Sorting the Sowing Schedule

The leeks are reaching up and ready for their first haircut—right on schedule!

Photo Mar 04, 6 08 07 AM

I’m trying something different this year with my garden planning. In the past I’ve used different schedules for starting seeds, transplanting, and sowing in sort of a mishmash blend. These are spread out on different calendars and tables from a variety of sources ranging from completely local to vaguely regional to purely theoretical. Recently I sat down with all this information and attempted to wrestle it into a simpler, more usable schedule specific to what I actually grow. The biggest source of inspiration is a chart I got from a local market farmer at a workshop on making a garden produce like a farm.

The most helpful thing I got from this chart is the scheduling of succession plantings. I’ve got a track record of planting an entire crop all at once, then having, for example, more lettuce than we can eat followed later by the dreaded lettuce lack. The farm’s chart shows numbered, regularly-timed sowings of crops in an easy to understand system. I used that system to transcribe all my different sources into one chart of my own that I’ll test out this year. Each week has a separate section for seed starting, transplanting and sowing. My intention is to make notes and adjust as I go along, if necessary. I might even make some notes of harvests just for reference. Next winter I can look it over for what worked and what didn’t, make the adjustments I need and apply it again the following growing season. For now, I’ve got thirty weeks of the year all planned out. Consulting the schedule it says it’s week 4 and time to sow the peppers!

Call for Garden Nom Nominations

Garden

The garden catalogs have started arriving and I’m already thinking about what to grow in the coming season. Every year I like to try something new in the kitchen garden. I always set some space aside to grow an edible crop I haven’t tried before, the stranger the better. Some past “experiments” are relatively safe bets, like unusual colors of common vegetables. Purple carrots, green tomatoes and golden beets are a few of examples. The beets have actually become a regular part of the garden. Other crops, however, have been things I’d never thought to try or even heard of until I ran across them in some catalog, article or podcast. This category has included things like cumin, edible chrysanthemum, Malabar spinach, cowpeas, salsify, fava beans, alpine strawberries and collards. This year I grew peanuts and oca for fun. One was a qualified success, the other not so much.

Here is where you come in. I’m looking for suggestions of unusual garden noms to try out in the 2015 garden. Nom-inations should be for crops that are:

  • growable in my USDA Zone 5 garden where I have roughly five to six months of growing season with the ground getting warm enough for warm-weather crops about a month after the last spring frost.
  • containable within a portion of one of my garden beds which are roughly a meter wide. Anything wider than that or that needs to ramble I just don’t have the space for.
  • edible and while not absolutely required, tasty is a plus.
  • obtainable. I can usually sniff out where to find most horticultural oddities when I know what it is I’m looking for.

One of the joys I get from gardening is the give-and-take I’ve found in the online communities. I’ve learned so much and have been able to share the bits that I know. So, what can you share for new crop ideas?  I’m looking forward to all the wonderful new possibilities I’m going to hear about in the coming weeks!

Chives

Garden Plan Update

I’ve made quite a few changes to the garden plan since I first posted it back on January 12. It has actually be reworked considerably all due to one big decision.

Garden Plan May 2014

Previously, Aliaceae, Solanaceae, Leguminosae, and a quadrant for miscellaneous (yellow here) were each going to occupy three of the twelve beds rotating on a four-year schedule. Then came the last of the tomatoes. I believe it was soon after I posted that plan that we used our last jar of home-canned tomatoes. I decided then that I was going to devote another bed to tomatoes and reduce the onion/leek/garlic section by one bed. With some color-coded schemes sketched out for the succeeding years I settled on this one. With the tomatoes/peppers/tomatillo/potatoes now taking four beds the rotation will now repeat every three years.

The fact that the garlic was already in the ground from last fall, combined with other factors means that next year tomatoes are going to be in the same bed they were last year but I can live with that. I plan to start actually applying organic fertilizers since I don’t have a source of good compost other than leaves so nutrient depletion isn’t a big concern.

As of today everything in the first planting is in or has a space reserved for it. There are a few small spaces indicated with question marks available for spontaneous ideas—I don’t adhere strictly to grouping plants by family. And, of course, over time I will work in flowering annuals here and there to attract beneficial insects.

Overall I’m happy with this scheme. I hope to learn more about how to interplant and get the most out of succession planting. Eventually those findings will work their way into the initial garden plan. For now I’m going to satisfy myself with keeping records of what I planted in unplanned succession for my own reference in the future.

After designing landscapes for 15 years I’ve learned that plans are made to be modified.

Grow Write Guild #19: Write About Your Plans for the Coming Growing Season

It’s appropriate that my first Grow Write Guild post is for a prompt about planning. I’ve been looking over last year’s garden plan and notes and thinking about what I want to repeat or do differently this year and this is a great incentive to get it down in writing. For me, writing is thinking, though that may not be obvious looking over some of my past posts. When I want to really dig into an idea, examine my reasoning or do some planning, getting the words down helps. Something about writing and revising lists and sentences clarifies things.

