Planning your garden

At the January 2011 Edible Gardening meeting the topic was Planning Your Garden.

The steps we went through were:

What to plant. This would be your list of what you want to grow in your garden.

When to plant. Are the vegetables that you want to eat cold weather crops or warm weather crops? This tells you whether you will be planting as soon as the soil can be worked or not until after the first frost.

How many to plant. Do you need 2 tomato plants, 5, 10, 20? We had some information about how many plants are needed (at each planting) for one person. Obviously this needs to be adjusted to your household’s cravings. If you want a good sized salad every day you will need a lot more than whatever the chart recommended for lettuce.

How far apart. Should you plant your tomatoes 6 inches apart, one foot, two feet, three feet? Seed packet or seed catalog information generally talks about distance between plants and also distance between rows, such as planting 2 inches apart in rows 12 inches apart. In our home gardens we often ignore the second number and plant more intensely. I’m not sure, however, that I would plant spinach, as an example, 3 inches apart in each direction. I would probably thin to three inches in the row but have the rows six inches apart. With something like tomatoes the spacing depends on whether you are going to remove suckers and train the plant to one central stem (maybe using 2 foot spacing) or let it do whatever it wants to do (then using 3 foot spacing) .

When might the harvest begin. Seed catalogs are useful for this. We used Johnny’s seed catalog which has a lot of information about each plant, but typically any seed catalog will tell you the days from planting to the first expected harvest for the particular variety you choose.

When might the harvest end. This bit of information helps in planning. If a bed is likely to be empty by June 10th what do you do then? Maybe then plant a warm weather crop. Or more of something else. Or, if it is late enough in the year, a cover crop.

Are there plants this vegetable doesn’t grow well with. There are vegetables that don’t like being near potatoes or onions or beans. Probably best not to plant them close together.

One thing we didn’t talk about, but which I find useful, is how long it takes various seeds to germinate. This source has that information.

In terms of keeping records, the website just cited says this:

"Good vegetable gardeners learn from trial and error; better gardeners write it down; the best gardeners buy a ruled notebook and fill up the columns with a sow-by-sow account."

I accumulated the information listed above for the vegetables that I plan to grow this year. Then I proceeded to draw up a plan for each of the 30 sections into which I plan to divide the garden. They are either 4 ft by 3 ft or 5 ft by 3 ft. The information made planning a lot quicker.

You can see my table of information.

I have listed the vegetable (and whether it is the 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th planting for those with successive plantings), the number of plants recommended, when they should be started indoors (if they are going to be started indoors), when they would be transplanted outside or seeded outside, the spacing between plants, the date of the expected first harvest, the date of the last harvest (and I have a lot of doubt about the accuracy of these dates), and what plants the particular vegetable does not like. Take everything with a grain of salt and go at your own pace. I have a thirty year history of gardening without much planning and things still grew. My goal in planning better is to make the garden more productive.

John Allen, January 27, 2011