by Susan Berry.
Yes another year is coming to a close, and the New Year is approaching. The next couple of months bring hibernation. Now is the best time to plan your 2014 gardens. Planning your vegetable gardens in advance is so important for many reasons.
Planning is very cost effective. When I first started growing vegetables I would look through the seed catalogs and get drawn into a frenzy of excitement with all the varieties and gorgeous pictures of perfect ripe veggies. I would order enough seed to plant 10 acres of a hundred different veggies when in reality I had one acre to work with and knowledge of about five vegetables. Having a realistic plan of your available growing space is the first place to begin. Measure the perimeter of your entire growing space. Whether you plan to grow in row crops or in raised beds, knowing the total amount of space you have to work with is important.
Next thing is to find a good garden planner tool. Now I have a friend who still uses the good old reliable notebook and pencil method. He simply draws a pencil drawing of his space, writes the measurements along the edges of the page and lays out in rows what he is planting in which location. He then keeps his notebooks from year to year for reference and remembrance of what worked and what didn’t.
My garden planner tool is online. I prefer to keep my records online just to save time and space. There are many great online garden planning tools, some are even free.
Choosing plants and seed varieties that are suited to your growing zone is very important.
There are many vegetables that cannot be planted where another particular vegetable has grown previously, so keeping a good plan of your gardens makes it easy to know who grew where and who can follow them in that particular bed or location of your garden. This is known as crop rotation. Planting certain veggies in the same place consecutively can cause diseases in your plants. It can also cause low production in harvest. For example, when you grow tomatoes in a bed, they are depleting the soil of the nutrients they need to grow. If you replant tomatoes in the same location there will not be enough nutritional value for them in that spot. But another crop, say green beans will do great there because they have different needs from the soil as well as adding nitrogen back into the soil. Crop rotation is an important factor in growing veggies especially if you live in an area where you have a long growing season. Here in Massachusetts I can grow two to three different plantings of green beans over a growing season, so I move those plantings around and put them in beds where say, broccoli had grown in early Spring, or my lettuce and spinach bed.
Another benefit of planning before planting is growing realistically. As I mentioned before it is easy to get so excited at the prospect of growing every veggie known to man, but we must be realistic about space, our true likes and dislikes (am I going to eat this veggie?), and how much of a particular vegetable you’d consume. Our first couple of years growing I planted everything! I discovered we could grow great white turnips, they grew like weeds for us. But how many turnips can you eat in a year? And we also discovered we didn’t know many people who liked turnips, so we ended up growing a crop that mostly went into compost. This is a tremendous waste of time and growing space. Now if you’re talking about beets, well, that is another story! Don and I could grow a full acre of beets and stand there looking at them all, then look at one another and say, “Do you think that’s enough?” We can never grow too many beets, we love them! So I keep a good amount of growing space just for these burgundy beauties. Knowing what you like and what you’ll consume or be able to give to others and what grows well in your area, are all realistic considerations when planning your gardens.
When Don I lived in North Carolina and farmed, we could easily grow leeks, and varieties of Winter squash that required 100+ days to come to harvest. Here in Massachusetts I have to consider varieties that require much shorter growing days because we do not have enough warm days for vegetables that take a long time to grow.
All of these factors may seem overwhelming or just too much to think about to make it worth while growing your own vegetables. But trust me a week or so of dedicated planning and thought will make creating a bountiful vegetable garden a piece of carrot cake! I personally get a great deal of pleasure and relaxation in sitting down with my lap top and seed catalogs in hand, a steaming hot cup of coffee next to me and a window in front of me that I can look out and see snow covered beds, while planning and dreaming of next Spring’s gardens.
A little planning now and this is what you can have in a few months.
Susan Berry is a Horticulturist/ Farmer and Homesteader. She and her husband Don live on a ¼ acre aptly named Itzy Bitzy Farm with their two dogs and twelve hens. Susan raises organically grown heirloom asparagus crowns till established at three years old and raspberry plants to sell to home gardeners. You can follow Itzy Bitzy Farm’s blog by signing up at www.itzybitzyfarm.com