The actual physical plan for the garden is pretty general and the layout of the beds hasn’t changed since I standardized them a couple years ago. This is so I can work on improving the soil without disturbing it over much and not have to loosen up and start over with a spot that happed to be part of a path last season. There are twelve beds in a 2 x 6 grid divided functionally into four quadrants to make crop rotation easy. Each year the family/category that was grown in one quadrant rotates clockwise to the next one like the players on a volleyball team. The only real thought I’ve given to the order of the rotation is to have my leafy crops like lettuce and spinach follow the beans so they can take advantage of the their nitrogen fixing activity.

Garden Plan

Starting in the Allium quadrant the biggest change will be to buy onion plants rather than grow them from seed. Last year I did use seed and had good results. But the number of onions I grow translated into a bigger proportion of my seed-starting space than I liked.  Also, when one of the varieties I tried failed to germinate well, I went to the nursery to buy some plants to make up the difference  and discovered that they are pretty darn cheap. Shallots and leeks will be reduced in numbers this season. I ended up with more seedlings last time than I needed but I couldn’t part with them and so ended up with more than enough plants. I’d rather use that space for more succession plantings of scallions.

That’s another thing I intend to get a get a better handle on this season. I tend to put in too much of a crop all at once and then it’s feast followed by famine, which brings me to the next quadrant: the leafy things. The first year we had our community garden plot I was so anxious to start planting things I put in a ton of lettuce all at once. I ended up taking multiple coolers full of it to work to distribute. This year’s lettuce varieties? More romaine and bibb types and less of the plain old leaf lettuce. For spinach I’m giving up on ‘Bloomsdale.’ For a while I thought the uneven germination and growth were because my seed was getting old but the fresh seed I got last year did just as badly. The Avon I got at the garden seed fair did much better. Score one for the hybrids, unfortunately. Maybe I’ll look for and OP spinach that performs better. I’m also going to give Malabar spinach (Basella alba) a try. Stay tuned for results later this year. In other leafy news: less chard, more escarole. Brussels sprouts, assorted annual herbs including cilantro and at least a fall planting of Chinese cabbage, bok choy and arugula will be in this quadrant as well.

Next up is the legume quadrant. As always, lots of beans for drying will star. Pole beans will get more emphasis for getting maximum yield for the space, including my favorite ‘Christmas’ pole lima beans. Sugar Snap will be the pea of choice. No fava beans this year. They took too much space for too low of a usable yield. The exciting new addition to the legumes this year is peanuts. The Co-Conspirator wants me to try growing them so I’m giving them a shot. Fingers are crossed for a long enough growing season.

The final quadrant is probably my favorite. Here’s where I grow tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and tomatillos. This year the plan is for more tomatoes, especially paste varieties. I’m going to skip ‘San Marzano’ this time around in favor of larger, meatier ones. I’m not making pizza napoletana anyway. I try to can as many tomatoes as possible and last season I only had enough tomatoes to put up 19 pints. A dozen of those have been consumed already and it’s not even the middle of January. I’ll probably even give over some of the designated pepper bed for tomatoes since last year we had more than enough peppers. I’m also going to ease up on how severely I prune the tomatoes, probably allowing three or four vines for each one instead of trying to limit them to one. This year I’ll grow a tomatillo again and see if I can stake it up more. I wonder if it could be espaliered…hmmm… The plants get pretty huge and produce lots of fruit so there will only be one again. I’ll also be trying to grow potatoes in a stack of cedar boxes again. This time around I’ll be more selective of the variety and pay more attention to technique.

Carrots! I almost forgot the root crops, which for me pretty much means carrots and beets, although I’m tempted to throw in some salsify again and I haven’t had turnips in a year. They’ll go in the quadrant marked “Coles and Leafies.” No carrot blends. Too hit-and-miss. I will find ‘Atomic Red’ and they will grow. I may do ‘Yellowstone’ again since it did so well. No more of the Parisian type. They produced too little food per square foot and were hard to peel if they needed it. ‘Danvers Half Long” will probably be my go-to orange carrot for the foreseeable future. I’m also going to take better care in storing my carrots. Last fall I set up a mini fridge in the basement just for the bumper crop of carrots. I thought it was set at a good temperature but managed to freeze every single carrot. They’re still edible cooked, but I was hoping to have sweet, crunchy, raw carrots to rabbit on all winter.

There are some other, general things I intend to do in 2014:

  • More fall crops of things we’ll actually eat.
  • Get the soil tested and apply organic soil amendments as needed. So far I’ve relied mostly on organic matter with little to no attention to minerals.
  • More cover cropping since the two beds I gave over to buckwheat did so well. The timing is what I don’t quite have a handle on so I’ve got some studying up to do there.
  • Using coir for seed starting in lieu of peat which is unsustainable and environmentally devastating.
  • Attend more garden committee meetings.
  • Plant a row of sunflowers again to discourage human marauders.
  • Chant “Grow what we eat. Eat what we grow” daily.
  • Enjoy every moment in the garden that I can.

What are your plans for the coming garden season?