It’s been a cold and icy winter here in Connecticut and we are making the best of it with warm cozy fires in the evenings and bundling up with layers of sweaters and wool socks if we have to go out. On the other hand, my poor cat has had it with the cold temps that keep him inside more than he wants to be and we start hearing about it from him when mid- January rolls around. We’ve learned how to speak cat during these cold winter months. He is very vocal and expressive when he's not happy.
However, I happen to love January, especially the last week, because this is the time when I begin to implement my growing plan for the upcoming season. I begin to start my seedlings in the greenhouse for an early spring crop. If you are thinking about starting a garden, now is the perfect time to start planning. A well planned garden will make planting and care both easier and more productive.
Before You Dig
Here are some basic things to consider:
Soil – what kind of soil do you have? Is it loose, level, well drained? Is it sandy or hard clay? Plants will not grow in either of these soil types unless lots of organic matter like well-rotted compost is added.
Sunlight – how much sun does that spot have during the day? You need at least 10 plus hours of sunlight per day for high quality vegetables.
Shrubs and Trees – they will compete with the sunlight if they are near your garden. Monitor where the shade pattern is during the day and place your garden outside of the shaded area. In addition, their roots tend to choke out tender vegetable plants, so the further away they are the better.
Water – How close is the water supply to your garden? Gardens require frequent watering during the growing season. If you must carry water to your garden or haul a long hose, place your garden nearer to the water supply.
Create a Garden Plan:
Location, location, location – garden placement is the most critical piece to growing. If your garden is too far away, chances are it will be neglected. Gardens need to be cared for daily, which means, planting, weeding, pruning, watering and harvesting (which is the best part of all). If your garden is on the “back forty”, chances are you will never reap the full rewards of your hard work.
Once you’ve confirmed that you can meet the above basic conditions, the next step is to plan out your garden on paper. This will be your map to building and maintaining your garden during the growing season. This plan doesn’t have to be fancy - I find the simpler the drawing and/or list, the easier it is to implement and to later adjust.
My garden has 22 raised beds numbered 1 – 22. When I create my garden plan, I tend to plant a single vegetable type in one bed. For example, beds 15, 16 and 17 contain arugula and beds 7, 8 and 9 have lettuce etc. I’ve tried fancy garden software but it didn’t work well for me because I have several beds of varying size and conditions (i.e. some beds are part shade).
When creating your plan, consider the following:
Size / Cost – How big is your garden going to be? Obviously, the available space you have will dictate the size. Remember there are upfront costs to consider when starting a garden and the bigger your garden is the more it’s going to cost.
Vegetable Location – Are you planning an entire row with one vegetable or are you planting half with one thing and half with something else? Are you planting in the ground or in raised beds?
Row Length - This is important to determine how much seed to buy. How many plants can you plant per row? The answer to that question will be in the seed description.
Inter-Row & Inter-Plant Space - A foot wide path between rows is a good rule of thumb. You don’t want your rows too narrow as weeding becomes very difficult. Conversely, you don’t want your rows too wide as this wastes space and requires more weeding. Ick!
Planting Dates – You need to figure out the approximate date of the last frost in your area. I start turning over my soil and prepping as soon as the ground is defrosted and warmed up. It could be a few weeks before or after the general frost date for my area.
Vegetables - What to Plant?
Succession Planting - What plants will follow when each vegetable is harvested? This is a space saving technique but you need to plan for it to work.
What are you going to grow? My advice is to plant what you like to eat and don’t over plant. If you plant 20 squash plants your family is not going to be happy with you. You are not going to grow everything so use the available space wisely, especially if it’s small.
Sweet corn is a perfect example of what not to grow on a small plot. Corn needs to be grown in a large space (over 1000 sq. ft.) for proper pollination. So choose vegetables that your family will enjoy and that make sense for the space you have.
Small gardens (less than 1000 sq. ft.) - think about plants with a high yield per plant, which include the following vegetables:
- Bush Beans
- Leafy greens
- Peppers (hot and sweet)
- Squash (bush variety)
- Mustard Greens
- Collard Greens
- Beets, Peas
- Large Gardens (1000 sq. ft. or more) – larger gardens can obviously grow a larger variety of vegetables (including those that take up more space) but remember the bigger the garden the more work required and the higher resulting yield. If there are only two of you and unless you want to be super gardeners or love to be outside puttering around, I’d recommend downsizing to a small plot:
- All the vegetables listed above
- Melons (vining varieties)
- Squash (vining varieties)
- Sweet Corn
How will your garden grow? Some plants (i.e.- lettuce and peas) are better suited to grow in the early spring whereas squash and tomatoes are heat loving plants that do well in high temperatures. Make sure that your plan includes a seasonal planting schedule that correlates with your successive plantings.
Planting every few weeks provides a continuous harvest throughout the growing season. To avoid gardener burnout, spread out your plantings to avoid a monster harvest all at once and instead have a steady flow of vegetables throughout the season. For example, planting new lettuce every two weeks during the early and mid-spring seasons guarantees you’ll have lettuce until it gets too hot.
In addition, successive planting ensures the wise use of your space. Planting squash in place of an earlier crop like peas will allow you to grow two crops in the same space in a single season.
Seeds and Plants
Order seeds from quality organic seed companies now. Don't wait until the snow melts. I don’t recommend that you purchase seeds from a large box store as their seeds tend to be of poor quality and have low germination rates. In addition, don’t forget that there are GMO seed companies parading around as “your local friendly seed company” so buyers beware!
I’m not going to get into the details of the GMO debate but if you want to know more, just “Google” it. This is a hot topic in the world of agriculture and gardeners and consumers need to understand how important it is to buy properly sourced seeds from non GMO companies. To get you started, here is an article from Mother Earth News
There are many organic seed companies, but here are a few that I’ve used personally and recommend:
What? No space to Garden? Grow it in a container!
Yes, it is possible to have a garden even if you don’t have available land by growing in a container! All that’s needed is good quality organic potting mix and a container – i.e. - an Earth Box or even a baby wading pool will work! For DIYers, purchase a storage container (or baby wading pool) from a large Box Store. It doesn’t have to be deep as about a foot of growing space is all that’s needed. Drill a few holes in the bottom and sides to allow water to drain out of the bottom and air through the sides for the roots to develop.
Pictured below are some of the containers that I grow in. Easy Peasy!
Baby Wading Pools
Fabric Grow Tubes
Large Grow Bags
If you have questions about your garden, please feel free to contact me. Happy Garden Planning!!!