It’s time to plan your locally adapted, fresh food generating plot for 2012. Yes, your veggie garden. There are probably as many ways to plan a garden as there are people on this earth. I’ll share some of my thoughts, but as always, adapt it to your skills, location, needs, preferences and physical ability.
I plan my garden in close harmony with my food storage. Mostly because there are large parts of my food storage that I try to get cheaply from the garden. So, the garden leans towards things I can process and store in bulk, and things that store well in cold storage. Then I fill in the space that’s left with family favorites that we enjoy fresh as summer meals. I do all this planning on old fashioned paper. I have a journal, it’s nothing fancy, just a hard back, durable notebook with lots of lined paper, and a ribbon through the spine that’s helpful for place marking. Every year the garden plan goes in the same journal. I also have what I call, “As Planted” drawings for most years. If my garden has differences between the plan and what actually is growing in June, I like to capture that information so that there’s less guess work later. I make these plans for the main bed, the side beds, cold frames, community plots, etc. These plans help me get my thoughts organized so I can get the seeds ordered that aren’t in my stash, and get the early spring plantings started in my greenhouse without feeling rushed or frazzled. I sketch out the plot, with the walking paths, and then I sketch in blocks or rows of the crops.
Rotating of crops factors into planning. I garden a small space, so rotation is a little tricky, and doesn’t always happen 100% as recommended. The basic idea is that you do not plant the same family of plants in the same patch of dirt two years in a row. Ideally, you should try to go three years between repeat plantings. In my plot, potatoes and tomatoes are the problem. They are both nightshades, and they both need large chunks of the available plot. This year I know I have a TON of canned tomatoes in storage. We just finished up the last of the 2010 tomatoes, so we haven’t even started eating on the 2011 batch. So, I’m not planting many tomatoes. Probably just one vine of something we like to eat fresh. That gives me the wiggle room I need to rotate some things around and get the nightshades into different parts of the garden than they were in the past 2 years.
Fallowing. If you have raised beds, or multiple gardens, fallowing can be very easy and beneficial. Lay down some cover crop seeds and leave the plot to build up nitrogen and biomass for a year, every 5 years or so. My favored cover crop here in Iowa is Hairy Vetch. It can be sown with the spring melt, and will grow without any help from me, fixing nitrogen, providing flowers for pollinators, keeping moisture in and shading out weeds. Garden planning can help you keep track of which garden/bed got fallowed in which year. When I was designing the beds for the CSA, my 5 year rotation plan had a fallow year built in. In my smaller lawn plot, I find that crop rotation and heavy composting and proper mulching really cut down on the need to fallow. My plantings are also much more diverse than what’s found in a commercial or large scale planting. That diversity works in my favor, with small bits of rotation I can move nitrogen fixers into a spot recently vacated by heavy feeders, and vice versa.
What to plant? So, you’ve got all the above factors in mind. What do you plant? To adapt a favorite saying, my advice is to “Grow what you eat, and eat what you grow.” For cold storage crops, my family likes Potatoes, Parnips, Carrots and Sweet Potatoes. I know that turnips grow well here, and will survive the cold for longer than carrots, but unless I’m sneaking them into things, they don’t get eaten. So, this year, I’m replacing my turnip row with the sweet potatoes. They’ll be eaten by more of the family, especially the baby we’re expecting to join us in the spring. He’ll be needing soft foods right around the time that sweets will be harvesting. Bulk crops, I usually have tomatoes on this list, but not this year. This year I’m going with Cucumbers and Summer Squash. By bulk, I am talking about plantings that will yield far more than can be eaten fresh, with the intention of preserving the excess. So, aim for things your family likes canned, fermented or dried. Corn can work, as can beans, and cabbage. I place the cold storage crops and the bulk crops on my garden plan first, because they are the most important to my preps. Then I evaluate the spaces that are left. I tuck in fresh favorites where the conditions/space/neighbors are suitable. I’ll put some greens where I know something else will take over in mid-summer, since the greens will bolt around then anyway. I tuck in some peas where they can fix some nitrogen to a well used corner. Green beans get as large a plot as I can find for them. Herbs get tucked in where lighting and water levels will match up. Prettier plants like kale and cabbages I’ll often put near the sidewalks or in the “flower” beds.
Tailor to your needs. If, like me you have a baby on the way, count on your fingers and guesstimate when the baby food need will start, and have some crops that meet that need. If you know you’ll be gone or super busy for a month, time your plantings and crops so that nothing is maturing that month. If you prefer cold storage to canning, make sure your space allocation of plants reflects that.
Planning now will help you with seed orders, spring planting, summer weeding, and fall harvests. Do you have a favorite planning method?
– Calamity Jane