March 13, 2016

6 Tips for Planning Out A Bountiful Garden

I don't know about you, but this latest batch of weather has given me serious GARDEN FEVER! It's hard to believe that just 2 weeks ago we had a couple inches of snow, and that a week ago the high was a mere 35---because the last couple days it has been in the mid-60's with crystal clear skies and fabulous spring breezes! If you are like me, your garden is calling your name loud and clear! Since it is still too wet and too early to do any "real" hands-on gardening, it is a great time to be in the final planning stage for your garden! Here are six tips to help you get everything lined up for your gardening season in the weeks before you can get your hands dirty!

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1. Catalogs, catalogs, catalogs!

I never use just one catalog. This year I have a whopping FIVE different catalogs for organic heirloom seeds which is very awesome! It's very exciting to think that there are more companies out there for those of us who desire better quality seeds. I begin having catalogs arrive the moment the new editions are ready--I'm a bit obsessed with catalogs. LOL. I start marking things I am interested in right away, and see what catalog carries the greatest quantity of my goodies.  I know that I will need to pare down my list later, but for now, I just go through and mark everything of interest. I also ask my boys what vegetable they want to grow this year and let them pick a variety. My favorite companies for seeds are Baker Creek Heirloom Seed, High Mowing Seeds, Annie's Heirloom Seeds, and Seed Savers Exchange.

Some of the things you will order have a limited window for ordering due to the type of plant. Others will sell out quickly. Many seeds you need to have in hand by the middle of March or beginning of April to get them ready to go. It's time to make your list, check it twice, and then get those orders placed!

2. Measure out to maximize your gardening space

We don't have a huge garden--I'd say this one is 40'-50' long and 10' wide. It's average size, but it fits our needs!
One of the big mistakes that gardeners do this time of year, is to overbuy the amount of seed/plants they need for their gardening space. Have you measured your gardening area? Do you know how much square feet you are working with? This is important because every plant requires a different amount of space, and there is no sense on buying two packages of beans, if you only have space for 10 plants!

Every year, I walk out my gardening areas so that I know my approximate total space (I have about a 50' by 10' garden plot). Once I have done this, I can now think about what plants I'm going to be choosing and how many I need. Because I have used my plot before, I also know what grows well and how big it tends to go. You can save space by doing companion planting. Did you know that squash grows excellent at the base of corn, pole beans, and sunflowers? It not only protects their roots, but they share nutrients that help each other. Last year we planted our cucumbers in with our sunflowers. The sunflowers grew great, as did the cucumbers which were protected from having too much sun. It also saves space knowing I can put my melon and squash hills so close to the tall corn or sunflowers. Some people create a cucumber lattice that is slanted up for the vines to grow up on--and underneath the slope, they plant their lettuce! It is always possible to maximize your space, but you really need to know what you are working with so you don't overbuy or overplant!

Are you trying out square foot gardening this year? I highly recommend this great square foot gardening planning guide from One Creative Mommy. Need a quick chart for remembering companion planting? One Creative Mommy also has a companion planting PDF for quick reference. I printed mine out and laminated it! Actually, just go ahead and save One Creative Mommy's blog for your gardening references! LOL! She shares about vertical gardening as well as more tips and tricks!

3. Don't forget...seeds "grow up"

Just two hills and we had cucumbers coming out our ears!
This ties in with tip #2. Remember when I said most people overbuy and/or overplant? That's because we see these little seeds and forget the miracle that happens when they grow! I'm sure everyone has had the experience of planting one too many hills for cucumbers and then begging people to take your endless supply of cucumbers from you. Or maybe you forgot exactly how much a single bean plant can produce (A LOT!!!), planted two seed packets, and later you were sure you would never be done canning green beans. I think we've all done it!

Once you have your gardening space laid out, pick the vegetables you really want to plant, and actually LOOK at the information in your catalog--or on the back of your seed packet--and find out the following information:

*How far apart are you to plant your seeds?
*How far apart are you to keep your rows?
*How much sun/shade does it need?
*Is it going to vine? Is it a bush plant? Will it need a hill? Will it need staked?
*What is its typical production like? Heavy? Light? Average?
*How long will it produce?
*How many seeds are in each package?

If you know the answers to these questions, you will be able to do SOOOO much better when it comes to mapping out your garden for your future produce! Less wasted space and wasted vegetables!

