In the northwest, if you cover your soil with a cloche, or plastic, early enough in the season for the ground to dry and warm up a little, planting peas by President’s Day is a possibility. I tend to plan my garden around President’s Day and start planting soon after. I planned my garden last weekend.
I’m not going to go into detail about rotating crops, since that is a huge, sometimes confusing, topic in and of itself. I try to rotate leaf, flower, fruit and root crops as much as possible. I try not to plant the same thing in the same spot, year after year. By the time I do all that and come up with plan that seems like it’ll work, I haven’t even paid attention to what plant families everything is in. So my method of crop rotating could probably use some improvement. Crop rotating is really a puzzle.
I also won’t show you a scaled garden map on graph paper. All I do is draw a few rectangles for my raised beds, some squares for my cold frames and a couple of ovals for my feed troughs.
What I will show you are my secret weapons of garden planning- my arsenal of books that I rely on.
My Garden Journal
It has been recommended to me, in all my training, to keep a garden journal. So I have been keeping one ever since I started gardening. It’s so useful in so many ways, one of them being garden planning. Not only can I make a plan for what I am going to plant and when, but I can look back at previous years’ plans and notes. I can look at things like, what I planted, when I harvested, what was quicker or took longer to grow than I thought, what did well and what didn’t, and what kind of pest problems I had. All those factors help inform my plan for the current year.
I write in pencil, since things can and will change. Sometimes I do a rough plan and then write in what I actually planted, if it’s different. Sometimes a crop takes longer, so if a Spring crop is still in, where I was going to plant a Summer crop, I will plant that Summer crop later or somewhere else, if possible.
You can buy it from Seattle Tilth or it’s free if you take the Comprehensive Organic Gardener Class. It contains month by month info on what to plant and where (as in inside, outdoors or under a cloche) and what varieties do best in the Pacific NW.
Sprinkled between each month is info on crop rotating, season extending, pest management and more. In the back there is a handy herb and vegetable planting guidelines chart, organized by approximate harvest season info, spacing info seed life, etc.. I use this chart a lot for garden planning.
Alphabetical by not only plant, but subject, this book has info on all things related to organic gardening. A quick flip through the book, brought up some of my much read entries, such as cold frames, companion planting, composting, container gardening, drip irrigation, garden design, fertilizing, season extension, seed starting, trellising, overwintering, and pest management, just to name a few.
The entries by plant are organized by types, planting info (fertilizer/amendment suggestions), growing guidelines (seed and row spacing, trellising needs if any), potential (pest or disease) problems and harvesting info.
Carrots love tomatoes is about companion planting. I’m not sure I believe everything in this book and I don’t always do what it says. Some of it makes sense to me, like green onions planted with carrots act as a repellent for carrot flies. I understand the idea that planting things near each other that attract the same pests is a bad idea. This book is good for letting me know what to look out for and avoid doing, if possible. I also like that it suggests interplanting things together, like lettuce in between rows of peas or radishes in between cucumber rows. It’s great if those plants compliment each other and it also saves room! I also love the cute little picture on the back cover, of the author, Louise Riotte (1909-1998). She looked like a lady that knew what she was doing, so I will follow her advice as much as I can, for that reason alone.
I love getting seed catalogs in the mail. Especially the Territorial Seed Company and the Abundant Life Seeds catalogs. They not only have a great selection of seeds and products, but I am a sucker for the illustrations. They are both out of Oregon and are now sister companies (due to a fire in 2003 that wiped out Abundant Life’s inventory). So their selection of seeds are based on the Northwest climate. Abundant Life’s seed are all certified organic.
I look for varieties that were recommended by the Maritime NW Garden Guide, if possible. I also pick based on the description and the picture. For example, I like to pickle cucumbers and green beans, so when picking a variety of those vegetables, I look for a description that says “good for pickling”. I have had good luck growing, and like to eat, loose leaf lettuce, so usually I pick a variety of that based on the picture. Sometimes, I pick varieties solely based on their color. I like to get one purple variety of carrot, usually “Purple Haze”. I always get “Bright Lights” (rainbow) Swiss chard. I have yet to grow blue potatoes, but I really want to. I love the red and white stripes of “Chiogga” beets. I swear it makes them taste better.
Deciding what variety I want to plant also informs my plan, since the description and/or seed packet should list the average number of days to harvest. I use that info to gauge, approximately, when I should be able to plant the next crop.
Other Recommended reading:
Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades by Steve Solomon
Steve Solomon was the founder of the Territorial Seed Company (He sold the company in 1985). There is definitely useful information in this book, though some of it seems to relate to larger scale gardening than what I do. His musings on the importance of “hoe leaning” and his explanation of companion planting (if you believe in it, it’ll work for you), make the book totally worth the read.
What are your favorite gardening books ? Do you have any tips or tricks you use for garden planning? I am a total nerd for books and love to immerse myself in reading and research, so I would love to hear what resources you use to plan your garden!