Monday, December 13, 2010

Getting the Most from Your Garden

Seed catalogs can be very seductive. After all the purpose of a seed catalog is to sell you seeds, right? I have been a victim of their allure. Two summers ago i had an image in mind of how my fall garden would look, beds full of leafy greens we could harvest all winter for sale at the market and for us to eat all winter. I started going through the catalogs, making a list of what i wanted to grow. I placed my order, excited about getting the fall garden started. Then the seeds arrived. Damn, look at all the purple vegetables i ordered. I had seeds for purple cauliflower, purple mustard, purple kohlrabi, red cabbage, purple broccoli, not what i had envisioned my fall garden to be at all.

It is very important to have a goal for your garden before you start placing those seed orders. And you need to check your order against your goal! We have 2 goals here at the Funny Farm. The first is to grow a variety of nutritious food for our own consumption all year round. The second is to grow crops we can profitably sell at our year round farmers markets. Each gardener will have her own goals based on what she wants to get out of her garden. You might be a tomato lover who wants to have fresh tomatoes as long as possible during the growing season. Your goal might be to grow favorite vegetables that are not readily available at your local markets. You might be a pickle connoissuer or a raw foodist.

Once you have established a goal for your garden you can begin to determine what to grow to meet your goal. Before you dig into the catalogs you need to ask yourself some questions.
What crops that meet my criteria will grow well in my area?
In what season do they grow best?
How long does it take to produce a crop?
How long will the crop produce?
How much of a particular crop do I want?
Will i consume them only fresh or preserve some for the winter?
How much space does the crop need?

Once you have answered the questions for each crop you can develop a plan for your garden.

Planning in Time and Space

We have 3 overlapping growing seasons here at The Funny Farm. A short spring season, a long hot summer, and usually a decent fall season. Planting for spring usually starts in late February/early March. Many of the crops we plant then are not harvested until May or June; potatoes and carrots are 2 examples. We plant our summer crops as early as we can to get the most out of them before the heat and drought take their toll. Our last frost date is around tax time, April 15th. To have a successful fall season we have to plant in August and September, still prime season for lots of our summer crops like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. It takes careful planning to get the timing and space allocations coordinated properly. Having a clear goal for your garden helps when making decisions about when to plant and what to sacrifice during the transition from one season to the next.

If your goal is to grow nutritious fresh food all year you might have to pull up your declining tomatoes in early September to make room for fall greens that will last into the winter. If your goal is to have fresh tomatoes until Thanksgiving ( a possibility here many years) you might have to forgo a fall planting.

Other Considerations
It is a foregone conclusion that all of us want to improve our gardens every year. This current year we set out to double our output. We are well on our way to achieving that. Through better planning we chose more productive crops and varieties, we scheduled succession plantings better and we worked on building our soil. We used a soil test to determine what nutrients we needed to add to the soil to get the best growth from our plants while improving their nutritional value. We used mulches and cover crops to add organic matter to the soil to strengthen the soil food web. We used interplantings (companion planting) to help reduce pest problems. We increased biodiversity on the farm by planting more varieties that attract beneficial insects and by letting more "weeds" do their thing and by letting more areas go "wild".

We also added to our future food security by planting more blueberries, apple trees and pear trees. We multiplied our perennial food sources such sunchokes, leeks, herbs and welsh onions by dividing them and planting them into more marginal spaces developing our food forest.

Thoughtful planning is key to making best use of the increasingly limited resources available to us in these troubled times. We teach a class on gardening planning scheduled for Sunday January 9th 1-4 p.m. Click the link below to get more info and register.

Register for Winter Organic Garden Workshop Series in Stone Mountain, GA  on Eventbrite


Life of Linda said...

Very helpful post!
For those of us who, um, succumbed to the seed catalogue crack last year, can we still plant those seeds next spring?

duane marcus Facebook me! said...

Thanks Linda,
Yes you can plant those seeds this spring.
Good luck with your garden.