Monday, March 11, 2013

Garden Plans!!

Yesterday afternoon Jamey and I finally got around to sitting down and planning this year's garden.  It only takes us about 20 minutes or so.  I have my canning journal in hand and he has his garden notebook.  His notebook contains garden maps, lists of varieties and how many rows/plants he planted the previous year.  We run down the list of food we grew the year before (vegetable by vegetable), make adjustments based on how much we harvested/put up, add new items, take away items, discuss which garden gets what, and talk about other projects that we have interest in.  This conversation doesn't take long, but for us it's the trigger point for the whole gardening season.

Usually the meetings start out with us making overall impressions of what we liked and didn't like about how things worked the year before.  Last year, I didn't enjoy the gardening season nearly as much as other years. I had been working on my cookbook and therefore had little motivation to actually do much with non-cookbook-related food in general, so canning and freezing was a real chore.  Never once did I wish the garden away, mind you, but it felt like more of a burden.

Mid-summer the garden got away from us.  We didn't lay on enough hay (and we knew it, duh) so weeds came up with a vengeance.  And we didn't do much about it.  Because it got so out of hand, the thought of tackling even a small portion of it overwhelmed me, so I avoided it all the more.  We still put up a lot last summer and have been enjoying it all winter.  Life has mellowed out after a busy fall and we're really looking forward to the garden again this year.  We're planning on involving our kids (especially Sam, 10, and Sadie, 7) a lot more this year, maybe even giving them zones in the garden to keep weeded and be responsible for and they'll be helping a lot more with stringing peas, snapping beans and the like.

The Tiller
As many of you know, up to this point (8 years into our gardening journey), we have not used a tiller in our garden.  Instead we have used the heavy mulching method.  You can read past posts about it here.  To summarize, there are many benefits to mulching (we use mostly hay): the ground retains moisture, if you mulch think enough (8 inches pressed, at least) it keeps weeds down well, the paths stay clean- no mud on your boots, the hay decomposes adding organic matter to your soil, and it leaves all those precious earthworms intact.

That said, we have fairly clay-y soil, especially at one end of the garden.  We haven't had the best luck with growing decent-looking (and therefore decent-storing) sweet potatoes and carrots.  Using a wheel hoe for the sunflowers is time consuming and we'd like to work more organic matter into our gardens.  SO.  This winter Jamey bought a tiller (Craftsmen, 17-inch, rear tine, 8-years-old- specs courtesy of Jamey).

The plan is to use the tiller to mix in organic matter (the mulch, chicken poop, leaves, etc.) that have laid on our garden all winter and prepare the soil for planting.  We will also use it to prepare the sunflower bed.  In the fenced-in garden, we will still use the hay/mulch method.  In the un-fenced garden, we are going to try planting a cover crop of clover once the plants are established instead of mulching it.  So, there you have it.  We're going to use both!

What We Already Have
Red raspberries- Just this past weekend Jamey tore out our main row and planted new shoots.  Hopefully, we'll get a few berries when this new row bears the second time, in late summer.  Our other row should still produce well this year.

Strawberries- Last year was the first year for our new plants, so we're hoping to get plenty of strawberries this year.

Asparagus- This will be the third year for our newest asparagus bed (in the garden) and we're so excited to have a nice bed to start gleaning from.

Blueberries- We're planting 10 small 2-year old bushes (maybe more) at one end of our sunflower patch.  I am SO excited about having blueberries.  I'll post more about this once we get them in the ground- they're sitting outside in pots right now.

Sweet cherry trees- We planted two (3-year-old) trees at the end of our sunflower patch this past fall.  We have no idea when we'll see cherries.

Sour cherry tree and pear tree- In the bad wind storm last summer, both trees were partially crushed.  We have no idea how they will do this year.

Peach trees (3)-  Last year they didn't yield due to a late frost, but the year before we got about 50 peaches.  If everything goes well this year, we should have a nice little crop to eat and maybe a few to can.

Apple trees (8)- Four years ago we planted very small, one-year-old apple trees (three varieties).  We have yet to get an apple.  We're hoping that this year will prove to be the turning point.  If not, we may have to reevaluate things.

Nectarine tree (1)- Last summer we planted one and are crossing our fingers that it stays healthy and will produce in a year or two.

Mushrooms- You can read about them here.  We've gotten two mushrooms so far.  I think this is hilarious.  We're not too worried, though.  The same spawns may produce mushrooms yet this year, so we have to wait until it gets warm for awhile and then do the dunking routine.  We only tried dunking them once last summer.  Sometimes it takes several tries to trigger them.

What We're Going to Plant
Un-fenced Garden (rows are ~40 feet long)
corn: 8-10 rows.  Last year we ate quite a bit fresh but didn't freeze any and have missed it terribly.
zucchini: 6-8 plants
butternut squash: 6 plants
cucumbers: 6 plants

