By Andrea Bellamy
As a beginning gardener, my “garden planning” consisted of heading to the garden centre on the first sunny day in March, choosing the prettiest of the seed packets, then sowing seeds wherever there was room and whenever I found the time.
As my thumbs greened, I discovered that this approach had me missing out on many of the more interesting varieties of edibles (not to mention that it led to an excess of seed packets containing edibles I didn’t have room to grow or a desire to eat). So I started ordering my seeds online, using my dog-eared West Coast Seeds catalogue as a guide. Ordering online, I found, provided more selection and endowed me with more restraint than was possible when standing in front of a seed-packet display.
Next, I realized that actually planning out when and where to plant these edibles—in advance, instead of in the garden, trowel in hand—would greatly improve my yield. Reading up on a smallspace gardening technique known as succession planting, I learned that I could harvest a succession of crops—a cool-season edible followed by a warm-season edible, followed again by a cool-season edible—all from one container. It was a revelation. Never again would I find myself with an empty pot in the middle of the growing season! I could plant arugula in early March, be eating it by mid- April, and by June, as the heat-sensitive little plants started to reach skyward, I could boot them out and replace them with a heat-lover, such as cucumber (started indoors, of course, and ready to transplant at just the right time), and therefore make the most of my very limited space. I was sold.
That winter, I got serious about garden planning. I drew sketches of my balcony and community garden plot, detailing what would be planted where, and when. I made charts and lists. I added seed-starting dates to my iCal and set automated reminders. Pencil crayons may have been used. If I went a little overboard, it was only in the name of getting my hands on as much fresh, organic produce as possible. People have done crazier things for love.
Of course, it didn’t quite go as smoothly as my optimistic notations suggest. (“Plant out tomato seedlings,” says an old June 1st calendar reminder, oblivious to the reality of the unseasonably cold weather that year.) Seeds failed to germinate. Plants took longer to mature than expected. The weather conspired to keep me paying for my produce. That said, the results were far better than my previous by-the-seat-of-my-pants approach to planting, so I’ve continued the habit of making plans for garden greatness during the winter months. If nothing else, it’s nice to dream about the coming growing season. And let’s face it: a garden is always the most productive and pest-free on paper.
A GARDEN CHECKLIST FOR WINTER
Peruse seed catalogues, and make a list of everything you’d like to grow. Note how long each edible takes to mature, and when it should be planted (details listed on the seed packet). If you are growing warm-season crops from seed, note when these will need to be started indoors, as well as the projected transplanting date. Note these dates in your calendar.
Using your list, figure out where you’ll plant each edible. One way to start is by finding a place for warm-season crops (tomatoes, zucchini, and beans, for example) and slotting in cool-season growers like lettuce, peas, or arugula for spring and fall. Visit heavypetal.ca/freebies to download seed-starting and succession-planting charts to help keep track of what, and when, you’re planting.
Andrea Bellamy is the gardener behind heavypetal.ca and author of Sugar Snaps and Strawberries: Simple Solutions for Creating Your Own Small-Space Edible Garden.