You trudge groggily down the lane to the mailbox on a frosty winter morning. Opening the squeaky door and reaching inside you discover the glossy seed catalogue you’ve been anticipating for weeks. The remainder of the day is spent curled up on the couch in front of a roaring fire dreaming wildly of all the things you will grow.
But before you get carried away and place your order, I’d like to offer a few pointers that’ll prevent disappointment and save you money. A good place to begin is with a garden layout that clearly defines your grow beds. In Module B of our gardening course, “Create beautiful edible landscapes”, we provide guidance on how to set up your garden for convenience, lifestyle, and success.
A good design is pleasing to the eye, saves time and helps us plan meaningfully. The latter certainly applies to purchasing seeds. After making an accurate sketch of your garden, give each growing bed a number. Next, create a chart showing columns for the months and rows indicating the different beds. Your garden beds might be different sizes and might be disconnected from each other, but that doesn’t change the layout of your chart. I’m going to number my beds one through five.
On your chart, first account for the slow maturing, essential crops. These staple vegetables come to mind: onions, potatoes, squash, garlic, dry beans, winter cabbage, tomatoes, and peppers. Most take up space in our garden for around one hundred days during the peak growing season.
Some seed catalogues like West Coast Seeds will provide you with a handy chart that shows the days to maturity (DTM) for each crop. Of course, the DTM is only a guide and changes from region to region. Your chart with the staple crops shown might look something like this:
Notice that the winter cabbage that was transplanted in July of 2022 gets harvested sometime in the winter. These plants will produce succulent shoots the following spring and act as a winter cover crop.
Next, plug the faster maturing crops with a DTM around 60-80 days into the gaps on the diagram.
We still have empty spaces both early and late in the year. Principle #2 of our gardening course demands that we cover the ground with living plants. These holes can be filled with cover crops.
Finally, we’ll add crops that can be interplanted with the staple crops to maximize production. Before the potatoes emerge, for example, you’ll be able to seed and harvest a crop of early salad mix.
Now, that we’ve filled our entire garden, create a list of all the vegetables you intend to grow. When selecting seeds, choose tried and proven varieties. They’re the old favorites and make their yearly reappearance because they’re trusted by market gardeners and experienced growers.
Most gardeners are limited by space, and we need to be reminded that it’s almost impossible to grow everything. Exercise restraint, as difficult as that might be. In small spaces avoid sprawling plants like squash and melons unless you can grow them vertically. I also recommend that if you’ve had challenges growing brassicas in the past because of pests, it’s okay to avoid space hogs like cauliflower and broccoli and only grow kale and cabbage which are less prone to disease.
In the last section of our gardening course, we’ll be demonstrating how to save your own seeds. If this is something you’re hoping to try, you’ll need to avoid hybrid varieties (F1) and try to purchase open-pollinating varieties. Saving seeds from OP’s is far easier than from F1’s.
With supply chain disruptions there is greater urgency to get seeds early. But be aware that seed companies have also accounted for this surge in demand and the customers tendency to panic during times of uncertainty. Still, take your time and only place your order after creating a thoughtful garden plan.