When spring fever hits, it is easy to want to plant everything you can think of in your garden, as soon as you are able to work the soil. If you are a new gardener, it is common to make this same mistake. Planning out your garden by season, as well as by what you actually eat, will make your life so much easier.
Many people don’t realize that certain vegetables grow better at certain times of the year. I use this book to help ensure those seeds and seedlings are planted at just the right time for my location in Texas. Planting peas and cabbage at the same time as tomatoes and peppers isn’t really necessary. If you get your timing right, you can grow more and stock your pantry and freezer to feed you through the winter months.
Step 1: Know Your Zone
The fist thing you need to do to plan your garden is know your garden zone. Some plants do better in tropical climates while others do great in colder climates. Know your zone and that will tell you about how long you have to provide the best conditions for the vegetables you want for your spring gardening.
On the back of my packet of radish seeds, it says it takes 20 to 50 days for them to reach maturity. So I know I need to time them so they are ready before the hot summer months when they won’t do as well.
Keep in mind, many vegetables can be started inside as well. Or you can buy plants instead of starting them from seed. The advantage of this is, you can harvest your vegetables sooner while the growing conditions are ideal.
Step 2: Know What You Eat
The next step in planning your garden is to make a list of what you actually eat. Some of those items may not be reasonable to grow in your area, so cross those off your list. For example, I can eat a lot of avocados, but I am unlikely to be able to grow any in southeast Wisconsin. In Florida, however, they would be a more realistic possibility.
I started lots of lettuce indoors this year because we love salad. That would have given me a jump-start on the season because I could harvest them early while re-seeding every two weeks. I would have had a continual crop of salad greens all year until frost, except the rabbits got into my garden (arg!). Now I will have to either buy starts or restart from seed. In the meantime, I have to buy salad at the store. Clearly my planning this year was not thorough enough. Never underestimate the value of good fencing.
Step 3: Choose Your Vegetables for Spring
Once you have your list, you can do a little research to see what weather conditions those foods grow best in. Since it is spring, you will want to choose vegetables that are considered hardy or semi-hardy.
- Brussels sprouts
- Mustard greens
- Swiss chard
- Chinese cabbage
- Irish potatoes
Now, here is the trick. Think about which of these vegetables are the ones you really eat a lot of. Which ones can you grow, not only to eat fresh out of the garden but to preserve for the future once the garden is done? For example, I have never tried salsify, so I have no need to grow it. I also can’t stand beets, so there is no chance I will want to grow them!
On the other hand, my family eats a ton of broccoli, so if I can grow a lot of it, I can freeze it for use during the winter. Taking into consideration what my family eats, my spring garden will have lettuce (we go though unreal amounts of salad in this house), broccoli, spinach, onions, and asparagus.
You might also want to research which varieties will attract bees since some plants rely on pollination to produce fruit.
Step 4: Plan Beyond Just Spring
As a caveat, I have to mention, you obviously can’t freeze lettuce to use during the winter. I am pretty sure you would not like the resulting salad. However, you can grow salad greens in your house in the winter, which will be the topic of a future article.
Another thing to keep in mind is this: You may not be able to grow an entire year’s worth of vegetables in one season unless you have a very big garden. But guess what? These same vegetables can be grown in the Fall garden. That gives you two growing seasons to grow as much as you can of your favorite vegetables.
It may take a few seasons for you to figure out exactly how much you need to grow to provide for your family’s needs, but the more you are able to grow yourself, the less you have to buy. And I am sure you will agree, the more self-reliant you can be, the better.
Step 5: Expanding Your Options
Once you have an idea of how much you need to grow to provide for your family, you may want to consider experimenting a bit. Even though I have never tried salsify, I might want to see what it’s like. Since I already have my basic Spring garden plan, I know where I can squeeze it in without taking away from the space needed to grow what we actually eat now. That way if we don’t like it, I don’t feel like I wasted space in my garden.
Each year’s garden catalogs make everything seem so tempting. Consider trying something new each year and you may quickly find some new favorites.
What are your favorite spring vegetables? Are you able to grow enough for your family for the whole year?