I know it’s the middle of winter but believe it or not, it’s time to plan your dream garden!
To be honest, here on the farm this is a HUGE undertaking. Every year it gets a bit easier but I am always surprised by the time this takes.
As a home gardener your task is a little simpler but give yourself time and have fun!
I want to break down your garden planning job into a few smaller tasks. Next to each task I will have a description on how I do this and a link to an actual PDF sample of my planning tools.
1) Make a crop list. List all the crops you are going to grow!
How do you decide? I like to grow things I like to eat! Start there then browse through your seed catalogs and find a few other things you might like to try.
How do you choose varieties? Read about each variety carefully. For Alaska, shorter days to maturity is important especially with very long season crops (like tomatoes). Also try to read between the lines. What are the descriptions NOT saying. For example, I tried a short season cucumber advertised as a great variety for northern growing. Sure win right? Not quite. The flavor and texture was almost unpalatable. Our chickens feasted on those.
I make a simple spreadsheet with the following information on it: crop (i.e. broccoli), variety (Belstar), source (where I bought my seed), days to maturity or DTM (you’ll see this in the description online or on the back of the seed packet), weeks to maturity WTM (just divide your DTM by 7 - I like to do this cause it’s way easier to count back by weeks than for days to figure out when you need to plant), notes (YOU MUST TAKE NOTES THROUGHOUT THE SEASON ON EACH CROP).
CLICK HERE to see a sample of my planing spreadsheet! I have left on a few extra columns here in case you want to add these on yours too.
2) Draw your garden. Sit down and draw your garden!
I like using grid paper for this. Then each grid increment can be a 1 foot or 6 inch increment. OR you can just draw on plain paper and just mark off your actual garden dimensions.
Pencil in where you want each of your chosen crops to grow. Remember to think about taller plants (or plants that need to be trellised) - place these on the north side of your garden so they don’t shade smaller crops. Crops that stay in the ground the whole summer (like broccoli or potatoes) can be further away from your paths than crops you might harvest more often (like salad greens).
This helps you plan where things go and how much you can fit in your area. This also becomes a record (keep your dated drawings) so you can rotate where you grow each crop in subsequent years.
3) Make a planting calendar
CLICK HERE to see a sample of my planting calendar. I plan by week. Week 1 is the first week of the year - using week numbers (and not just dates) is helpful in order to use past planting calendars to plan for future planting dates since actual dates may fall into different weeks each year.
In order to make sure I’m seeding things when I need to I usually start by planning when I want to harvest each crop.
For example, if I need all my broccoli harvested by September 1st, I’ll count back its weeks to maturity (days to maturity x 7). If broccoli has 66 days to maturity (or 9.5 weeks to maturity) I will make sure my plants are planted in the ground by the end of June. Note that since broccoli is usually started indoors, I need to add additional time for germination (maybe a week) and indoor growth (a few weeks). So I would start my seeds the first week of June.
Remember you don’t want ALL your beans or broccoli or whatever to be ready at once, so stagger your plantings. Each plant is different but Johnnys and High Mowing, two of my favorite seed saving companies, are usually good at suggesting how far to stagger your plantings in order to get a steady supply of crops all summer.
CLICK HERE to read my previous blog all about ordering seeds.
A note on days to maturity (DTM): DTM is a best guess the seed company can give based on when the plant goes in the ground. Crops usually direct seeded (salad mix, peas, beans, carrots, etc) have a DTM from date sown. Crops usually transplanted (cucumbers, tomatoes, etc.) have a DTM from the time you plant them in the ground. I know this is a bit confusing so remember to use DTM as a guide but not as a written-in-stone rule.
So there you go! Now you’re ready to get started planting.