Every year I get very excited when it is time to order seeds. I am a disciple of “Bakers Creek Heirloom Seed” and their wonderful seed catalog. Therefore I tend to just pick and choose as I like with little consideration of what will eventually go where. I will find a spot.
Unfortunately, most years that has led to some issues when it was actually time to plant the vegetable garden. I would plant something I was very excited about, and then wish I had put it somewhere else just a few days later. It was hard to keep track of what I needed to start and when, what it needed and where it was going.
So I came up with a method to plan out the garden before I even sew the first seedling. This I would like to share with you now.
1. Find your Extension Office Vegetable Planting Chart
Almost all Horticultural Universities publish recommended Vegetable Planting Charts. This is the most accurate information one can find on when best to start seeds indoors and out; further, which varieties are doing best for the area you live in. They certainly do not test all known varieties – who could – but they provide a great list of the most common. I tend to select one or two of their recommended cultivars and then add more “exciting” ones if I have room. Color Coding also makes it easier to find planting dates per month. It will be more helpful then any generic seedling chart you can purchase and it is usually free ( here is the one for Georgia).
2. Draw a plan of your vegetable garden and “plan” it
I like to draw a blank layout of my garden in my gardening journal. Don’t have one of those? You should and here is a great article by Emily Shirley, Adv. Master Gardener to get you started.
I don’t spend a lot of time making it pretty – just enough to give me space to write
and make it easy to read in the future. Because we all think we will remember, but really, we don’t. Once I have it on paper, I rank my veggies by how important it is for me to produce a good crop. In reality we never have enough space with just the right conditions for what we want to plant. I give priority to those veggies that mean the most to our family, either because they are a high value crop or because we just love eating them straight out of the garden. Everyone will come up with a different plan, but for us the ultimate crop of course is tomatoes. They will always occupy prime real estate as well as some areas I want to test. Sometimes I am not sure if a bed gets just enough sun to ripen a tomato, so one or two plants will go there to see if it may be a location for the future.
Now that I have the location marked on the plan, I also write down how many seedlings I want to start and the date to start them per the planting chart. I usually do not specify the exact cultivar, but will distinguish between growing habits, such as determined and undetermined tomatoes or bush and pole beans. What gets seeded is usually determined once it is time to get some seed in the ground. It is more fun to re-read the little packages and decide right then and there how many of each variety I would like to have. I also start about twice the amount of seedlings as the number of plants I would like to end up with. Many things can go wrong when starting seeds and this way I have a number of plants to choose from. Any additional plants get handed out to fellow gardening friends or left on the curb with a sign. They usually find a good home.
Keep following your mental list of veggies to plant and pencil them in as discussed. Some of them will end up in sub optimal spots, which gives you time to reevaluate your prime real estate veggies. Don’t forget that some vegetables also look good in flower beds. I like to plant some of the heirloom tomatoes in my annual beds for a pop of color or add salads and greens as a border. Just keep in mind what fertilizers and sprays you use in your flower beds, as they may also affect the vegetables. And of course you may loose a large amount of crop to the critters unless you are fine with heavy netting amid the flowers. In an organic garden you usually can avoid most of the issues and with some clever companion plantings you can even deter the critters in the annuals and in the vegetable garden.
3. Plan companion plantings
Once all the veggies have found a home, I look up my companion planting charts for two reasons. I want to make sure I haven’t planted two veggies together that do not cooperate well. It is worth checking, because the wrong neighbor can really impact the crop. On the other hand it is a great help to know the supporting plants, especially herbs and flowers. I like to plant my basil right in the bed with the tomatoes, giving the large plants a head start before sewing the herb directly in the bed. Marigolds and chives are also great support plants for tomatoes, while lettuce appreciates to be edged by chives. (Here is a great article by anewgreenworldjournal about some of the great companion plantings for vegetable gardens. ) It may seem tedious at times, but it is well worth your time to look into good and bad neighbors for vegetables and which herbs and flowers support pest control and growth naturally.
4. Inventory and shopping list
As a last step I pull out the actual seed storage box to check what I have and what I need. Sometimes I realize I have forgotten to include something in the garden and have to move things around to include it. I then write a simple list of seeds I need on a note pad app on my phone. I think we all have the one veggie we always consider worth buying, but, in reality, have way too much seed of. Funny enough, mine is Okra. I find it especially useful for the companion plantings such as herbs and flowers, that I never seem to remember to buy.
All that is left now is to get seeding and planting. And most of all to trust your plan. You may not remember the exact reason why you put the dill by the cucumbers, but you can trust that you have made a plan with care and thoughtful consideration. Execute as planned, then learn from it and write down your observations. Over time you will be able to improve on your experience.
Now get out there and grow something !