So I finally sat down with my notes from my winter reading (most notably, Eliot Coleman's The New Organic Grower, Carol Deppe's The Resilient Gardener (which I reviewed here) and Edible Landscaping by Rosalind Creasy), my favorite seed catalogs (Jung Seeds & Plants (the only major seed company I know of in Wisconsin), Bountiful Gardens ("Heirloom, Untreated, Open-Pollinated Seeds for Sustainable Growing" - sounds like my kind of company!), Abundant Life Seeds ("Protecting the genetic diversity of rare and endangered seeds since 1975"), Peaceful Valley (which actually lists the offerings of a whole bunch of different small seed companies - it's a 150+ page catalog), Terroir Seeds, Nichols Garden Nursery (I LOVE Nichols - but they don't offer a print catalog anymore; you need to browse online), Select Seeds ("Rare-Choice-Heirloom Seeds & Plants" - and at reasonable prices!), The Cook's Garden (a little on the pricey side for my taste, but I like the idea of selecting plants with an eye to cooking, looking for the most flavor - I also found this in their catalog, which looks like it might fit perfectly on my kitchen windowsill for next winter's herbs!), Burgess (what can I say? They have the best prices on the plants I'm looking for), and, last but certainly not least, Territorial (which is hands-down the most informative seed catalog I've ever seen. For every single vegetable, herb, and flower variety they sell, they list directions for how to grow them, common insect pests and diseases and how best to control them, optimum harvest indicators, as well as sundry other pertinent tips. Invaluable!), my box of leftover and saved seeds from last year, a copy of last year's garden plan and notes from the season (such as, "plant cilantro in July so it's ready at the same time as tomatoes for making salsa" and "PLANT MORE BROCCOLI!"), a couple of different companion planting guides I've found over the years, and a stuffed fox (for moral support).
My first task was to go through my remaining seeds, check it against my list of what vegetables I want to plant this year, and figure out what I would need to purchase for this season. Simple enough. It came out to about $20 worth of seeds:
Next, and much more complicated, was the task of deciding where to plant them all. I've been reading a lot about companion planting and complimentary rotations, as well as learning more about which varieties prefer high-nitrogen soil and which prefer a less recently manured spot.
I decided to take advantage of my chickens' hard work tilling and fertilizing behind their coop all winter and plant almost all of the high-nitrogen vegetables back there (since the corn did so well in the test plot I planted last summer). So along the chicken run I penciled in a bed of dill, cucumbers, and nasturtiums (all interplanted), two beds of corn and runner beans, a few hills of melons, peas along the fenceline, and a bed of sunflowers and beets (and perhaps comfrey?) for supplemental chicken feed. Nearby, but in a spot not newly fertilized, I plan to put the pumpkin patch, so it has room to sprawl.
In the main garden, I decided to plant 2/3 of it in potatoes and Royal Burgundy beans (my daughter's favorite "magic purple bean"), with the other 1/3 dedicated to interplanted beds of tomatoes/onions/carrots/marigolds.
I'm hoping to put strawberries between two of the blueberry bushes (with broccoli/geraniums/dill planted between the others - broccoli is apparently good for clearing out disease problems when planted after strawberries, and geraniums are supposed to deter cabbage worms). I'll have to renovate those beds a bit, and probably do some terracing, since they're planted on a hill. I'm hoping the lettuce I let self-seed next to the rhubarb in the bed next door to the blueberries will come back in the spring, and the garlic I overwintered there as well.
The main project this spring was going to be the herb garden. I had big dreams there - a total remodel of all of the beds; rearranging the concrete paver raised beds, adding compost to all of them, adding a picket fence (and perhaps a pergola?), moving the kiwi (which is HUGE), and making room for an addition we were planning on putting on the front of the house.
Well, we discovered the addition was going to cost more than we had planned, so that part of the project was scrapped. I also realized there was no way to move the kiwi without killing it (and it just set its first really good crop this summer!) and the pergola would probably get in the way, anyway. Remembering how much time keeping ahead of the weeds really takes, I decided that perhaps rearranging the beds could wait (although I am still doing a big change in terms of what is planted where). Which leaves adding compost and building a picket fence - and after seeing all of the nice, thick branches my husband pruned this winter (did I mention he thinned out some of the scrub trees on the back of our property, too?), I'm thinking I might make it a rustic wattle fence instead (we'll see how that goes . . . if I can get it to look decent, that should save a little money, anyway - one step closer to the addition!)
So, along the fence I'm planning to grow some Scarlet Runner Beans, and in the bed in front of the fence, facing the driveway, I'm hoping to put a few rose bushes, some echinacea, daisies, brown eyed susans, poppies, flax, and mallow (kind of "cottage garden" sort of look). Behind the fence, where it will be slightly shaded, I'd like to put more broccoli, geraniums (to keep my husband happy, and also to deter the cabbage worms). I might also put in some spinach to fill in the bare spots before the broccoli gets going, and some nasturtiums for color along the edge of the bed.
In the long bed along the sidewalk where the strawberries grew last summer (we had a spittle bug infestation, and their leaves got eaten really badly - we hardly harvested any berries from them) I'm going to put my "miscellaneous" herbs - parsley, sage, thyme, lemon balm, basil, yarrow, cilantro, rosemary, and probably a jalapeno pepper or two. I'm planning to leave my big bed of oregano and chives intact, and the kiwi and cranberries are going to stay where they are as well. Hopefully, if all goes well I'll be able to get a good harvest out of a previously mainly ornamental space.
So, after about four hours basking in the sunshine while shifting papers, looking for which plants work best with which other plants, which like nitrogen, which are better in shade, etc., I have a plan. Does this mean my plants will grow better this year than they did in my earlier, less thought-out gardens?
But I love learning more about the plants I grow, trying new varieties, and experimenting with planting old favorites in different (hopefully better!) ways. In any case, I will be growing healthy, nourishing food for my family, and saving money at the same time. Plus I get to play in the dirt all summer! Who could ask for more?