Timely enough, we have seed catalogs pouring in through the mail box and lots of great old and new varieties are grabbing my attention. From artichokes to Zucchini, I have a hard time deciding what to grow that’s new, and looking over my notes from last year, where to place my favorites, the best performers.
Some are very limited on space, and may even be limited to what can grow in containers. While others have yards that they can turn into gardens. Some cities are developing community gardens, that for a small fee you can plant a small garden. What ever the location, observe it. How much sunlight does it get in a day? Does water flow over it, or soak into the soil? Is any vegetation growing now? I highly recommend taking soil samples and sending them for analysis. You can find a lot of information about who does this through your local Cooperative Extension Office, and there are offices all over the country.
If your site is shady, don’t let this discourage you, many edible plants grow in the shade. Some people will say that a site for a garden needs at least 6 hours of direct sunlight, but I have grown plants in as little as dappled, diffused light all day long. You won’t get the prize pumpkin in this type of garden, but the sweetest strawberries grow in shade as well as many members of the mint family, alliums, ginger and ginseng too.
Plant what you like!
This seems obvious, but for the longest time, I was the only person in the house that liked tomatoes. I only needed one tomato plant on my back porch garden when I was just growing for my family. Planting 12 plants was sort of silly, and most of those tomatoes went to compost. Think about what you buy at the store. If you always purchase peas, plan on trying to grow your own instead. Are you a salad eater? Onions and garlic are common kitchen staples, and are also very easy to grow in our climate. Make a list of veggies that you always eat, and you will have a good start on what to plant this spring.
Know your plant families.
This is something that I teach all of our interns. As we are going through the season, I always refer to sections of the garden by plant family, so at least they can walk away with this very necessary info for a successful garden. Why is this important? Well, plants that are related often require the same type of growing conditions such as; light, water, nutrient requirements, soil conditions as well as attract the same types of harmful insects and disease. By knowing the plant families you can plan your garden for the most efficient use of water, insect and disease control. Also you can easily avoid consecutive plantings in the same area, thus extending and aiding the life of the soil through crop rotation from year to year.
Here are just a few examples of plant family categories:
Allium- Onion, Leek, Garlic, Chive
Brassica- Cabbage, Broccoli, Kale, Turnip and Mustard
Cucurburitaceae- Squash, Melon, Gourd, Pumpkin, Cucumber
Legume-Peas, Beans, Alfalfa, Peanuts
Solanaceae-Potato, Tomato, Peppers, Eggplant, Tomatillo, and Okra
Obviously this is short list of some of the most planted veggies in our area. There are so many more and there are volumes of books available for more detailed list of plant families, I’m only hoping to cover the basics here.
Map it out.
Once you have an idea of what you would like to grow and how much space you intend to use, make a map. Research your favorite veggies to see what type of soil they prefer, and check with your soil test results to see if you need anything extra to help your garden do it’s best. When you get your plan map, you can adjust the quantities to fill the space. Most seed catalogs tell you how many plants will fit in a given space. I like to use Johnny’s Selected Seeds because the information they provide in their catalog is very detailed as far as how many seeds I need to purchase. Besides, I have also found their seeds to be top performers in our greenhouse in side by side comparisons.
Keeping plant families close is a sure way to help with garden maintenance. It also helps with the very next step, companion plantings. Companion planting is combining different plant varieties in close proximity to help aid in the desired crop’s growth. Companion plants may assist in nutrient uptake, as well as pest management.
Here is a short list of companion plants-
Allium- Lettuce, Carrot, Strawberry
Brassica- Legumes, Aromatic herbs, Cucumber
Cucurberit- Legumes, Aromatic Herbs, Brassica
Legumes- Brassica, Corn, Cucurberit,
Solanaceae- Basil, Celery, Beans, Spinach, Radish
I simply fill much of the empty space with companion plants, to help with biodiversity, plant growth and insect resistance, and efficiently use my garden space.
You can use seed websites and catalogs to explore new varieties. The best seeds in my garden are always free, or at least collected from previous years, but I always love trying something new. I recommend reading reviews from other gardeners about the plants you want to try. Some don’t yield as much, and other top performers aren’t as tasty as I would like. I have found that I can learn so much from reading the reviews of particular varieties before I invest my money and my back to it.