Planning should be the fun part of garden prep work and for most it is. For me it is so stressful, I want to plant it all and even with acres I just don’t have the time or space. Planning my gardens usually start shortly after fall harvest, but really isn’t necessary until January/February.
Start with the basics, what do you want to have in your garden, what will your family eat and use. Once you’ve got the list then I start mapping where I want everything for the first time. When your drawing your garden map thinking about companion garden is a tool. For example, growing rosemary or thyme by cabbage will help deter cabbage moths, tomatoes grow well next to carrots and basil ect.
Another thing to keep in mind is plant height. If your corn is planted in long rows on the edge of the east side of the garden they will shade everything from the morning sun, plants like peppers love all the sun they can get.
As we discussed previously in “Pots, Plots and Spots” your vegetable gardens don’t need to be in long rows like they traditionally have been. Your can plant a square of beans, a row of radish and plot of corn. Of course you can always do rows too. Be sure to leave enough room for each plant as well as walk-ways. If you pack as much as you possibly can into a small space you can end up with a smaller yield than you think, because the plants don’t have enough space to grow as they could. If you plan you small space carefully and don’t over plant you will get a great yield from your small space. Having a little extra space makes harvesting easier too.
Once you have a general idea of what you would like, how much and where, it’s time to decide if you are buying plants in the spring, buying seeds to start indoors or seeds to direct sow. Buying plants in the spring is good for things such as tomatoes, peppers, and other vegetables that need a longer growing season. Depending on your location you will be limited to a small variety of plants. Buying seeds to start indoors is what I do. This takes space that not everyone has, (my living room and part of the dining room turn into a green house for a few months every year). Directly sowing the seeds in the spring is another options and is best for most plants that don’t transplant well, such as beans and root vegetables.
Seeds that will be started indoors should be ordered by March in the Midwest. (Mine come in January because by that time I’m ready for planting… makes for a long winter sometimes). Your seed packets will usually give you an approximate “weeks before last frost” date to plant.
When starting plants indoors you can plant them in anything that hold soil, and water yet drains well. Be sure to think about how long the seedling will be in the “pot” of your choice. You can make “pots” by folding news paper really easily, they are practically free and biodegradable so they can be set directly in the ground. If your seedling needs to be in the “pot” for more than a couple weeks, news paper probably wouldn’t be a great idea because it could start to break down. You can plant in egg cartons, milk cartons yogurt containers and more household items. Peat pots, peat pellets, and plastic containers like the greenhouses use are all available for purchase as well.
I’ve used egg cartons, they work ok. They are small, so the plants roots can get root bound quickly. The folded news paper pots work good for short term, after 4 weeks mine started to break down and mold together which was not good. This year I’m sticking with all plastic Dixie cups. I can use them multiple years and they aren’t going to break down.
Light is another thing to consider. Even though you have a great sunny window, it may not provide enough direct light to grow your plants. You may need to look a growing light. I use 4 foot florescent lights hung on chains so I can raise them as the plants grow.
Growing seedlings indoors can often result in weak, spindly plants. To give your plants a strong start placing a fan on low near them will create enough of a breeze to force them to “beef up” and be able to stand up to the wind outside when it’s time. Don’t allow the fan to blow on them directly, it will dry them out and isn’t necessary to have that much force. I did this one year, it worked good. I found that rather than a fan, lightly brushing the seedlings with my hand a couple times a day works just as well as a fan. It doesn’t use extra electricity and doesn’t dry them out either. Hey, I’m constantly staring at them anyway.
Finally spring is here! You’ve got your soil all ready to go and your standing on the edge of the garden, wearing your big floppy hat, obnoxious flowery apron, brightly colored mud boots, bucket of seeds in one hand and hoe in the other… No? I can’t be the only one looking like this come spring. Well it’s time to start marking your rows and plots. I like to use my rake head as a measure, wood steaks and string to mark my lines in the smaller beds. This year I will be making what could be called a giant rake like my dad used to use. I can’t describe it so see the poor sketch below.
Using the rake north/south and east/west will give me 1 foot squares to match the map I drew.
Now, you probably won’t be planting everything the same day unless spring is very late. Cold weather crops usually go in first, roots and brassica family are good examples. Warm weather seeds should be sown once the ground has warmed. Most seeds prefer to germinate once the soil temperature averages 70 degrees. The seedlings you started indoors should be slowly adjusted to the outdoors. Set them outside during the warmest time of day for a few hours. Each day increase the time spent outside. Hot sun can burn the young leaves and too cold can cause them to slow their growth considerably. Once the plants are well adjusted to the outdoors you can safely plant them in the garden too.