Aaah, it’s that time of the year again. Snow on the ground, Christmas trees in living rooms and delicious cookies on every desk at work. Yes, it’s time for… gardening catalogues??
That’s right! As any home gardener knows, this is the time of year when the first seed and plant catalogues begin to arrive on your doorstep, mixed in with your Christmas cards and credit card bills. It may seem counter-intuitive to curl up with a plate of cookies, a notebook and a gardening catalogue in front of the Christmas tree, but it’s actually a great time to plan out what you want to grow next summer.
* First, assess how the summer went for you. What did you grow? How did it go? Was anything more trouble than it was worth? Was something really good, and you want to grow more of it? This past summer, aside from the rhubarb
and blue honeysuckle bushes (which have yet to produce anything… hmm…), we grew: sweet corn, sugar snap peas, pole beans, grape tomatoes and zucchini.
For the past few years I’d been growing the sweet corn using the three sisters’ technique: interplanting corn, zucchini and beans so that the squash shaded the ground and prevented weeds from growing, and the corn provided support for the beans. After two windstorms two years in a row devastated my little plot of corn (it’s amazing how easily such large plants can be ripped out of the ground in wet soil), I’m through with corn. It’s too much work, takes too much water, too much babying, for too little payoff. If you have about an acre on which to grow vegetables, it’s worth planting corn… But not when your garden is about 20′ square. From now on, our corn will come from the farmers’ market.
The beans did poorly this year because of that same windstorm; many of their stems were snapped off when the corn started whipping around in the wind. But I love beans, and the ones we did get were good. So the beans stay on the list, although I haven’t decided between pole beans and bush beans.
The zucchini also did well… as always. I have a feeling that one zucchini plant could feed a whole village. I had about ten plants this past summer – waaaaaay more zucchini than any sane person needs. So, since I won’t be doing the corn/interplanting trick this year, I’ll scale back the number of plants. Two plants ought to be plenty.
Tomatoes are a staple in any home garden. They’re relatively easy to grow, and the produce you get is so much better than the waxy, watery, tasteless fruit you find in the grocery store this time of year. This year I grew two plants from heirloom seeds sent to me from a friend in California. Sooo good – definitely a do-again. I’ll probably add another plant in there, a slicing variety this time, so we’ll have both grape tomatoes and slicing.
Finally, we have the sugar snap peas. Early summer just isn’t the same without these little sweet morsels. I insist on these every year, and I get no arguments from my husband.
* After you’ve decided what to keep from last year, make a quick sketch of your garden and plan out next year’s crops. This doesn’t need to be to scale, unless you’re into making detailed maps; just a rough idea of where your walkways are and the general size of the garden is enough. The first few years you might want to measure how much room you have, but after a while you’ll get a good idea of how much you can cram into an area.
Keep in mind that you don’t want to plant the same things in the same spot over and over. Rotate things around as best you can. This allows the soil to regenerate between heavy-feeding crops (like corn) and lets you grow nitrogen-fixing plants (like beans) in different places. This next year, for example, I’m going to relocate the peas and sunflowers (which I always plant in with the peas).
* Now that you’ve got your sketch, you might have some blank spots in it. Because I’m not growing corn or nearly as many zucchini plants this year, I took the opportunity to move everything around. This is where you decide what new things to grow, or if you should grow more of something. Being added to the garden this summer will be lettuce (I used to grow it but stopped because I always ran out of room), and potatoes. I’m also considering growing broccoli, although I might decide not to do this because we’re going to be away during a critical part of the summer.
My first harvestable pea pod probably won’t arrive for five to six more months, but I’m already looking forward to getting my hands dirty in the garden again. No food is as local as the stuff growing 20′ from your back door!