From the dirt to our plate; the trials and realities of first-time farm ownership

Garden Planning 101

There are a few things to consider when planning your garden space for spring time planting. Garden Planning is perhaps the least appreciated task a gardener must take on – but the proof of a successful plan will ultimately show come harvest season.

Over the past few years plotting out our gardens have taken on a whole new life with our 25 Acre farmers market business. Much of what we’ve learned throughout this process can even be used if you have limited space and smaller scale garden plots or raised beds. See my previous post on Garden Planning & Plotting for details on how I keep records each year.

What I would like to address in this blog post are the basic needs one must think about when you have limited space, big garden dreams and an itch to start your own seeds inside. For starters, where does one begin?

101A – Be Realistic About Your Space
There are limits to everything in life and harvesting a successful garden is no exception. For instance, if you have a small bed measuring 2 ft. X 8 ft., it’s not likely that you will harvest enough vegetables for fresh eats as well as winter storage – no matter what you plant. As my husband might say, “…you can’t squeeze 10 pounds of shit out of a 5 pound box.” As fresh as that gem of advice is, it’s true.

Take into account your ground dimensions, sun exposure, seed/plant space requirements, access to water, your desire to harvest a particular fruit or vegetable and the volumes you wish to harvest. Need VS Want and the resources to supply those needs will limit you, but also get creative with your space – a flower bed can also grow vegetables.

101B – Need VS Want
While this may be pretty self explanatory, our desire to grow more variety and larger volumes can sometimes derail us. For this, you must ask yourself what things you are not willing to live without in your garden.

For 25 Acres, it comes down to what sells best or is at high demand and what we also eat/store plenty of for our own use. You can also break these down into Primary, Secondary and Tertiary needs. Our list would look much like the following:

PRIMARY
Cucumbers
Tomatoes
Peppers
Onions
Sweet Corn
Okra
Salad Mix
Radishes
Herbs

SECONDARY
Potatoes
Green Beans
Cabbage
Beets
Honeydew/Cantaloupe
Zucchini
Spaghetti Squash

TERTIARY
Celery
Artichokes
Pumpkins/Gourds
Kohlrabi
Carrots
Brussel Sprouts

101C – Cost Savings
Beyond knowing exactly where your food comes from and how it’s grown, another reason we grow our own food is to save money. Keeping costs down to a minimum can be as simple as you want it to be.

Initially, you may start out buying plenty of seed, plant starts and fertilizers. While this is all well and good, you can slowly fine tune your ability to provide for yourself. Seed saving can happen as early as your first season’s harvest or a visit to the produce aisle. Or, if you are fortunate enough to have a gardener friend, they might share valuable seed varieties with you to kick off your first growing season!

We save seed every year – from melons to green beans to herbs – all we have to do is allow things to mature naturally. By doing so, 25 Acres’ seed costs have literally been cut in half.

To further up the anti on saving money, we now start many plants ourselves. From sweet potato slips to peppers, cabbage and artichoke plants, we dramatically reduced costs we would have otherwise paid out to local greenhouses. Believe it or not, a $20 purchase of a 3’x2’x5’ indoor greenhouse and a couple $40 grow lights have been a great investment for us! This in combination with our existing greenhouse (which warms up in late April – as we don’t heat it) is plenty of space to provide all the starts we need.

Soil amendments & fertilizers are another way your pocketbook can be adversely effected. At first it can be difficult to look away from all of the stacks of things promising big juicy tomatoes or a plentiful harvest of green beans. But please, turn your head!

Untreated lawn clippings can do amazing things for garden soil, as can manure, egg shells, dry leaves, garden lime and wood ash. Just remember, don’t waste money on anything you till into your soil. Mother Earth has been fertilizing her own soil since the dawn of time – go organic if you can. If you still find your soil lacking, at home testing kits can help you determine what you need without going overboard.

Helpful Hint – Read your seed packages as they will note if a particular variety is a heavy producer. Example: Provider Green Beans are a bush variety, all-season, heavy producer.

101D – Know Your Planting Window
Knowing your local planting season can be tricky and knowing when to plant your starts from seed can be even more so. I’ll give credit where credit is due – The Seed Guy – found on Facebook. He knows his stuff and I believe that is where I found these charts years ago.
*Denotes the option to direct sow – I do not start these indoors, even in North Dakota!

No matter when you start gardening, the important thing is that you are starting! Year over year, you will learn new things specific to your experience, soil type and locale. The basics might seem simple enough to a well seasoned gardener but no matter the case, they too must consider all of the above!

#LifeOn25Acres

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