Thursday, March 9, 2017

Food Garden Plans

Oh, the joy of lists and planning and making maps.  Planning out the 2017 food garden has been completed.  Last year was our Shemitah year in which we did not intentionally plant or grow any food plants.  It was the seventh year rest and I have to say that I missed my kale, Swiss chard and cherry tomatoes the most.  I did plant my flower bulbs and tubers and enjoyed them but the garden beds were left to their own devices, which meant that they grew whatever seeds were in the soil.  We had volunteer dill, fennel, rue, lamb’s ear, stinging nettle, lettuce, kale, morning glories and sunflowers grow in and around the beds.

Now we are done with resting and on to growing!  This year I have made some changes to how I put together our typical plan.

Rare sunshine… in the middle of a snowfall of course

Usually I start my plan with a list of all the varieties of plants I want to grow that has caught my fancy.  Logistics may or may not factor into some of the choices.  Of course I pick the obvious ones like tomatoes, peas and marigolds, but I have also chosen watermelon or several varieties of winter squash which take up large amounts of space that I do not have.  This “wanting ALL the plants” leads to a ginormous amount of seeds that I start in my seed tray.  25 seeds planted in my slotted seed tray does not look like a lot.  However when these babies get planted out into paper pots, it takes up a lot of space.  Even worse, I then can’t figure out where to plant these babies in the garden and many of them languish in the trays until Sir T dumps them because they are ugly… and it is July.  This makes planning and planting slightly stressful as I’m always behind, trying to pack too much in, while unhappy plants “yell” at me to give them a home.

Enough madness, this year T and I started our 2017 Garden Plan with our goals of what we wanted to harvest from the garden.  When I do garden coaching, that is the first priority we discuss.  Knowing what you want guides you down an easier path to where you want to go.  We made the following list:

More herbs and edible flowers in our diet
Why?  More varied diet and nutrition spectrum
How?  Salad, drying herbs, freezing herbs, intentionally including them in a meal
Where?  Beds 11 and 12 and the herb garden
What?  Nasturtium, basil, chives, parsley, dill,

Salsa to can
Why?  Want a good organic salsa
How? Can 100 jars of salsa – we eat approximately 2 jars a week
Where? 5 beds of nightshade plants – odd numbered ones
What?  Tomato, onions, peppers, hot peppers

Freeze cherry tomatoes
Why?  Use all winter, easy to process
How?  Pick, wash, dry and pack in a single layer in a ziplock bag and freeze
Where? In nightshade beds
What?  Pick the best tasting and producing varieties and grow those

Eat at least 2 salads a week from our garden
Why?  Save money on buying greens, higher quality fresher greens
How?  Planned succession planting, cut and come again, intentional planned harvest
Where?  Beds 11 and 12
What?  Use every variety of greens and lettuce seed that we have, start seed indoors on a schedule and plant out in the garden

Juicing twice a week
Why?  Get more greens in
How?   Intentional harvesting and freezing for winter use
Where?  Even numbered beds
What? Grow swiss chard, kale, greens

This list was my guideline on how to plan the garden.  Very quickly it is apparent that we desire a great number of the nightshade plants.  Typically in the past, I have reserved 4 beds total for all nightshade plants and rotated them as a group around the garden beds.  This year, I increased that number to 5 beds which is half of my 10 4’x8’ beds.  I decided that I would try switching them back and forth each year from odd to even for my crop rotation.  When the tomato beds were all next to each other, it was hard to get between them as the cherry tomatoes would often grow very vigorously and if I did not keep them pruned or in bounds, they became a huge mass that was hard to harvest.  By putting a non – nightshade bed in-between them, I am hoping that the crowding will be less as well.

Next I listed all the types of food we wanted to grow, focusing on the list of goals above.  Several food plants were rejected right off like carrots and watermelon.  Carrots do not like me. Or rather perhaps I just cannot get them to like my conditions.  I have not learned how to be successful with consistent germination and growing of the few carrots that do germinate. Several years of poor germination, bitter woody carrots and all around too much fuss for the amount of production, I am buying my carrots from a friend at the Farmer’s market.  Despite the fact I have oh… seven??? varieties of seed, we will not be growing them this year.

Watermelon is off the list for the simple reason that it does not ripen in time to be harvested before frost.  We did have a volunteer watermelon plant grow in our goji bed several years ago and that was the year of our miracle watermelons.  We have never replicated that event and since we really do not have the space for the monstrous beast that is a watermelon plant, it was nixed.

This list was then broken down into families.  All the nightshade was grouped together, greens, brassicas, beans, summer squash and so on.  This helped me to focus which groups of plants could go in beds together and how to plan a rotation for next year.  Some calculating, plant spacing, arranging and strategizing all produced a rough garden plan organized by beds with the number of plants that would fit in that space.

We grow using a combination of French intensive planting and square foot gardening.  Typical vegetable garden plantings have rows of plants with specific spacing with an aisle in-between each row.  In French intensive gardening, the beds are generally as wide as can be reached into from either side (3 to 4 feet wide).  The soil is carefully prepared with manure and compost while the plants are carefully spaced quite close to each other so the leaves touch as adults.  Plants are arranged in multiple rows and columns within the space without an aisle.  This creates a sort of living mulch, shading out the soil to prevent weeds and conserve moisture, while increasing production of the space.

Square foot gardening is the idea of French intensive gardening, divided into squares and specifically created for raised bed gardening in urban settings.  Each square is planted with a specific variety of plant at a certain density.  The spacing is all figured out for you so you can plant your raised bed like a paint by numbers craft.  We use a combination of the two practices in our planning of our raised beds.   The spacing of plants is determined by data from these practices, the seed packet and our recorded data from past years.

Rooper’s orchid is blooming again

Armed with this data, I finally started the selection of varieties, the place where I usually start the whole process.  I chose the exact number of varieties that I had room for.  I had room for 4 cabbages.  I have 3 different varieties of cabbage, but Sir T and I like the purple kind better than the green so I chose the 2 purple varieties to start.  Since I want 2 plants from each variety, I planned to plant 3 seeds of each.  All my numbers were written down and entered into Garden Time, the garden minder program that tells me when to plant, transplant and start the harvest.

While I enter the data into my kindle, I also diagram my garden bed maps out both in list form and on graph paper.  I have to admit that I am a paper and pencil kind of girl.  Sir T prefers electronic recording methods.  We use both mediums.  I have a 3 ring notebook in which I keep all the paper garden plans and data collection.   Garden Time lives on the kindle and my seed list is on a google doc for easy access from all the computers.  We have found this works best for right now.  It may change as new technology comes out or crashes.

Plan is engaged and seeds are planted!

No comments:

Post a Comment