06 April 2011
Backyard Garden: Planning
Last week I showed you how to construct boxes and fill them with good soil. Now it's time to take the next step and think about what you want to plant and when to plant it. The first thing to take into consideration is when your anticipated last frost will be. The Old Farmer's Almanac website has a great chart to determine the date for your area. Find a notebook that is used just for your garden. As you progress, you'll want to use it to take loads of notes. I found the one above at an estate sale for $0.25. I like that it already has a grid pattern.
What to Plant
What you decide to plant is up to you and your tastes as well as the space you have. Unfortunately I only have a enough room for two boxes in my yard and there are two of us. Each person needs 2-3 boxes in order to plant everything. Since I don't have the space, I made a list of all my favorites. Then I made a list of what is available (including price) at my farmers market. From there I determined what to plant and what will be supplemented from the market.
Seeds and Seed Starting
Once you've determined what to plant in your garden it's time to purchase seeds and seedlings. Growing your own seedlings is an option, however, I am not a fan of seed starting. It requires a lot of time and space to get them all going. I don't start my own seeds because honestly, I just don't like all the fuss. Local feed stores and garden supply places will do a lot of this work for you in their greenhouses. I like to support their business and so I buy seedlings for the plants that are harder or take longer to grow from seed such as tomatoes and onions. If you wanted, you could start your entire garden with seedlings you've purchased, but it can get expensive.
You can purchase seeds almost anywhere, but it's important to remember you get what you pay for. For good, quality seeds that haven't been modified, go for organic or heirloom varieties or those from reputable seed companies. One of my favorite heirloom seed distributors is Seed Savers Exchange and for organic is Seeds of Change. Also try to google any local seed companies. They will most likely carry seeds that are adapted to your area for maximum growth potential. Here in Texas we have Willhite Seed. I also like Burpee Seeds because they are readily available. You don't have to order them through a catalog because they are sold at local retailers. Overwhelmed yet?
Seed catalogs are so beautiful and can be very stressful for a beginner because of all the varieties they offer. There is an alternative to picking your own. Gardener's Supply Company offers a great kitchen garden planner. It provides a basic layout of pre-planned gardens with instructions. It's a great tool.
Since the boxes are laid out with a grid pattern like the one above, it will make planting easy. No two types of seeds are in the same square. The problem I ran into was determining how many seeds to put in each square. I know that cabbage and tomatoes are large plants and they would most likely have their own space, but I knew I could fit more than one bunch of lettuce in a square. I clipped the ad above from the Gardener's Supply Company catalog and knew they could offer some help. Not only can you get a pre-planned garden layout, you can also plug the seeds you want to grow into their planner and they will give you a layout of your personal garden with instructions, including how many plants to have in each square. I didn't have to draw out my plan because I could print the layout from their website. I scanned in one of my pages. That's dirt on the page near the spinach.
Keep in mind that taller plants should be planted on the north side of your boxes so they don't shade out your smaller plants. This also inclueds any vine type of plant. If you choose to plant peas they typically do best growing up a trellis of some kind. Any vine type of plant can be woven in a trellis leaving more room around your boxes but you don't want them taking all the sun from your other plants. Remember this when you are laying out your garden plan.
When To Plant
Now that you've determined your last frost date, and what you are going to plant and where, it's time to talk about when to plant. Because determining when to plant is so regional the best advice I can give you is to find planting charts for your area. I used Mel Bartholomew's charts from the Square Foot Gardening book. I was able to plug in dates based on my last frost date to determine planting times. I marked these dates in my calendar.
I want produce all summer long so staggering my planting times are important. I plant lettuce, for example, every two weeks (information I gathered from Mel's charts) so that when I harvest one crop I'll have another ready to go in the following week. The boxes will not look the same through the seasons and so it's important to have a good plan up front. When it gets warmer here I will no longer be able to plant spinach so it will be replaced with plants that can tolerate more heat. Then again in the fall, I'll go through another cycle as the temps begin to cool again. Planting charts should be your most valuable resource for planning.
As I said with boxes, don't overthink it. There are plenty of books and websites avaialable to do the thinking for you. I would love to see your plans. Let me know in the comments or leave me a link.
**I was not endorsed or offered products from any of the above mentioned companies. I'm simply a happy customer.**