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.
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.
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.
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 season.
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.
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.
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!)
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…….
Hows planning going for your garden?