Grab your pencil, tape measure and boots—it’s time to figure out what you’re doing in your garden this year! A few hours of planning now will mean many fewer hours of frustration later in the season. Besides sitting in my comfy chair with a cup of tea, lapful of cat and stack of seed catalogs, this is one of my favorite ways to spend “gardening” time in the winter.
Last night I went to a great presentation by a farmer friend who reminded us all how important it is to know what you’re working with before you get started. This means knowing how much square footage is available in each of your beds or planting areas, where the coldest and warmest spots are and where the wind whips through, breaking plants and shredding the plastic off your hoop house. It means knowing the path of the sun through your garden, knowing the soggy and dry spots. It means... making a SITE ANALYSIS!
This can be as simple or complex as you like. You can do a detailed scale drawing, or make a list. Or something somewhere in between. But, do something so you know what you’re working with.
|This shows most of the info needed to decide where to plant--the vegetable garden ended up on the slope. It gets full sun and drains quickly. You don't have to draw your entire property--just the part you're going to use.|
Once you know what you have, do some dreaming and figure out what you WANT. This is the easy part... What vegetables do you want to grow? How much of each one can you handle? Will you be eating everything fresh, or will you be putting food up for the winter? When do you want to harvest? If you’re planning a 3 week vacation in August, that would not be the ideal time for all the beans to be ready, now would it? Temper your dreams with a little reality—will you have help, or is this your private project? How much time will you have in the garden?
When you know WHAT you want to grow, do your research to find out what those plants want—how much space, how much water and fertilizer, what kind of soil conditions... in other words, the cultural requirements of your plants. Pay close attention to how long it takes for each variety to mature—if you’re starting from seeds, don’t forget to count the time between sowing and transplanting.
Group plants that need the same conditions together—it will be easier on all of you. Count backwards from your hoped-for harvest date to know when to start your seeds or plant your transplants. Consider soil temperature and moisture content, remembering that depending on the weather and your topography, it may still be frigid and soggy until June some years. Make plans—including a plan B, just in case...
I like to make a chart or calendar to keep me on track, so I know what I’ve decided I’m supposed to do on a given day or week. There is also a lot of garden planning software available on line, if you’re so inclined.
|List everything you plan to grow and then fill in the dates|
|These beds are all different sizes--not the easiest way to do it, but how it works on this piece of land. A chart like this makes it easy to know what's where and is really helpful for planning crop rotations.|
So, as soon as the sky clears, go on outside and measure your garden beds! Take pictures and walk around, remembering where the snow lasted the longest and where the tomatoes ripened the earliest last year. Make notes or draw it on your garden plan, but keep track! Then settle down with that tea and the catalogs to dream a bit...