By Anja Lowrance and Marianne Lepa
February is a great time to start planning your garden for the upcoming season. You may have already ordered seeds, or you are waiting for the nurseries to open with their starter plants ready to go into the ground. However you acquire your plants, a garden plan will help you make decisions about what to plant, when to plant it and, importantly, where to plant it.
The Garden Map
If you haven’t already, sketch out an outline of your garden space. Is it square, a long rectangle, a curving border? Make note of how many feet/meters you have to work with.
Also mark how the sun travels over your garden in the summer. Just a mark where it rises and one where it sets will help. The SunCalc tool can help you figure this out. Zoom in on your location, enter a date and the app will show you where the sun rises and sets and the path it will travel during daylight hours. Pay attention to buildings or trees or anything that will cast shade at certain times of the day.
The sun path will also let you plan for taller or trellised crops. Planting those on the north side of your bed will not to shade your entire garden.
There are different planting techniques that you might want to explore. The traditional row planting is a tried and true method. Read more about this method here.
Square foot or intensive growing is a popular way to make the most of a small space. Learn how to plan a square foot garden here.
Selecting your planting method now will help you determine how many plants and seeds you will need to fill your garden space later.
Whatever method you choose, mark where plants will grow and where the gardener will move around in the space. Paths or stepping stones let you access the growing area for weeding and maintenance. For most people, two feet is about the maximum reach, but customise that to your own abilities and include that space in your plan.
Selecting What to Plant
Let’s make an obvious point, shall we? Plan to grow only vegetables and fruits you like to eat. Yes, zucchini is easy to grow, but if you or your family don’t care for it, then what’s the point?
Make a list of the vegetables you want to grow and do a little research on what they like. Will they have enough time to grow? Your seed packet will specify the number of days to maturity. That is the average number of days from the time a seed germinates until you can expect to harvest. Below is a chart showing the average monthly temperatures for Collingwood. We have about 13 weeks of warm growing weather with another 6 weeks either side with cooler growing conditions.
Do your veggies need full all day sun or can they handle a little shade? Do they need warm soil and hot days or will the seeds germinate best in cold and wet soil? You can find a list of many vegetables and basic requirements here. Use your search engine to find out more information for specific plants, if you need.
Anja is working on a planting chart. It’s a work in progress but you can download the current version here.
There are some veggies that you don’t want to ripen all at once. Lettuces, beets, radishes, carrots, beans, are some of the vegetables that can be sown in waves, every two weeks or so, to give you a prolonged harvest.
Some vegetables are harvested and finished early in the growing season. Peas, for example, stop producing when the weather gets too hot. Cut down the pea vines and use that space to grow something that enjoys the heat, likes runner beans or basil. That garlic you planted in the fall will be ready to harvest in late July. There’s plenty of time to grow a crop of beets or turnips, chard or radishes in that space. Root crops like salad turnips or radishes will grow on well into the cold weather, so when your summer squash fades from the shorter days in August, rip them out and sow a fall root crop.
You can mark these succession plants on a single map or make a second map that shows what and where your second crop will be.
Spare space in your vegetable garden for flowers. Flowers lighten your heart as well as bring in pollinators and beneficial predatory insects. Umbel type flowers like Purple Tansy, Alyssum and Dill are good at attracting beneficial insects and butterflies. When you look at your garden you should see lots of flowers, as well as your veggies.