While I love foraging (as well as reading and writing about it) the bulk of our non purchased food comes from our garden. Believe it or not, garden season has already started. This is the time of the year when I get all twitchy and excited watching seed catalogues trickle into my mailbox. I have to keep myself from buying every fucking variety of heirloom tomato each glossy and enticing magazine has to offer. Seed catalogues are the sirens, and I am the helpless sailor waiting to beach myself on the shores of heirloom produce.
So here are the step by steps of how I plan a garden:
Step one: Lists.
Sweet merciful baby Jesus do I love lists. Some people do yoga to center themselves, others get massages; I make lists.
I make a list of the plants I want to grow (lettuce, onions, etc) and once the seed catalogues come, I break that down further into the variety, product number, price, and amount. That way if you have a banner year of that one type of lettuce or that garlic you ordered sucked balls, you have a record and can adjust for next year accordingly.
Step two: Mapping your space.
I like to make a small map of my garden space. It helps me figure out how to use the space more effectively and see what parts of my property get the most light so I can plant my greens under the shade of my big ass maple tree but plant my tomatoes near my neighbor’s fence because that’s the sunniest spot.
Step three: Making a calendar.
This is the step I failed to do the first few times and it bit me in the ass. Knowing when to plant what and rotating your crops accordingly can really make your garden a powerhouse of produce. For instance, my trellis that I’m building on the south side of my property is mostly going to be used for beans. But because I planned ahead and did a little reading, I also got a short season pea variety that can be grown when its too cold to grow beans , so the peas will come first and by the time they wilt in the late spring heat, the beans will be ready to go. This way I get two crops from one space. You can do this for almost anything, like doing a spring crop of greens followed by a fall crop of kale. A little snooping through the seed catalogue and a season-long plan will really bring in a big ass crop.
Step four: Planting.
Now there are as many ways to plant as there are assholes telling you how to plant your shit. I’ve tried a few different ways and this year we’re trying something new (special garden plastic around our tomatoes and lots of hay mulching. We’ll see how it works out). In every instance, each person has a varied level of success with any method. Just remember that mulch is your best friend. Mulching with hay, grass clippings, etc. will retain moisture, keep weeds down, and make it easier to maintain. Not only that, but as it breaks down, it feeds your wee plants.
It also really helps to know when to start your seeds. Some things cannot be started indoors and some almost always have to depending on your climate. Also, knowing your zone is huge. Your zone is your hardiness level. The zone where I plant is a 5. You can find your zone here. Most seed catalogues and packets will offer instructions based on your hardiness zone. We pretty much have to start things like peppers and tomatoes indoors (I’ll have a separate article dedicated to that), so knowing a head of time what you need to start and when really helps.
What to plant, and who to buy from:
Now there are a lot of questions people have regarding seeds. My personal feelings regarding seed technology aside, I prefer heirloom and OP (open pollinated) seeds. I like them because we save our seeds from year to year and I’ve found them to be more reliable when it comes to reproducing traits of the former generation. I break it down like this: heirloom seeds are the purebreds, hybrids are the labradoodles and puggles. When two German Shepherds or two Dalmatians have puppies, you know you’re going to get German Shepherds or Dalmatians. When Labradoodles or Puggles have puppies, you don’t know what to expect in regards to the ratio of Labra to Doodle. Now before I get ferocious comments about how much you love your Puggle, I love Puggles. I just bought Christmas presents for two of them. My point is that while hybrids have myriad uses, if you want to save your seed, they’re not the best choice. If you want something a little more specialized and don’t mind rebuying your seeds, there’s nothing wrong with some hybrid action up in your yard.
When it comes to buying seeds, I’ve found a few places that I’ve had good experiences with. The Baker Creek Heirloom Seed company offers a staggering variety of heirloom seeds at reasonable prices and I’ve been happy with the results.
This fall I ordered my garlic from D. Landreth Seed Company, “The oldest seed house in the US!” and while I was pretty happy with my selection, the German Red garlic didn’t make it to me in great shape. Harumph.
While I personally haven’t used them yet, Native Seeds has some of the coolest selection of arid and drought hardy plants I’ve run across and I haven’t read anything bad about them.
FYI, none of the companies I’m plugging have compensated me in any way.
Hopefully my neurotic garden planning (and re-planning, and re-re-planning) might make your upcoming garden season a little easier to manage!