Are you excited for this year’s garden? I am!!
The most frequent question I get about gardening is, “How do you know what to plant?” That’s easy. Plant what you eat. Do you make chili once per month? Plant tomatoes, beans, garlic, onions. Do you like salsa? Add cilantro and peppers to that list. Do you make corn with supper once per week? How about broccoli or cauliflower?
Make a list of what your family eats and how often you eat it. With our love of good chili, we make it at least once per month. We use one large jar of diced tomatoes, a cup of red beans, a cup of black beans, an onion, some garlic, some oregano. That frequency would require a minimum of 12 quarts of tomatoes, 6 pints of each bean, 12 cloves of garlic, and 12 onions for the year. We’ll save it all while it’s in season and need enough to last until next harvest. We also love corn and broccoli and eat them weekly, so we need a quart of each for every week. That’s 52 quarts frozen of each to get us through until next harvest. We love fresh cabbage to make cole slaw, but we’re not big fans of sauerkraut, so we don’t plant an abundance of cabbage, just what we’ll eat in season.
Now that you have your list, shop for those seeds. For simplicity, we’ll stick with the items from above. We need tomato, red beans, black beans, garlic, onions, corn, broccoli, oregano. There are so many places to order seeds, just Google! I like Early Girl Tomatoes for summer eating and Better Boy Tomatoes for canning. Early Girls are really pest resistant and fruit very early in the season. Better Boys are big meaty tomatoes that have a medium amount of juice, so they dice really well. Beans can be bush variety or pole variety. If you don’t want to set up trellises for them to climb, stick with the bush variety. Garlic and onions ship as garlic bulbs you pull apart into cloves and small onion “sets” you just stick in the ground. They ship in spring and fall and can be planted in spring and fall. Corn, broccoli, oregano all ship as seeds. If you don’t have a favorite type of veggie, ask around and find out what others in your area plant. Maybe they’ll even give you some seeds. 🙂
Okay, your seeds are ordered and en route, so let’s figure out when and where to plant each. Some seeds can be started early in your house, some do better planted directly in the ground. Research each item and write down on a calendar where and when you will plant them. Then you’ll know by glancing at your calendar what you need to do this weekend and not be stuck wondering if you were supposed to plant those tomatoes today or two months ago.
Being in TN, we can plant after the last frost April 15, but the old-timers say don’t plant until Mother’s Day May 10. Either way is fine. If you plant earlier and later, you’ll see the plants catch up with each other. The seeds you put in the ground May 10th will produce about the same time as the seeds you planted April 15th because the sun and warmth make the May 10th seeds grow faster. If you’re anxious to get things in the ground early, just watch for a wayward night of frost and cover those young seedlings with a cloth. Back to our list, you’ll find broccoli doesn’t mind the wayward frost and can be planted very early. Tomatoes like 75 degrees. Period. They won’t grow when it’s cool. Once you find all the dates and places to plant what you want, the key is to WRITE IT DOWN so you don’t have to look everything up a second time.
I start some things in the house, some in the greenhouse, and some directly in the garden. My calendar for this year looks like this: 1st weekend of Feb, start seeds inside – cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes, celery. 3rd weekend of Feb, start herb seeds inside. 4th weekend of Feb, sow directly into the garden – spinach, leaf lettuce, butter crunch lettuce, micro greens, radishes, and peas. They like the cold weather. 1st weekend of Mar, move cauli, broccoli, cabbage, and celery to the greenhouse, and transplant tomatoes into bigger containers. 3rd weekend of Mar, sow directly into the garden more peas and potatoes. 4th weekend of Mar, start seeds inside – watermelon, cantaloupe, summer squash, zucchini, bok choy. 1st weekend of April, sow directly into the garden 1/2 of the peanuts, move the greenhouse plants into the garden, and transplant the tomatoes (again) and herbs into bigger containers and move them into the greenhouse. After the last chance of frost, the third weekend of April, sow directly into the garden carrots, green onions, sunflowers, bush beans, black beans, corn, and the remainder of the peanuts. Depending on the forecast, the first or second week of May, move everything to the garden, and direct sow all else including peppers, cucumbers, more lettuces. June is time to harvest the onions and garlic planted last fall. Those beds will be replanted with sweet potatoes, more carrots and green onions, etc. Once the summer plants are done being harvested, plant lots of spinach, lettuces, and summer squash that can be harvested until the freeze kills them. They don’t mind the early frosts and will provide you with produce well into early winter. And, plant new onions and garlic that will over-winter to be harvested next June. In late fall, plant lettuces, spinach, and bok choy in the greenhouse. They’ll grow very slowly, but you may have salad through January.
There is no question about what I’m going to plant and when and where I’m going to plant it. I’ve already done the work. Just look at one plant at a time and work backwards from your last frost. If your last frost is May 10 and you can start certain seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before your last frost, you’re looking at the end of March/first of April. Some plants say to put the seeds in the ground as soon as the soil can be worked a couple weeks BEFORE your last frost. It’s that easy and NOW is the time to plan. Write it down!
When you have those young plants growing inside, don’t forget to “harden them off” before planting in the garden. They will get sunburnt just like you do; their tender leaves need the same care as your winter skin. Put them outside a little bit more every day in the shade, slowly moving them into the sun over a period of a couple weeks.
Come June, you’ll have the best looking, best producing garden around.
Once your garden is in full bloom, you can figure out how to store some seeds from this year’s favorites and store all that produce so it’ll last you until next year! Nothin’ like fresh corn in February!! Yum!