Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Planning Your Garden

2012 Garden Plan created in Territorial Seed Co.'s garden planner program.

There are dozens of software programs available for planning a garden, each has it's pros and cons.  The one I used for the plan shown here, for example, doesn't allow you to resize the plants. Yes, a bell pepper does need a square foot of it's own to grow, but there is no reason it should overlap into the next square.  There is also no reason you couldn't easily fit a thin row of carrots or radishes or green onions between squares of slower growing fruiting vegetables.  A simple, easy to adjust, non-computerized version of this plan may be better suited to some.  Drawing your beds out on a sheet of graph paper enlarged to 4 squares = 1 square foot is handier and neater than some programs.  A great way to do the hand drawn plan is to draw out your beds and then make a few copies of that sheet to use in years to come, saving the hassle of re-drawing it each time.  It also makes it easy to lay out a few different plans and compare them to determine your best course. 
Make a list of vegetables you'd like to have, include the ones you might not think of immediately that are often used in conjunction with others.  If you have a bumper crop of tomatoes but no onions, peppers, or garlic it becomes expensive to run to the store for those things before making your salsa or sauce.
You have two choices of how to proceed with your list at this point, you can decide to plant starts (an excellent option for the beginner) bought from the store or nursery, or to buy seed from a catalog or store.
Buying starts is simple, you wait until the season for the particular plant begins, buy the start, bring it home and plant it.  However, it is far more expensive, your selection is limited to the most popular varieties, and if you can't plant immediately you will have to keep those starts protected from weather, watered, and safe until you are able to plant.  Buying seed is far less expensive, a pack of 50 or more seeds can cost less than one plant start, seeds will last for one to five years in general before they are too old to germinate, your options are limited only by what will grow in your region, and if you start seeds too soon and the weather turns bad you are already set up to keep them warm and healthy a little longer, or just plant a few more if your plants are killed.  An added bonus to seed is sharing them with others, or sharing the starts you grow from them with others.  I usually plant a few extras of each thing in case my cats dig something up, or a transplant doesn't make it, which means I often have starts to spare for friends and family.  The primary downside to starting from seed is the initial cost of trays, tiny pots, and possibly a lamp; and finding a space to put them inside where they will be safe.
Most of my plants are from seed, but I have the advantage of having a brother with a grow room setup in his spare bathroom.  We share seeds and I have him get the hot weather plants started for me.  I handle the cold weather and non-transplantable seeds myself.  In early spring I generally have a few Jiffy trays set out on a card table in my dining room with cabbage, broccoli, kale, cauliflower and swiss chard growing in it.  When they get too big to stay under the warming dome, or begin to get leggy from lack of light I move them outside to my portable greenhouse until the weather improves enough to plant them. I have a few plants I won't grow from seed, some things just aren't worth it to me.  Celery is one of them, it sprouts from a miniscule seed and takes forever to grow big enough to plant outdoors.  I would basically have to plant it in December or January and care for it until April before planting it.  I prefer to buy celery starts.  Another one is basil, I've always had trouble growing basil from seed, so prefer to buy starts for it.

Whichever way you choose to go be sure to have an idea what plants you will put into the garden before drawing up a garden plan.  It is pointless to pre-plan your garden if you aren't sure if you will have determinate or indeterminate tomatoes, or bulbing or green onions.  Knowing what size you can expect each plant to grow to, and whether they will shade out their neighbors or not will vastly improve your garden's productivity.  Once you have that settled you can start laying out your plan, don't lose faith in yourself if something goes amiss though, trial and error is the best way to learn and even seasoned gardeners have a season in which the tomatoes never turn red, or the beets don't sprout at all.

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