the 2016 potato area, I’ve decided to keep them in the same location.  Potatoes grew well there with no signs of disease so I’ll do it again this year.

Everything else gets spread out and separated according to their characteristics.  Beans are rotated to place nitrogen in other areas of the garden, different varieties separated.  The creepers such as melons and cucumbers are placed near each other.  The same with cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage; if I have to tent them to keep moths away (they lay eggs that form into bright green leaf-eating catapillars) then at least they are together and easier to cover.

Tomatoes, peppers and onion sets will be purchased from a local greenhouse in the spring.  Without having my own sunny space to properly start seeds, purchasing them makes it easier for me to get my hands on decent sized plantings to ensure a successful harvest.

Of course this plan is just a draft but its easy enough to erase pencil lead and make changes.  I may add various herbs and flowers to any empty spaces but as you can see, the garden is pretty packed.  It is efficiency at it’s best!  Now, I just have to be patient and wait for this snow to melt so I can get planting!

Stay tuned for my 2018 garden planning update! It’s going to be a great year! #LifeOn25Acres

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