Planning the garden is a winter ritual that brings pleasure to experienced gardeners. Just a few hours of planning and plotting now will ensure that you are ready to go as soon as spring arrives. Here are five steps to help you organize your garden plan:
1. Review last year’s results. Ideally, you keep notes every year about what you grow, when and where you plant it, and how well it does. If not, did you at least take photos that would help refresh your memory? In any case, make a list of varieties you liked and want to grow again. Then consider varieties that didn’t do well and decide if you want to give them another chance or switch to something new this year.
2. Take inventory of your seeds. Franchi seed packets are so big that you may have plenty for a second season. If you kept your leftover seeds in closed envelopes, inside an airtight container, chances are good that they are still viable. Onions and leeks are the exceptions — they have a short shelf life and may not germinate well after a year. If in doubt, it’s easy to do a germination test at home. Here’s an article describing the process.
3. Check the catalog and website for new varieties and replacements for varieties that didn’t do as well as you had hoped last year. Make a wish list and number each item by priority. If space is limited, you’ll know what to grow this year and what to save for another year.
4. Draw your garden on paper and calculate how much space you can devote to each crop. Here is a list of recommended plant spacing. Don’t forget to consider what you can grow in containers like lightweight pots that can be moved inside when early or late frosts threaten. Take these three factors into consideration when deciding what goes where:
- Rotations. Don’t plant the same type of plants in the same place year after year, but instead move them each year to avoid a buildup of soil and insect problems. Rotation is especially important for the nightshades (Solanaceae), which can be are affected by the same diseases. A four-year rotation is recommended for these plants, so divide your garden mentally into fourths and plant all the nightshades in one quarter, and move them all to the next quarter the following year. Nightshades include potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.
- Companions. Group plants that need similar handling such as hand weeding, insect netting, early planting and removal. For example, you may want to protect brassicas from cabbage loopers with insect netting and it’s much easier to cover them if they are all planted in the same area.
- Successions. Can you get two or even three crops out of the same space over the growing season? For example, if you plant spinach and peas in early spring, they may be finished by the time you want to plant tomatoes and peppers, so you can get two crops out of the same space.
5. Compile a list of everything you want to grow from seed. Highlight those varieties that you don’t have in hand, and place your order!