Spring is COMING! I can feel it! The seeds are pushing up! The annual vegetable garden is aching for implementation.
Never mind the snow we had last night. That was a fluke. Snow is just a fad. It’ll never last.
And with spring comes the birds and the bees and green growing things.
This means it’s time to start seeds! Well, maybe.
If you’re in zone 6 like me and have a last frost date of May 27th, it may be a little early.
Even plants that are started 8 weeks ahead won’t need to be planted until the end of March.
But for the rest of you, it’s probably very close to seed-starting time!
So you need to know when and what to start, and how much.
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What’s the plan, Stan?
First, measure your garden area. Get some graph paper and draw out an accurate map of where you will plant.
Make sure to note features like
- Large trees – that will shade the garden
- Fences – Windbreak and limiting animal access
- Pathways – Access to the garden
- Water sources
Note that there are electronic planners (web pages, apps, software) that will help you to do this also. You may prefer to plan this way, but don’t let not knowing how to use it keep you from doing this critical planning.
Paper will work just fine, and use pencil for easy changes.
TIP: I highly recommend you keep this plan in a gardening binder or notebook. Keep notes on pests, harvest yields, what varieties did well or poorly, and weather.
Use this as a guide the next year to help you become a better gardener.
Now to select the varieties.
But don’t think we’re done planning. More on this later.
The Fun Part!
But before you get crazy, think about what kind, and how much vegetables your family eats. Select seeds of varieties that match that to provide you with the most benefit.
Even if kohlrabi, okra, or eggplants are neat to grow, when your family doesn’t eat it that becomes a waste in time, water, and garden space. (But I will break this guideline to try a few new things every year. So should you!)
Next, look at the “days to maturity” on the seeds. Just know that this is an estimate, based on ideal conditions. Your mileage may vary.
Make sure that you have a long enough season to fully ripen the vegetable in question.
And make sure that you can meet any special conditions the seed variety requires, like a long hot summer, or cool wet spring.
Some plants just do better in some climates than others, and while you can grow water-loving veggies in dry areas, it makes gardening more difficult.
You have many options to choose from when buying seeds, but I prefer buying heirloom seeds. I tend not to by hybrid seeds, since seeds saved from these plants have unpredictable genetics.
There’s the option of local greenhouses, garden centers, hardware stores, and rural supply/feed stores. The varieties will be somewhat limited, but that may be OK.
You can also look into local seeds swaps. These are a great way to get gardening tips, great seeds, and meet your neighbors.
Just search in your favorite web browser “<my town or area> seed swap“, and you should find something during the growing season. You could also try Facebook for a local gardening club or community events calendar.
I don’t order from all of them every year, but I like to look at their available varieties to get ideas.
Back to the future…plan
Now that you have a list of what kinds and varieties of vegetables you want to grow, let do some more planning.
Generally, plants are grouped into cool season and warm season vegetables.
Brassicas (sometime called crucifers or cruciferous vegetables) like broccoli, cabbage, kale, brussel sprouts, and many more, are all cool-season crops.
Peas, spinach, lettuce, carrots, radishes are also a good choice for cool spring or fall planting.
Some of these should be planted directly in the ground, while others can be started early indoors for a quicker/better harvest.
Look at the info on the seed packet (or online) to see when they should be planted. Some seed suppliers are better than others at giving you this information.
Botanical Interests in particular is very good at stating when (and if) the seeds should be started indoors. Plus they have beautiful illustrations and tons of info inside the packet.
You will need lots of information from the seeds, so make a list with the variety and its relevant information.
Now, we’re going to use a permaculture idea called “stacking in time.” This means we will use the garden space for more than just one plant, but we will time-stagger when they are planted.
Once the weather warms, we can pull up the cool/cold crops and plant our warm-season crops. The exact timing of this will depend on the temperature and how it affects the cool- as well as the warm-season veggies.
Another consideration is where exactly to plant in the garden space. There are several factors that help to guide the planting location:
- Companion planting – Possible good or bad interactions with other plants, see Carrots Love Tomatoes
- Width/height at maturity – May or may not want to put smaller plants in the shade of large plants
- Growth form – Some plants can be combined to share the same space
- Days to maturity – Longer time vegetables will have to be worked around and might be in the way
- Proximity to favorable microclimates or structures – A fence, wall, path, or shading tree
- Proximity to dwelling – Frequently used herbs and veggies should be closer to the kitchen
Planting times and locations
So if you want to plant both onions and carrots, put them together because onions will repel carrot flies as well as most pests.
If you’re growing tomatoes and basil, you may want to plant basil between the tomatoes. This provides shade for the tomato roots and suppresses weeds.
Long-term vegetable like cabbages or tomatoes can have quick-growing crops like radishes, beets or lettuce planted near them. This allows you to productively use the space the larger plant will eventually need.
Make sure to use microclimates to your advantage as well.
If you have a sheltered spot that is warmer than usual like next to a brick or concrete wall, use it to put in tomatoes or peppers earlier than normal.
Similarly, if you have an area that is wetter than normal, put in something that likes damp/wet soil like taro, watercress, mint, celery, ramps (wild onions) or groundnuts (Apios americana).
Other choices are arugula, peas, and some brassica species like cauliflower and cabbage.
Ensure also that plants like chives, herbs, or anything you use frequently in food preparation is close to the kitchen.
Time traveling and stacking
I suggest at a minimum you make 3 garden plan maps: one for spring, summer, and fall. You certainly can go more in-depth than this, but it’s a good start.
Write down on the plan the names of plants you want to put there, starting with the spring map.
Think about what happens when those crops harvest or it’s too hot to produce anything.
Then decide what should go into that location after removing the spring crop. This next plant is written down in that place on the summer map.
Do that same process now with the fall map, remembering to use cool seasons crops again.
If you do this exercise, you will have a much better idea of what to plant next, when to plant it, and what to expect to harvest at what time.
As the season goes on, make notes in your garden notebook about how well different crops did, what you harvested, how the pests were, and the weather and temperature.
This will be of great help next year when you plan your next garden.
Make an overhead map plan. Actually, make 3.
Select your varieties based on what your family eats.
Buy your seeds. I like Botanical Interests.
Fit the crops into your plan, and stack them in time and space.
Take notes for next year & enjoy your productive garden!
OK, that’s all folks! Do you have any questions or comments about seeds, garden planning, sustainable homesteading, permaculture design or anything else? Ask your question down below and let’s talk! You can also use the contact form, or email me at info at thepermaculture dot life.
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