Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Planning for spring

The winter garden (1)
The weather outside is definitely frightful. We're in the midst of a snowstorm as I write this! Still, we're snug inside, with plenty of wood and oil, and food in the pantry. January is also the time for planning the garden. There's so much to think about, and so many catalogs to go through. Part of my own catalog-peering was sidetracked, though, when I received 24 packets of seeds for my birthday, plus the IOU for both asparagus and strawberry crowns!

Yesterday, I set down to planning. The first thing I did was look up each seed to see when it needs to be planted. Most of them give you an answer that requires a bit of math. You'll see something like, "Plant after all danger of frost is past." Or better yet, "Plant indoors five weeks before last frost date. Transplant to the garden two weeks after last frost date." It's frustrating, but it's worth the fuss of going over the calendar and writing it all down.

My planting season starts outside (believe it or not!) in March sometime, "as soon as the soil can be worked." That means as soon as my raised beds can be hoed properly, it's time to plant my peas and some of my beans. I'll tuck them into the soil about an inch deep, then mulch over them to keep them safe.

Seed packages (2)
In March, my broccoli will be planted in flats indoors. They need to grow for six to eight weeks before they go outside, and they also need to be transplanted outdoors about four weeks before the last frost date. That means that I take my last frost date (May 20 for my area) and count back four weeks (April 22) to figure out when my seedlings will be transplanted outside. Then I count back a further six to eight weeks to figure out when to start them indoors (in the March 4-11 date range).

I then have tomatoes that get planted in flats on April 7, chives on April 20, spinach that goes right outside on April 20, and bunches of other things right up until our last frost date of May 20. The very last thing to go into my garden will be my cucumbers, which need very warm soil. They'll be put into the ground on June 3. Each of the dates I figured out went into my Google calendar and my paper desk calendar. Each day as I sit down to work, I'll be able to see what needs to be done that week in the garden.

Once I knew all the dates they had to be planted indoors, then transplanted outdoors, or planted directly outdoors, I sat down and went over all of them again to figure out when I ought to start looking for harvest. Each seed packet tells you the number of days until harvest (for example, my Amish Paste tomatoes mature in 81 days). The harvest days go onto the paper calendar but not into my computer one, because it's much less exact. For instance, my dill will mature in 60 to 70 days, however I might find that parts of it mature faster or slower, and I'll probably begin pulling some of the baby dill long before it reaches maturity. I might also choose to pick a few green tomatoes in order to make a green tomato pie or fried green tomatoes.

My cork board
Now that I have all my planting dates figured out, I pegged the packets up on my cork board in the right order. As each seed's time comes, I'll pull it down and plant it indoors or out, depending on what it needs. My next seeds are always right there, ready to be pulled down and planted when the time is right. This keeps me organized, and I don't have to search high and low for my seeds. I know others who use a shoebox or other smallish box to keep the seeds organized, with the "next to be planted" at the front. Whatever your personal method, the more organized you are the easier your spring and early summer will be in the garden.

I spend less time planning out my actual beds. Last year I made elaborate "to scale" models on graph paper. The first problem came when my model said "rectangular raised bed" and reality provided me with a tractor tire. It all went downhill from there. Everything still got planted, of course, but it was all in different places in the garden.

Plans from 2012
This year, I'll make up my model to match my current garden, with room for adding new beds when I create them. Then, as I fill up each bed with seeds and seedlings, I'll enter them onto my "map" of the garden. This gives me a visual of my lovely garden, and lets me do minor planning from in the house.

There are other things I need to keep in mind while in the garden. Certain types of plants don't do well together, and others prefer one another's company. I don't want to plant my watermelons beside my cucumbers, as I don't want to find a foul tasting hybridized mix of the two growing somewhere. Different types of winter squash must be kept apart, too. If you plan on saving seeds, you probably shouldn't plant different breeds of tomatoes near one another, either. When you have a small garden, that can make planning quite complex as you try to shuffle things around to make space between veggies that dislike one another.

I can't wait for March!

Listed on the Backyard Farming Connection Hop #17 (click here to enter).
Listed on Eco-Kids Tuesday (click here to enter).
Listed on the Homestead Barn Hop #97 (click here to enter).

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1) Image by Ladyheart / morgueFile
2) Image by xandert / morgueFile