Happy New Year from Portland Edible Gardens!
Spring may still feel like a remote island somewhere far away, but take heart and take heed! We are drifting steadily towards that shore! Before we know it, the buds will be breaking and the sun that warms our soil will be nurturing the gardens that we plant (or the weeds that we don't).
Make a New Plan, Stan
Growing vegetables is easy.
There, I said it. ...I know, I know. This is a controversial statement and there is a lot to it, but truly: These vegetables want to grow for us. It's a matter of life and death for them! Give them a sunny place, decent soil, and enough water, and you will have food. It's growing vegetables well and getting the the vegetables you want, when you want them, that is the hard part. And it's very hard.
Understanding how to grow an edible garden that meets your specific goals is what separates beginners from experts. And there is only one way to meet your goals. That is: Have a damn good plan.
January is the perfect time for making such a plan. So don't let another Winter slip into Summer leaving you and your garden in the dust. Make a seasonal plan for your garden this year and take your edible gardening to the next level. Your effort will be rewarded with the vegetables you most love flowing into your kitchen right on schedule. Well... mostly on schedule. ...This is still gardening after all.
Things to ask yourself before you plant a garden
Perhaps you already have the perfect dedicated edible garden space at your home. If this is the case, then skip on ahead. But if you are starting a new edible garden, there are a few extremely important considerations before any other planning.
Where do I get at least 6 hours of direct sunlight?
Without substantial sunlight throughout the day, even the most skilled gardeners will have sad vegetable gardens. If you don't have a location that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight, find a way to reduce shade in your yard or get on a list for a community garden site.
Is there vegetation that needs to be removed prior to planting?
Your vegetables will struggle if they have to compete with grass, weeds, or other plants while they grow, so it is important that your vegetable garden area is free of all vegetation at the time of planting
What is the soil like in my garden?
What is its texture? (Sandy, Clay, Loam?) What is its color? (Darker generally indicated higher fertility) Does it hold or shed water? Do things seem to like growing where I am planning my vegetable garden? Here are some easy home tests that you can use to learn about your soil.
Will I need to amend my soil with compost or organic fertilizer prior to planting?
This can be largely answered based on simple evaluations as listed above, but getting an official soil test is easy, fun, and can provide much more extensive insight into the hidden qualities of your soil. I recommend A & L Laboratories where a $14 test can tell you a ton including recommendations for how to improve your soil.
And of course (the most fun question), What do I want to be eating from my garden?
Make a list and educate yourself about the veggies you want to grow in your garden. Especially important information for making a good garden plan: Earliest and latest recommended planting dates, estimated time required to grow ("days to maturity"), estimated harvest window, and spacing requirements for mature plants.
When To Plant What In Your Garden
This is a complicated question! Every vegetable has its own unique needs and ideal conditions. But we will do our best to oversimplify it.
Spring: Cool season roots and greens
Summer: Heat loving summer veggies, + a whole lot more
Fall: Cool season roots and greens
Winter: Hardiest Winter roots and greens
Cool Season Vegetables
These veggies do best when they are grown during the cooler Spring and Fall seasons. Many of these vegetables will bolt or become stunted when exposed to high temperatures. Most can be grown in both Spring and Fall while some are best suited for one season or the other:
Plant For Spring Only: Snap Peas, Snow Peas, Fava Beans
Plant For Spring and Fall: Arugula*, Beets*, Broccoli, Broccoli Raab, Bok Choi, Cabbage*, Carrots*, Cauliflower, Collard Greens*, Kale*, Kohlrabi*, Lettuce, Mizuna, Mustard, Parsley*, Radishes, Spinach, Turnips.
Plant For Fall Only: Brussels Sprouts, Celery*, Parsnips*, Leeks*
* = Tolerates some heat
Hot Season Vegetables
These veggies do best maturing in the heat of the summer. Many (like tomatoes and peppers) need hot summer days to mature their fruits. Planting hot season vegetables too early in the year leads to unhealthy, unhappy plants, while planting too late in the season doesn't offer enough time to grow them to maturity. Timing is everything with many of these beloved summer vegetables
Basil, Bush Beans, Pole Beans, Cilantro, Corn, Cucumbers, Dill, Eggplant, Melons, Potatoes, Summer Squash, Tomatoes, Tomatillos, Winter Squash.
