How I Plan My Garden

As much as I love the rain, enjoy the slowness and solitude that comes with the dark winter afternoons, and appreciate the times spend cuddling on the couch with a cat, book and tea, I start getting antsy for spring about mid- January. I want to dig in the dirt and be surrounded by color, besides the vibrant green that only winter rains can bring, and have new flavors to eat. Coincidentally, seed catalogues start arriving right around the same time that I start feeling the urge. Or perhaps it is the seed catalogues that nudge me from that comfy spot on the couch and give me the urge to be doing SOMETHING.

And so starts the planning process for the year’s garden. If I can’t be outside creating my garden, the kitchen table surrounded by seeds, notes, catalogues and calendars is the second best thing.

garden planning

This is the process that I undertake in order to get organized for the year:

Brainstorm what I want to grow, and create a garden wish list. Before I even open a catalogue or start pursuing the racks of the Baker Creek Seed Bank, I think about what I want to grow. And I make a list. What will I actually eat? No need to get tempted by the colorful glossy pictures of turnips and chili peppers if they won’t actually be eaten. For spring, its arugula, spinach, kale, chard, radishes, carrots, lettuce, beets, potatoes, green onions, cilantro and peas. For summer/fall, its bell peppers, winter and summer squash, tomatoes, tomatillos, corn, cucumbers, melons, beans, basil, and dill. For winter, its celery, cabbage, broccoli, kale, chard, spinach, lettuce, cauliflower, kohlrabi, turnips, radishes, bok choy, peas, onions and garlic. This year, I also want to focus on cutting flowers and having blooms year round for the pollinators.a year of gardening

Read though the gardening journal from the following year. I remind myself what varieties did well, what I didn’t like, when things were planted and harvested, and other random notes.

Assess the current garden, available space, and approximate harvest dates. This is a crucial step that in the past I’ve overlooked. I need to consider what I currently have growing, think about when it will be harvested, and therefore when that space is available. In a perfect world, I would have about half the garden beds either fallow or with cover crop, giving me a blank slate to plant out new crops. But I’m not there yet, and have to work with what space is available. Since I’m in a year-round gardening climate, most of my beds are filled with food I’m still eating, or aren’t ready to harvest yet.The garlic, for example, will be growing until late June or July, so that space isn’t available for my early spring crops, or my main April plant-out.January garden

Approximate what can go where, and when. This is where puzzle skills come in handy. Now that I know what space I have, I brainstorm what can go where. I try to keep my beds rotated, making sure I don’t plant the same crops in the same beds for 3 seasons. I keep my space and timing in mind, and when the bed is available dictates what can get planted. I have one bed planted with cover crop, which will be the first to be planted- with potatoes in March. They should be harvested by June, which will be replaced with beans and flowers. The brassica bed that’s almost spent will be replaced with tomatoes in April. The bed currently filled peas and greens will be planted with melons in May. To help me keep track of this, I keep sketches of my beds from season to planning

Create a seeding calendar. Being slightly obsessive with details and planning, this is my favorite part of getting ready for spring. I print off a blank Google calendar for the year, then fill in expected frost dates and the moon phases. Then, working back and forward from the frost dates, I make note of -1, -2, -3, -4…-12, 1+, 2+, etc, to denote how many weeks until the last projected frost and weeks after projected frost. Then, I fill in the seeding details. Tomatoes, for example, I seed 7 weeks before last frost. I try to align my seedings with the coordinating moon phases, which for tomatoes would be the waxing moon. That puts me at February 21. They will get transplanted outside 1 week after frost, also waxing moon, which puts me at April 17. Lettuce can be seeded 5 weeks before, and under a new moon, so I schedule it for March 8. Things won’t always happen on the exact schedule date, but it gives me a good guideline so I don’t miss something.

seeding calendar

Inventory & sort seeds. If you are a gardener who grows from you seed, it is guaranteed you are also also a seed hoarder. Its nothing to be embarrassed about, we all suffer from Seed Acquisition Disorder. Its just part of the job requirement. However, our homestead is on a very tight budget this year, so I just can’t go buy more melon seeds when I already have 8 different types. So the next step in my planning process was to go thought all my seeds. Varieties that I didn’t like, such as Corne de Belier snow peas, get set composted. Because seeds also don’t last forever, anything that is past their recommended germination date gets composted. I had pepper seeds from 2011. Pepper seeds are only good for 2 years. Why they hell do I still have them??? So those went, along with about half the seed stash. What was still viable got composed into a list.

organizing seeds

Determine what is needed. Browse seed catalogues. Make shopping lists. Now that I knew what I had, I can finally treat myself to looking at the pretty pictures of catalogues, and choose what is actually necessary. This year, I’m needing to buy carrot and radish seeds, and am allowing myself to try 2 new squash, 2 new tomatoes, and 1 new type of cucumber. I don’t need lettuce. I don’t need beets. I don’t need beans. I don’t need melons. If you see me buying these things or trying to justify I need them, remind me that I wrote I DON’T NEED ANY. (with a support system and accountability- we can do this!)baker creek

Inventory seed starting supplies. Next, I check to make sure my grow lights are working, I have seed starting soil, and I have enough flats and 6-packs.

Shop. Wheeeeeee!!!!!!!!! Remember to stick to your list…….

Patiently wait. 

Hows planning going for your garden?

How to Plan Your 2016 Garden


7 thoughts on “How I Plan My Garden

    1. I think its more of a folklore thing, but I’ve been trying it for the past few years.

      The theory is that the moon affects how & where the water is in the soil (like tides), and the quantity of light. If you plant the right crops at the right moon phase, they will be healthier and more productive. I figured I’ll take all the help I can get!

      Supposedly (supposedly? supposedly…) the new moon pull the water up, which balance root and leaf growth, so if your plant produces that seeds outside of the fruit (lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, etc.), you plant during that moon cycle. Waxing moon creates strong leaf growth, so plant plants that produce seeds in fruit (beans, melons, squash, tomatoes). Full moon draws energy down, and the light diminishes, so energy goes to roots. Plant root crops like beets, carrots, potatoes. In the waning cycle, you are supposed to harvest and prune.

  1. Reading your post got me thinking about planning my own “pizza” garden for the coming spring! I just ordered some seeds today.

  2. I would test your seeds before tossing them if they’re a variety you like. My best germination on tomatoes this year is seeds I saved from 2010-2012.

    And hey. You don’t need more bean seeds. (And I don’t need more melon seeds…)

  3. I think it’s so fascinating to read about other gardener’s planning processes. I am also trying to practice much more restraint this year with my seed purchases. I am forcing myself to use what I have (or give it away to someone who will) and keep new purchases to only what I truly need and just a few new varieties to try out.

  4. I moved to a new area this year so I’m hesitant to start my garden planning – I need to apply for a new garden plot at the nearest community garden and really hoping they will have an open spot for me.

    I am tempted to try growing beans this year, by which I mean actual legumes, not the green or yellow beans. I want to grow soybeans and then turn them into homemade tempeh. As for veggies, I’ll be growing kale, collards, sweet bell peppers.

    I try to do a mixture of practical and experimental growing. It’s hard to say no to some of the interesting looking seeds.

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