Friday, April 5, 2013

Six Questions Before Planning Your Vegetable Garden

And... we're back!

According to everything and everyone, it's springtime. Time to put on the rubber boots and start mucking about.  If only someone would tell Mother Nature!  What is with all the snow and cold.  Sheesh.

Well, never mind.  First things first.  Before we all get diggin' in the soil, we need to do some prep work and decide what to plant this year.  

Let's start with six questions to figure out what we want out of our garden:

1. What do you love to grow and eat?
I love growing and eating peas, beans, carrots, zucchini, cucumbers, kohlrabi, tomatoes, beets and corn.  Peas, because they're the first crop of the season and are so amazingly sweet and delicious.  Beans because they're so easy to grow, easy to freeze and will last us a whole year.  Carrots because for the longest time I couldn't grow them - but now I can and nothing beats a homegrown carrot!  Zucchini because they're such amazing producers that there's always some to share with friends and family - whether they want them or not! Cucumbers because I love cucumber salad with the fresh dill that grows all over the garden.  Kohlrabi because it's unique and connects me to my German heritage.  Tomatoes because those red things they sell at the store just aren't the same.  Beets because I have just recently learned to love them. Corn because corn on the cob with cobs picked 10 minutes before they hit the boiling water is so amazing.

It's hard to exclude veggies - I can't imagine a garden without broccoli, lettuce, leeks, onions, garlic, peppers, squash, pumpkin, pole beans, spinach, or lettuce.

2. What does your family really enjoy from the garden?
Don't underestimate the importance of growing things your family loves, even if you're not crazy about it.  If you grow their favourite foods, they'll gladly give you a little extra time in the garden and may be less likely to think you're crazy for working so hard!  See how my evil genius mind works!

3. What veggies have you had real success with and which ones have consistently been a flop? 
Every garden is different.  Our garden at the river is much different than the garden in my yard and I know that some things grow better in one versus the other.  For example, the bunnies in my yard make it almost impossible to grow lettuce.  If you've tried and tried to grow something but just aren't having any luck, maybe it's time to let go.  It's probably not you - it's probably the soil, the weather, the seed, the zone, the critters, the bees, the cycle of the moon - etc.  Sometimes, it's just not meant to be.  On the other hand, if you're really determined, then claim this the year as the year of the your dream veggie and do everything in your power to make it happen.  If that's the case, add a bit of reading and research time into your calendar so you'll know everything there is to know about growing your dream veggie.

4. What veggies are just too much time and effort for you? 
Fresh baby potatoes - yum!  But as good as they are, I've decided that the messy battle with potato beetles (ie squishing those gross salmon coloured larvae) is just not worth the 5 potatoes per hill that I'm able to harvest out of our heavy clay soil.  I'm quite content to buy my baby potatoes at the Farmer's Market!  Think about the veggies that cause you the most frustration.  Do they deserve a place in your garden plans or are there alternatives that will make you a happier gardener?

5.  What's the condition of your garden and your soil?
Is your garden ready for the kind of veggies you have in mind?  Do you have a fence to protect your garden from deer or bunnies?  What's the condition of your soil?  When was the last time you added some organic material into your soil?  How will you conserve water or add water?  Your answers to these questions may impact which veggies you choose to plant and what kind of prep work you need to plan for.  For example, I know that I can't successfully grow carrots in my clay garden unless I loosen the soil 6 inches deep, add some compost, cover the seeds with a light layer of soil, keep everything evenly moist and cover it with a light layer of straw.

6. What are your summer plans and will they impact what's going on in your garden?
Summers are short and sweet in Manitoba.  You gotta enjoy every moment of them.  And while the garden is a big part of that enjoyment, many of us also take time to travel, go to the cottage or explore other parts of the province or country.  This summer, my family and I have several adventures planned that will see us away from the garden for 3 weeks in July and 3 weeks in August.  That's prime gardening time!

For a while I thought I would have to give up the garden this year altogether.  I love the garden, the soil, the seeds, the growth, the weeding (weird, but true), and of course the harvest.  The thought of not having my plot to putter around in was depressing.  I ran through my list of options:

  1. don't plant a garden
  2. ask friends and family to watch my garden 
  3. hire someone like Urban Eatin' who provide a professional garden sitting service
  4. plant a cover crop for the season - clover or alfalfa (not sure what my neighbours would think of that)
  5. share my garden with someone else 
  6. plan a veggie garden that would work around my schedule and hope that Mother Nature will offer up the optimal conditions for such a plan to work

After careful consideration, I'm opting for plan 6 with a little bit of plan 2.  But, if I'm going to work the garden around our time away, I've really got to do some careful planning and pay attention to the seeding, planting, maintenance, growth pattern, maturity and harvesting of veggies.  I'm going to go study my handy dandy planting chart to see what's going to work.

How do you choose what you're going to plant or not plant in your garden?

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