Winter: Time to plan next year's garden

Wendy S. Delmater
By Wendy S. Delmater on Sat, Feb 1, 2014 - 12:14am

Understand that I am planning my plantings for an established garden that has existing trellises and raised beds. The soil has been built up and amended. this will be my fifth year gardening in Zone 8.

  1. I look at my gardening journal from last year. First priority: Am I going to have to avoid planting something from the same plant family in a bed that had a disease? I have three beds that will need to be solarized this spring. Soil solarization is a process that sterilizes soil by securing clear plastic over it so that it overheats. (I learned my lesson about cleaning my gardening tools between working in different gardening beds! Use Lysol or bleach and water.)
  2. Decide what I am going to be growing. Again, I look at my gardening journal: What grew, what didn't work? I usually grow a new thing or two a years, to see if it will do well. This year we are trying yard-long beans, blackberries, yellow potato onions, and ground cherries.
  3. Make a planting calendar. I copy the when-to-plant dates for each crop from last year's calendar (info from the cooperative extension - it's a range). I look up the dates for the new, experiential crops, and add them to the calendar (and I don't bother copying planting dates for the things that were failures).
  4. TI take an inventory of my existing seeds. I make a list of what plants and seeds I want but do not have. Note that if you're a seed saver and growing as many perennials as possible, this list will get shorter every year.
  5. Take a soil sample and get if off to my local cooperative extension for analysis.
  6. Decide what I am ordering from the seed catalogs. Included: vines, trees, canes and seeds. Then I comparison shop to see who has the best price for the size and items I need. (Don't forget to allow for the cost of shipping!)

Okay, now I am ready to decide what gets planted where.

Step one is for me to lay out a diagram of my bed or beds. I like to use graph paper for this. Pencil is more forgiving that pen, and mechanical pencils can allows me to write in finer detail.

I number my beds and areas I am planting. On a separate sheet or sheets, I write each number with a lot of room to list what I am planting in that numbered spot. It's really not that hard: this stuff falls into patterns you repeat every year. For example, "Roma tomatoes with nasturtiums" and "peas on trellis at strawberry bed" work well, as do "jalapenos interplanted with black-seeded Simpson lettuce" and "pole beans on trellis at green peppers box.

In each numbered box on paper I start with the early spring plantings, then the early summer through the 3-week high summer dead zone in early August where almost nothing grows but okra, peanuts, sweet potatoes, onions, and jalapenos. Then the late summer crops, then early fall and anything that overwinters.

I try to keep the fresh things coming all growing season by doing succession plantings, and vary what we eat based on what's growing that time of year. I have to allow for harvests and food processing, too.: no big harvests too close together! I'm getting into the rhythm of how to keep us in fresh produce most of the year. The winter here is so brief that I've not invested in a small tunnel greenhouse, but that's next.

Please share your process for planning a garden in the comments.

5 Comments

MyBackAchers's picture
MyBackAchers
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: May 27 2013
Posts: 26
Getting Started--Weed Control Comes First.

As time adds experience to my gardening skills, I find short cuts to gardening from people who grew up farming before chemicals.

One trick I am incorporating this year is ground covering plantings to prevent weeds plus improve the soil.

First order of business is to work the soil early as possible then plant the first ground cover of green manure using buckwheat or peas (if the soil needs nitrogen).  That cover crop then gets turned into the soil after a couple weeks to months and the cash crop can go in. This improves the soil with humus material and it is possible to No Till this first cover crop to leave a mulch cover for the garden. The mulch cover reduces subsequent weeds and holds in moisture.

now, if you plan on leaving some soil bare to let it rest, then you plant rye, usually an annual rye because you don't want it coming back for next year planting, or a perennial rye if you plan on resting it a few years. The resting the soil has multiple benefits. Worm population replenish from letting soil rest. The soil builds during a rest and usually, the plants used to rest soil break the soil up deeper because the undisturbed root can go deeper...once that plant dies-that deep root channel draws moisture up when needed but it also drains the soil faster when excess moisture occurs.  When annual rye is used, you can no till plant the top of the soil and it also does that mulch thing.

At the end of the growing season, everything should be worked back into the soil a month before frost and a cover crop should then be planted. Prior to working the soil is also the time to put down the raw manure from  the barn if you are so lucky to have it, then put down the cover crop of winter peas, buckwheat, or if you are enterprising you can plant your winter wheat for next year.

The other next best time for putting manure down is after frost. Many will also put down lime. Doing this just before the freeze helps break it down over winter and also helps warm the soil early in spring.

Crop rotations are everything to the natural farmer. Every 3rd year mSt have a nitrogen fixing crop or th soil looses it's health. Other things that damage soil is overworking without putting back nutrients and microbes.

MyBackAchers's picture
MyBackAchers
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: May 27 2013
Posts: 26
What to plant?

My first inclination to decide what to plant is knowing what I want to eat, but then, it's not always what I grow well.

how do others decide what to plant?

Thrivalista's picture
Thrivalista
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 5 2011
Posts: 60
It's a compromise...

...between what we like to eat, and what grows well here. We figure adjusting our tastes to appreciate what we can produce is part of the psychological preparation for living more locally. We can grow ground cherries and tomatilloes like crazy here, eggplant not so much. We're also looking at starting an orchard of some of the native fruit trees Lee Reich suggests, since the European-settler imports are harder to grow successfully.

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 13 2009
Posts: 1988
it's an intersection

MyBackAchers,

I always try to look at the true local roadside farms (not those who truck things in) and the farmers, and see what they grow. On LI in NY that meant potatoes and tomatoes --which loved sandy soil-- green peppers, cucumbers, basil, melons, ducks rather than chickens, corn, herbs, blackberries, and plants that liked wet feet in our marshes, like elderberries. We also had a larger number of chill units in the winter, so we could grow sweet cherries, apples, currants, and other fruit canes (like raspberries) and trees that have a hard time in southern climes.

Here in SC it means growing things that enjoy acidic soil like blueberries, things that can stand the heat and humidity like blackeyed peas, figs, pears, peaches, jalapenos -  anything that has the words "drought resistant" on the seed packet gets a try. I've done my best to transition us to perennials, so the asparagus bed is now triple the size, we have three new blackberry bushes and a new honey fig, and I've added  concord grapes to the muscadines since they are the only other grape that will grow this far south. And we are putting in 5 chestnut trees this weekend. I will be thrilled when we get out first crop of olives, but not yet.

Other than checking with local farms, who grow a lot of sweet potatoes and collards and chickens, most of what we've done is decide what to grow based on what we will eat, and then experimenting with what will actually grow here. For example, I am not for of collards but love kale, so we grow that just as easily. It's an intersection of what you like plus what's possible.For example,  I was very sad not to be able to grow sweet cherries here, but pie cherries work in Zone 8 so there's that.

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 13 2009
Posts: 1988
New Paltz

Wow, you're up there near Lee Reich? That's by Lake Champlain, as northern as northern Massachusetts or Vermont. As to trying local things, it depends on the tree. A good place to look for native types of trees is you Cornell Cooperative Extension in NY. It;s one of the best agricultural cooperative extensions, constantly quoted in scholarly articles from all around country.

Eggplant is a very heavy nitrogen feeder and related to green peppers and tomatoes. I was only successful growing it when I started using manure compost in that bed, and you have to keep it out of beds where you've grown related things. .

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