4 Season Vegetables
This short list includes some of the few vegetables that can be grown successfully in the height of summer and the dead of winter. A truly exceptional bunch:
Arugula, Beets, Carrots, Chard, Collard Greens, Kale, Parsley
Creating a Comprehensive Planting Plan
A comprehensive planting plan that yields specific veggies at desired times is extremely complex. It shouldn't (and need not) be the goal of beginning gardeners. It is the proving ground for your knowledge about the vegetables you love. In order to create a solid plan, you will need to know some vital information about each vegetable that you want to grow. You will also need a basic understand of "succession planting" (See our blog post Succession Planting: How To Plan For Plenty) if you want to have salad greens and roots throughout the season.
For each vegetable that you plan to grow gather the following information:
Earliest suggested planting date, Latest suggested planting date, Estimated days to maturity, Estimated harvest window, Estimated spacing requirements at maturity.
All of these factors will be affected by your specific climate and weather! So your observations and past records from your own garden will be invaluable in creating an accurate plan.
Map Out Your Garden Space:
- Create an overhead view of your edible garden space with dimensions and measurements
- Expect each vegetable you plant to occupy its space for its total growth time (days to maturity + harvest window)
- Start by deciding where you will plant one-time, long to mature plantings (i.e. Tomatoes, Peppers, Cucumbers) and pencil in their planned location and planting dates
- Move on to other quicker to mature vegetables and succession plantings (i.e. radishes, lettuce, spinach, carrots) and pencil them in working around the major plantings
- Where possible, and if space is limited, "double crop," planting Summer or Fall vegetables where early-to-mature Spring plantings have already been grown and harvested
- IMPORTANT: Remember, that in our Northern hemisphere, even in high summer, a shadow will be cast on the North side of any structure (or plant). For this reason, I generally place the vegetables that will be tallest (think peas, pole beans, tomatoes...), at the north ends of garden beds
Example Planting Plan Exercise
So lets make a tiny planting plan. Lets see how much food we can get out of a 4'x4' (16 sq. ft.) raised garden bed. Let's assume that we want to grow Radishes, Spinach, Tomatoes, Cucumbers, and Peppers. Here is a chart with the information we will need. These values are based on my experience growing these vegetables in the Portland area:
...Bear with me as we try to make a real plan out of all of this information!...
...First, I have placed all of the one-time long-to-mature plantings. They are planned for their earliest suggested planting dates and according to their expected mature size. (Their total expected time in the ground is also noted). The plantings that will be the tallest (tomatoes in this case) are planted at the North end of the garden bed so that they wont shade other plantings.
Although these plantings fill up the entire garden space, don't worry! We can still get away with an early planting of radishes and spinach because they can be planted early and are so quick to mature that they will be harvested before it is time for planting tomatoes and peppers.
...I have now planned two rows each of spinach and radishes where tomatoes and peppers will later be planted. They are planted at the earliest possible date of 3/15. We expect to finish harvesting spinach on 5/15, and Radishes on 5/5. We are unable to do an early planting of either of these vegetables in the vacant spot because we need it to be available on 5/1 for Cucumbers.
Although we were unable to plant any early vegetables where the cucumbers are planted, we are able to plant spinach after Cucumbers are harvested which we expect to be around 9/1 (120 days after planting). In this manner, each location in the garden is able to produce two crops, maximizing our use of the space!!
The following two diagrams aggregate all of our work showing one garden bed with two plantings. This is, in essence, your completed planting plan!
So there you have it: A glimpse into the process of creating a complete plan for your own garden.
Now it's time to take the reins and make your own plan!!! With what you have already learned and some help from the additional resources provided, you should be well on your way to a comprehensive planting plan that will produce an abundance of the vegetables you love at the times when you are most craving them!
Other PEG Blog posts that may help you in your planning process:
Some great books to guide you:
This is the classic book on the "Biointensive" method of gardening. Incredibly detailed information on spacing, timing, and, methodology for growing tons of food in a small space.
This is a newer publication providing excellent information on a month-by-month basis for what you should be doing in your vegetable garden.
I recommend this book with some reservations. Mel does a great job of taking something very complicated and simplifying it to the max. He will offer a very different approach to planning your garden that verges on oversimplification. This approach can be very helpful if you are new to vegetable gardening.