4. Choose enough seeds to feed your needs

We were getting harvest like this every other day!
The next big question you need to answer--how much do I need for my family? Do you want enough to eat? To share? To can? The answer to this question will definitely affect the number of seed packets or transplants you buy! The kicker is that this is a total personal question that only you can answer. In principle, 10'-15' rows of each vegetable will feed most families of four. That is a great basis for getting started. Now, if your family has a favorite--sweet heirloom corn is ours--you will probably want to plant more of it, but if your family only has 1 person who eats kale, well you probably won't even want to plant an entire seed packet! If you plan to can or freeze your produce, you will need to multiply your rows, or pick plants that are heavier producers.

And don't forget that many seeds turn into plants that will produce and produce in the proper conditions each year! I have learned that ONE hill of cucumbers (3 plants) is MORE than enough for one person to enjoy. I usually do 2 hills so that I can pickle them, and share them! And you know, I STILL end up having to get rid of some every year. This means, I better not buy more than 1 seed packet any given year, because I will probably be able to use that same seed packet next year!

Take these numbers for example...
*One 10 foot row of bush beans--your yield will be around 6lbs! And if you have a heavy producing variety, that will definitely increase.

*If you planted 2-5 tomato plants in a 10 foot could get 60 lbs of tomatoes. SIXTY!

*Watermelon...if you planted 2 hills and 4 seeds in each hill? You are looking at 10+ watermelons!

I know this not only from personal experience, but from the various charts you can find online that give you guidance in these things. I REALLY like the Iowa State University Extension: Planting a Home Garden Guide...I printed it out and have it in a binder for quick reference. It provides estimated yields for most traditional vegetables.

Another thing to remember--if you want to save your seeds, make sure you plant a few extra for that purpose too!

5. Read Before You Seed

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to not read the seed packets when they come in. Trust me. I STILL forget. Why is it important? Well there is a lot of important standard information on most seed packets--how deep, how far apart, how to thin, what kind of location. But one of the most important words of wisdom it provides--WHEN to plant. Every type of plant is different. Some can be sown directly into the ground--but not until the last date of freeze has past. Do you know when this date is for you? To figure it out, you will need to know what zone you are in. If you have never learned your zone, the National Gardening Association has a website where you can simply plug in your zipcode and receive your zone. Some seeds do DREADFUL when direct sown and really need you to start them in seed pots. That information will be on the seed packet too.
This cilantro will have a long harvest AND I might not need to buy seeds next year!

These flower seeds need extreme cold before they are ready for planting!
The seed packets might also provide some information about ways you can speed up your germination. Imagine my surprise when I was ready to plant a few flower packets last year and learned I needed to FREEZE the seeds for a week before planting. Another told me I needed to roughen the seed up with sand paper. Who knew?? I sure wouldn't have, had I not read the seed packet.

6. Get Your Supplies Ready

It's always good to go ahead and round up all the supplies you will need for your gardening year. Do you have your stakes ready for marking the rows? What kind of shape are your hand tools in? I just bought a new set for myself because mine were pretty destroyed. What about your hoe? Do you need to get any garden twine? What about kraft seed packets for the end of the season when you want to save seed? Do you have any seed pots or organic potting soil for those you want to transplant as seedlings? Do you have your diatomaceous earth ready to combat bugs? What about your gardening gloves? Watering can? Wheelbarrow? Ours always seemed to have a flat tire just when I wanted to use it. What about your pest prevention? Do you have your all natural weed killer spray mixed up and ready to go?

I find that I can use that period of time when I am waiting for my weather/ground to be just right to get my tools together. I have a big Rubbermaid container that I always throw everything in at the end of the gardening season. I like to pull it out and sort through it. It saves me money too--because I always find extra of something from the previous season!

Here some great tools to get your started this gardening season:

I hope that these tips have been helpful and can get you through that slump when you are just dying to get into your garden and get digging. There is something so therapeutic about gardening--it's scientifically proven to be good for you! I know that it just kills me to wait until the ground is ready to be turned over to get going--but wait I must. In the meantime, I too will be going over these steps and making sure that I have everything ready to go when it's finally time! I also will be visiting Pinterest for new ideas relating to gardening. You can follow my Pinterest board for all things gardening:

Here's to you and your soon-to-be bountiful harvest! 
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