Friday, February 3, 2012
IT'S GARDEN TIME BABY!
Garden planning time that is. At about the time an itch arises within me to pull out one of my favorite books and commence in its annual reading, an urge to plan our garden also ensues. The book happens to be Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and, by divine fate or good sense, is a very passionate, gripping story about her family's choice to eat locally and grow or raise everything else [including heritage turkeys]. It aligns perfectly with garden planning time and adds giddiness to my existing excitement. Combine that with a cup of tea, scone, and a napping baby and, well, bliss.
If you are new to gardening or dappling in an interest, take a breath and remember this: planning your garden is the best part. Why? The planning involves creativity, design, passion, and an excuse to peruse countless seed catalogues and get lost in the names like Purple De Milpa, Moon and Stars, Small Shining Light, Feher Ozon Paprika, and Federle. It also gives you a chance to daydream about warm days filled with sunshine and blossoms, running through sprinklers [yes I still do that!, green grass under bare feet, and afternoons that stretch lazily on into the evening. But the best part of planning? It happens in late January or early February meaning the heavy-lifting and manual labor required for gardening won't happen for a few months! You get all of the dreamy benefits and avoid their cost in backaches and blisters - cha-ching!
Planning a garden in advance if important for a few reasons. First, it gives you documentation from year to year, recalling what was planted and where. When your memory inevitably fails ["What did I grow again? Was it in this bed or this one?"] a plan comes to the rescue. It also ensures that you are rotating your crops properly. This helps protect your garden against pathogens, bug / disease blights, and repeated garden epidemics. Crop rotation ensures a break where needed [ex. planting cover crop after an intensive plant year], boosts soil health, and gives you the opportunity to focus on companion planting prior to getting seed and plants in the ground. Finally [with no less importance], it gives you a bit of peace-of-mind when planting time comes around. You no longer have to stand in the middle of dirt and think, "now where the heck are these going to go?!".
[A FEW PLANNING TIPS]
1] If this is your first attempt at gardening, keep it simple. Choose a few varieties of plants that you already consume a lot of and are excited about and begin there. Read and research about how to grow those particular varieties [especially in your zone - if you live in Michigan, don't go trying to plant a banana tree]. Know what pests and diseases are more likely to make an appearance and how to organically prevent them. Prevention, knowing what to do prior to having to do it, is key in a healthy garden.
2] Map out, to scale, what you will grow and divide your garden space into "zones" so that rotation becomes a bit easier. If you have a smaller space, you can space each plant or seed properly on the plan, ensuring that you purchase the correct amount of seeds / plants. Doing this also gives you a good idea of how many plants will fit in each area. As each season rolls around, you will become more familiar with how much space each variety needs.
3] Look into creating raised beds - they are fabulous! Even raising the ground level into mounds, or "beds", by a few inches of dirt will help.
4] Try to think futuristic-ally in your plan. Think about what you want for this year but also about what you may want for years to come. This can help guide your plan. You can actually plan out three or four years in advance, using proper plant rotation methods.
5] Have fun and let your creative juices fly! Work both horizontally and vertically [using trellises, cages, fences, etc.] Don't put yourself in a box!
6] Order your seeds early to beat the rush and ensure that you'll get them in time to start seeds indoors. A lot of popular varieties sell out quickly! As you are ordering your seeds, set out a schedule [counting back from the planting date] so you know when to start planting indoors the seeds that require it.
In our garden, we specifically purchase organic and / or heirloom seeds. Heirloom seeds have not been modified allowing the plant to preserve its natural, God-given traits [like the ability to withstand pests and diseases]. It allows natural selection to remain at work giving the strongest seeds the advantage which in turn gives you the best producing plant. Everyone wins!
Over the last few years, I have found some seed companies that have become my "go-to". They have a history of producing well, may be local [depending on the company], and have good customer service and are quick to ship out your order.
Annie's Heirloom Seeds
Seed Saver's Exchange
Abundant Life Seeds
These are the books that sustain my garden lifeline. They are my constant spring - fall companions and are the go-to's whenever any issues arise. These resources are also great in helping with planning your garden.
If you live in an area that restricts the size of your garden [ie. in cities or tightly packed neighborhoods], start with this book, Grow Great Grub: Organic Food from Small Spaces.
The Vegetable Gardener's Bible
The Organic Gardener's Handbook of Natural Disease and Pest Control
Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening
Rodale's Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening
The Holistic Orchard
Organic Gardening Magazine
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle [Although not really designed to be a garden guide, it is very informative in a completely entertaining way which is why I recommend it here as well.]