Be the Artist of Your GardenApr 28, 2023 01:12PM ● By Bryan Reed
Now that May has arrived, it’s time to start planting!
Not so fast! It’s fun to buy new seeds and plant them like crazy, but that doesn’t always result in a steady supply of food throughout the growing season.
The best garden comes from the best plan. That’s why it’s important to create goals for our garden, determine what we want to grow and how much and map it out to maximize space and resources.
For the best crop production yields this season, follow these tips:
Step 1: Make a chart
Use a monthly calendar or make your own. Write in each crop you plan to grow within the month that it will be harvested.
We tend to load up on July/August/September crops and forget about June and October, and all of winter. Listing crops by month identifies the need for some quick crops for June and early July and the option of root crops and winter greens for fall dinners. If you plan to preserve the harvest, this helps with kitchen and materials planning as well.
Step 2: Determine how much produce you plan to grow
If you’ve left bags of zucchini hanging on a neighbor’s doorknob, maybe one squash plant is enough. Do you plan on canning and need a large volume all at once? Do you ferment veggies in stages to stock the pantry, or prefer to harvest cabbage or radishes just periodically?
Many websites and seed catalogs can help you determine yield per plant, but I especially recommend the book, “How to Grow More Vegetables” by John Jeavons.
Jeavons’ master plant production charts help readers break down crop yields by asking questions like: How good is my soil? How well did I choose the right variety of crop? And how good of a grower am I really?
Some of us have a knack for growing certain plant families, but trying new crops often comes with a learning curve. Jeavons’ master charts take these issues into consideration when determining a realistic yield from each crop.
Step 3: Write down a schedule
On a dedicated calendar for your garden, note when to seed crops so they’re ready when we want them. Green beans peak in production and then fade out, so plant a third of their intended space in the garden now (or soon), then mark the calendar to plant the next third in two weeks, then finish out the plot two weeks after that.
Plan for seeding fall roots in July and winter crops by mid-September.
Each of these projects should go on the garden calendar so it holds us accountable.
Step 4: Map out your garden
Now that you have a plan, it’s time to map out your garden. This is where the art of gardening comes in, as our success depends on how well we lay out our garden to maximize soil health and soil depths. Crop rotations ensure we don’t overmine trace minerals or build up diseases or pests. Grouping crops by family makes it easy to rotate them each year.
Heavy feeders like tomatoes and melons are happy when they grow in a spot where beans and peas were last year. Onions, greens and roots can follow heavy feeders as their decaying roots are a source of nutrients for these scavenger crops with shallower roots. Legumes follow the scavengers, as they fix nitrogen and attract a host of other beneficial soil microbes. Don’t forget to interplant some edible flowers throughout the garden to encourage pollinators. They also add a jazzy touch to summer pasta salads.
Row vs. Interplanting
Some crops need good access to pollen, so square-block configurations of the same variety work better than long rows. For example, corn’s success relies on being planted in blocks as the tassels of one plant pollinate its neighbor.
Another consideration when mapping out our gardens is choosing which crops are easily accessible (basil and lettuce) and which take the longest to mature (these can be planted in the back). Intercropping plants together allows deep- and shallow-rooted crops to grow together without competition for nutrients or water.
Carrots planted around tomatoes is a classic example of companion planting. (Jeavons’ book lists proven companion plant options, too.) Three Sisters planting takes this idea a functional step further, with corn being the trellis for vining beans that produce nitrogen corn craves. Ring those two with squash plants whose deep roots mine phosphorus and shade the soil for the corn and beans to thrive. Plant radishes in the middle of carrot rows and then harvest them to leave space for the carrots to fill in. Tuck shallow-rooted lettuce just north of deeper-rooted kale, and the kale will provide much-needed shade for the lettuce.