Spring is in the air. May is nearly upon us. The last frost dates are passing. Once again the time has come to begin planning and planting the garden. I grew up in a family of farmers and gardeners. I should have a wealth of knowledge from all the afternoons spent in the sunshine and soil. But honestly all I remember is it was hot and I liked to see how much dirt I could cake on myself before it stopped looking accidental.
I never dreamed I would want a garden of my own someday. I never knew how much I would rejoice over each seedling that poked its tiny head above the ground. But then again, I never dreamed I would be the mother of four babies. Becoming a mom changed the way I saw everything. Food, finances, health, caring for myself and my littles- it all becomes so important. Gone are the ignorantly blissful days of Cheetos and soda pop.. Here’s to a new season of growing food I can be proud to serve to my family.
From Backyard to Table
This spring has already been a series of ups and downs for our precious plants. Our tomatoes, which had been our most successful crop in previous years, sprang to life, wilted and died. I’m unsure if the nursery mix I used caused the issue or if I planted on a bad day, but nothing from that day or that soil has grown well. I tried repeatedly to save them before finally deciding it was best to start over. They will go into the ground later than normal this year, but they are already looking so much better than the ones we started with.
I’ve heard it said that the best gardeners kill the most plants, so I think I’ll be really great someday..
My goal for the year ahead is to consume as few supermarket products as possible. Though we will still use Wal-Mart pickup without a doubt. We source our milk locally, frequent Amish stores, and do our best to know where our food comes from within reason. But what is better than food from your own backyard? By August, our chicks should be laying, tomatoes ripening, and blackberry jam should stock the entire top shelf of our pantry. We are aiming high this year and experimenting with a lot, but that all begins now with planning and planting the garden.
Planning the Layout
Planning your garden layout is not entirely essential, but in my opinion it makes things much easier. We have four kids who will be present in the dirt with us this year, so a written layout and overall plan helps us stay on track. Before you begin writing or drawing up your plans, there are a few important questions to ask yourself.
Question 1: What plants am I growing?
Step 1 in determining what to grow and when to grow it is to know your zone. If you live in Minnesota, you’re probably not going to grow lush avocado trees. Planting times and climates will vary region to region. We live in Tennessee, so my garden and planting schedule will look different than someone in upstate New York or the Midwest. Click here to determine your zone.
If you’re like me and have some kind of seed obsession, you really need to think on this. I can’t pass up a seed aisle in a store without grabbing a pack. So whether you have a collection of seed packs, seeds saved from previous years, or need to hit up a local store- step one is planning what seeds you plan to grow. If you don’t care much for arugula and adore green beans- plan to grow more beans. If you plan to can your pasta sauce for the year- plan to grow enough tomatoes (I prefer Romas for this) to accomplish the task. Set your goals, make your lists, and gather your seeds (or young plants from a nursery if you prefer.)
Question 2: How much do I need to grow?
This will vary based on how many people you are feeding and what your plans for your plants are. If you plan to preserve, can, and replace grocery store essentials for a family of five you’re going to need a good sized garden. On the other hand, if you only want a few fresh vegetables to enjoy throughout the summer, a small raised bed is plenty! It’s hard to say exactly how many plants you will need. From each carrot seed, you will get one carrot. But from one small tomato seed- you may get twenty tomatoes!
It all comes down to what your goals are, but if you have the space and you grow too much-you can always give some away! The best way to know how much to grow is trial and error. (Frustrating, I know, but true gardeners don’t sprout over night- or so I am told.)
Question 3: How much spacing do I need between rows?
When I say I’m an amateur gardener, I’m not joking. I still have so much to learn. (Feel free to send me tips.) Spacing was probably our biggest mistake last year. Our corn stalks were too far apart. our tomatoes too close together. Whether or not you plan to prune, space needed to access your crops, and the amount of space you have to grow all factor in. For example, if you plan to plant a 6×6 bed, the growing space and seeds needed will differ depending on if you want to grow pumpkins or radishes.
Seed packets will often give you some idea of spacing, but my best advice is to determine your growing method. Do you plan to take a tiller down the rows? Do you plan to prune back tomato plants? Garden spaces should reflect the gardener and the time that they plan to pour into working in it. Do your research. Trial and error. Keep trying, you’ll get there! (We all will!)
What goes where?
In determining the layout for your garden, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Sunshine and shade ratios, depending on the plant. Too much sun, may blister some young seedlings while others thrive in the hot rays. (This information should be on your seed pack.)
- Pollinators are another important factor in determining the harvest your garden will yield. Without bees and butterflies, squash flowers will simply wither and die. A bright array of wildflowers, particularly purple, yellow, and blue will attract bees to your garden. (Do not swat them, you need them!)
- Plant companions. Some plants simply go together, and keeping them near one another ensures that both plants thrive! For 7 Benefits of companion planting and to learn what grows best together click here.
- Just as some plants should be kept close together, others should be separated. Planting a bush bean next to a tall crop could result in too much shade for the bush bean. Click here, for more information on incompatible plants.
Now that you know what you are planting and where the best place to sow it is, draw or write out a garden map. Again this step is not entirely necessary, but it can keep you from making simple mistakes. It also helps, if you don’t plan to mark your rows in the garden, to keep track of what is planted where. Each garden will look different depending on the space available, the crops being grown, and of course the gardener! Below is the plan for our garden this year:
Planning the Harvest
Planning for the harvest is essential if you plan to preserve your crops. Twenty-five pounds of green beans ready in the garden and no pressure canner is going to present an issue. Determining what you plan to do with your harvest (canning, fermenting, dehydrating, etc.), is an important step. Often jars and lids are hard to come by in the thick of gardening season. Now is the time to buy up your materials, not when you have baskets of vegetables waiting on your front porch.
If you’re like me and still have jars from years’ past, now is a great time to be intentional about using those up. We have begun incorporating pickles, salsa, and zucchini relish into our meal plan to free up jars and space in our pantry for what we hope is to come.
If you are just starting to garden a simple water bath canning of blackberry jam is a wonderful way to begin. (That was my first endeavor.) Preserving anything from your garden in an excellent way to have a hand in where your food comes from. It often will inspire you to do more!
If you are just beginning to garden, thinking about gardening, or already ready to give up, let me encourage you to simply begin. Sometimes the thing that grows most in the garden is you! With every seed, we plant a little hope. Whether it succeeds or fails, you will learn something. Whether you walk away with baskets of produce or have to rely on your local farmer’s market, get your hands in the dirt! You’ll be glad you did! The only way you can truly grow nothing is to plant nothing!
Did you find this information helpful or encouraging? If so share us with your friends!
Leave us a comment with your best garden tips, so we can all grow together!