I love the concept of gardening. Every winter I picture my beautiful garden that I tend in my garden dress with my straw sunhat. Every summer I spend my time in tears because nothing ever works out the way I expect it to. There are a number of things when it comes to gardening that I have learned over the last fifteen or so years. The first is that I have no idea how to plan a garden. I’m not going to share the rest right now because this is the one I want to focus on.
I have done all the research – times for planting, companion planting, design, etc. And yet, every year I end up with an ineffectual garden. The reality is – I have a spatial problem. I have no idea how to plan what goes in a space without a lot of measuring. Well, I can’t measure hypothetical plants. I can look at the information and recommendations but none of that has helped until I came across that amazing old Home Production and Food Storage book (I’ve mentioned it before). It had three garden plans based on size. I focused on the largest size and this is what I am going to share with you.
The plot in the book was 6 x 14. I am renting a plot from the city in a great park. I had a plot there before and my bounty was plentiful (if completely unorganized). My plot is 20×20. That was overwhelming until I realized I could do this. My plot is in the middle of two other plots and I have no idea if there are walkways between the plots so I cut off a foot on each side to give us a place to walk. (My father did point out that a foot is not enough walk space but I’m sticking with the math.) So that made three plots of 6 x 14 (okay 6 x20). To account for that extra 6 feet of length – I just made the rows just a little further apart.
The garden is made up of ten rows with simple and easy to grow crops – tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, cabbages, beets, squash, greens, peas, and carrots. There are even directions for adding extra crops when one crop is done. So I took that and made a few alterations but before I get to that, there is a step I don’t want to forget.
I went through my seeds. I don’t know if you have this but I have a stack of seeds – some used, some collected and others are unopened packages. Some seeds can last a very long time while others might lose their ability to grow. I don’t know how all this works but that’s what I have heard. I’m okay with that because I’d rather use up my old seeds and get a little less food than buy all new seeds and throw out the old ones.
I gathered up my seeds and a notebook. On my paper, I made 5 categories – used (open packages), saved (seeds I had collected from foods), older unopened, new unopened (ones I bought when I found them at the dollar store). My last category was for those I still needed. When all was done, I needed 4 types of seeds, out of the 10 I knew I wanted. I had picked up four packs of seeds at the dollar store (4 for $1) earlier so that’s where I went first. I was able to pick up two varieties of two of my crops. That meant going to the more expensive seeds to finish up but the total cost of my seeds – $6. Most of them are heirloom and organic (even at the dollar store).
Let’s step aside for a moment before I talk about the rows to talk about heirloom seeds. There was a time when I had no idea what that meant or why I would pay extra for them. You see, when you purchase your basic seed, it will often produce fruit that is infertile. My guess is so that you have to purchase more seeds. The same is true for the food in the grocery store – you can’t collect the seeds and get more food. They may grow a plant but not all of them will fruit. Heirloom seeds and plants are not infertile. In theory, one heirloom plant can keep you in seeds indefinitely. So it’s worth buying heirloom and saving the seeds.
So back to the garden – The plan goes like this (starting at the north end): 9 inches space, tomatoes, 27 inches, beans, 18 inches, cucumbers, 24 inches, cabbages/beets, 30 inches, squash, 24 inches, greens, 24 inches, peas/cabbages, 24 inches, beets/greens, 24 inches, carrots, 24 inches, carrots, 12 inches, end.
For each row, the guide says you need this many plants (remember this is the original number times 3):
Tomatoes – 18,
Beans – 27,
Cucumbers – 27,
Cabbage – 18 to be replaced with 225 beets when harvested
Squash – 12 (half summer, half winter)
Greens – 84
Peas – 216 to be replaced with 18 cabbage plants
Beets 225 to be replaced with 225 greens
Carrots (2 rows) – 225 each
Now some of that sounds excessive and I want a little more variety. But I wanted you to have the formula that I am basing my garden planning on. Remember the original plan was for a plot 6 feet by 14 feet.
At this point, we are only starting our tomatoes. The rest of our plants will be from seed, started in the next week or so.
I hope this helps take some of the stress of planning from you. For those of you in the north – planting season is just coming. All of my seed packets recommend starting the seeds in April. I know that one should not plant your starts until the end of May (regardless of how great the weather is – I know this from experience).
Our growing season is short here and it feels like if you start late, you will fail but that’s not true. You have plenty of time. Look for short season seeds if you are extra worried – all seed packets have the number of days it takes for the plant to turn into food.
This year, my goal is to have a good plan and execute it with precision. I’ll let you know how that works out.