Ahhhh — garden planning! I usually start my garden planning in March sometime. You see, I don’t like March very much. It’s wet, dreary, cold and pretty colorless. It’s not winter and it’s not spring. So what’s the purpose of March? To garden plan, of course!!!
By the time we get to March, I’m SO ready to get outside and play in the dirt. Usually there’s still snow on the ground so it’s kinda unrealistic to grow anything outside … except in my greenhouse!
So this is when I get a few cool weather crops planted in the greenhouse so that I feel like I’m getting a jump on eating fresh stuff. I also spend some time really planning what I’m going to put in the main garden — what I can start myself (in the greenhouse), what I plant directly outside (when it’s time) vs what plants I buy.
Onto garden planning! First, ask yourself a few questions –
- What does your family eat?
Make a list of the things that your family likes to eat. Don’t waste the garden space or your time on things that no one enjoys. I don’t like corn so I don’t grow it. My family likes corn (mainly corn on the cob) so when it’s at the farmers market, I get it whenever I can so that they can get their fill while it’s in season. They’re good and I don’t have to grow it. Besides it doesn’t grow well in this area (this discussion comes later).
These things are what I call “basics”. For me, these things are — green beans, tomatoes, zucchini, onions, peas, carrots, potatoes and peppers (bell, jalapeno, etc). I grow these things every year.
2. What would you like to try?
Try something new, exotic or just out of the ordinary and weird. Gardening is supposed to be fun! You’ll have successes and failures but that’s okay. You may really surprise yourself and your family.
I tried eggplant one year. My neighbor had been cooking with it and raved about it. I thought what the heck! I grew it and even cooked with it … but decided that it wasn’t my favorite. I would much rather enjoy zucchini and the two can be changed up pretty readily.
3. What grows in your area?
This is kinda important. There is what’s called a Plant Hardiness Zone Map put out by the U.S. Dept of Agriculture. If you don’t know which zone you live in, check it out here. This map will give you a pretty good idea about what will be successful in your garden.
Like I said earlier, corn doesn’t grow well at my house. Corn grows very well at other people houses but not mine (not that I care because I don’t like it, remember?). See, I live at the top of a mountain so my elevation is just a little higher than most people in my region. It’s also on a ridge so it’s quite windy too. For those reasons, I’ve just never been successful with corn so I finally gave up.
I always try to grow watermelon and cantaloupe even though they don’t grow well here. Just persistent and hoping that some year I’ll get a bumper crop. My watermelons are usually the size of the individual ones that you can find at your local store or farmers market. My cantaloupe end up looking like a softballs. Better than nothing, I guess, and I keep trying!!!
For these same reasons, I have struggled some years with tomatoes and peppers because they like the long warm days. I have found that my tomatoes do well if I plant them pretty close together (closer than recommended) so that they keep each other warm. Peppers I have been keeping in the greenhouse all summer and they do GREAT!!!
4. Don’t forget the herbs!
I enjoy cooking with fresh herbs so I grow what I can. Again, think about what you use on a regular basis and for sure grow those. Some herbs are perennials (come back year after year) and some are annuals (need to be planted each year). This is sometimes determined by what zone you live in. My perennial herb garden has oregano, thyme, and chives that come back faithfully. I plant rosemary and cilantro each year.
Now that you have your lists, start planning.
First, decide how much space you have. Measure the area … whether garden beds, open space or even containers. Container gardening (or patio gardening) is making a tremendous comeback. Check out your local library or Amazon for books on container gardening.
Also do some research on companion planting. Basically this is a guideline on what grows well together and what doesn’t and should be avoided. Here are some starting points —
Next, just start deciding where you’re going to put things. Be sure to consider how the sun moves through and around your garden so that the things that need lots of sun can be put in those locations, filtered sun, etc.
So make a list of things to grow, research what grows in your area, look at what can be grown together (or not) and start planning. Have fun!!!