Fenced-in Garden (rows are ~25 feet long)
snow peas: 4 rows (same as last year, our first).  We've loved the frozen snow peas!  We're not planting any garden/English peas this year because even though the snow peas need to be de-stringed and therefore require the same time commitment for prepping and freezing as garden peas, snow peas leave you with much more vegetable to put up!
lettuce and spinach- in two 6x4 foot cold frames
New Zealand spinach (new for us!): we're trying this instead of Swiss chard this year.  Friends shared some of theirs with us and, supposedly, this hearty spinach grows all summer like chard, but is more like spinach.  We shall see!
red bell peppers: 16 plants
green bell peppers: 6 plants
garlic: (planted this past fall)
tomatoes: 30 romas, 12 slicers.  We're going back to the Florida weave method (from two years ago) after trying the cages again (last year) because the weave held the plants up better and made for easier picking.
green beans: 2 rows
potatoes: 2 rows (Yukon and red)
basil: 10 plants
oregano: 3 plants
parsley: 6 plants
carrots: 3-foot-wide row/bed
watermelon: 12 plants (3 varieties)
cantaloupe: 3 plants
beets: one half row
sweet potatoes: 1 row
onions: 3 pounds of sets
zinnias: along inner fence facing the house- I love zinnias!
ground cherries: (new for us!) I grew up on ground cherry pie.  My Grandma grew these in her garden and I miss them.  If you're not familiar with them, stay tuned.

chickens: We hope to order a slew of chicks this spring since our ladies are aging out and we've gotten very few eggs this winter despite the artificial light.  They won't start laying until late summer, so hopefully our older ladies will start up again and lay us a few eggs this spring and summer to hold us over.
bees: Jamey has a hive built and *I* think we should order a swarm this spring.  He's hoping a swarm will just find us (or one of our trees).  We'll see how that goes.

A Note to You
If you're new to gardening, please take it slow and small.  Start a gardening and canning journal (even if you only start with a couple entries this year).  My first canning journal entry (2003) only listed applesauce.  You have to start somewhere!  Feel free to use our Vegetable Gardening Tutorial to help get yourself started.

Also, as you may have noticed, we don't specify varieties.  This is because the varieties we grow may vary from year to year.  Some years we save seeds.  Some years we buy them from reputable garden catalogs.  Some years we buy seeds at the store.  Sometimes we start plants indoors from seed.  Some years we mostly buy plants.  We've learned to be flexible because life flexes.  And we're okay with that :-).

Happy garden planning and planting, friends!


A couple of our ladies when they were young

"You jump first." "No, I'm not jumping.  You jump."  "I'm not jumping.  You're crazy."  "Fine.  Me either." "Hey.  Why'd we jump up here in the first place?  They left the gate open this time."  "Sure enough, they did...."

{Please forgive me.  I'm writing this at bedtime.}
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  1. This post makes me tired! Sometime this summer, I would like to bring my boys for a garden "field trip" to see how you guys do it all! :-)

  2. "We've learned to be flexible because life flexes." This should be every homesteader's/farmer's mantra. I am writing it on a card to keep at my desk NOW. Thank you for your post, I am inspired by your plans. This will be my second full year with a serious garden...starting my own plants....heirlooms....seed saving...etc. So glad to be able to follow your blog and learn from someone who is humble, honest, and real! The best of God's blessings to you!

  3. What wonderful garden plans. I just love your sense of humor... it makes my day!

  4. We also have a heavier soil and to plant sweet potatoes and carrots we simply mound our row about 6 to 8 inches high with a rake before planting. This seems to help....

  5. It sounds like it's going to be amazing... I'm curious...what do you do with so many red peppers?

    1. We eat them like candy- often dipped in salad dressing or hummus. We also make stuffed peppers, put strips on top of pizza, add them to just about everything and then freeze the rest for winter use.:-)

  6. Hooray! THIS is what I love about your blog! You motivate me. :-) I need to get my seeds started, but procrastination has been reigning. Tonight I'm gonna get the stuff out and get some seeds going.

    Do you alread know about using lemon grass essential oil to attract bees to your hive?

    1. We did not know about this. We'll have to look into it- thank you!!

  7. Yes, do you freeze all the red peppers for later use? All bell, no hot? But then we are not bell pepper loving people, going through only 5-6 peppers in a whole year, mainly just stuffed.

    1. We eat tons fresh, in dishes, etc, and then freeze a bunch (and above I forgot to mention above that they go into our tomato sauce, too). No hot peppers. We've grown jalapenos in the past but became burnt out on salsa, so we haven't grown them lately.

  8. Sounds like a great plan! FYI, the link to a post about your mulching system isn't working.

    1. I re-linked it and it's working. You may need to scroll down a ways. All posts where I talk about mulching will be listed- some briefly, others in depth. The titles will indicate which ones talk about it more:-).

  9. Ooo, I'm trying ground cherries this year too! Best of luck.

  10. Hi Jane, Can you tell me what gardening zone you live in? Trying to guage my "successes" with yours and wondering about how long your growing season is compared to mine in Zone 4. Also, have you ever used row covers for gaining a few weeks on either side of the season and/or for pest control? Thanks!

    1. I usually tell people we're in zone 7, but if you want to get real technical, it's more like 6b/7a. And, no, we're never used row covers. We have some rather large cold frames with plexiglass covers that we cover and vent with to extend our season a bit on either end.

      Would anyone who uses row covers like to share how they use it and what the results have been?

  11. Wow, it sounds like we think a lot alike. My husband and I bought our property two years ago and this will be our third garden here - we are using the deep mulch method for the most part, have 3000 sf fenced garden and 1600 sf or so unfenced. Adding a 20x60 fenced herb garden this year, as well. There were already a number of apple trees, one peach and one cherry and lots of blackberry, so we've added 3 pear, 3 peach and 3 plum last year, 4 blueberry bushes, lots of asparagus, strawberry beds, grape vines, 3 bee hives, a few dozen chickens, 2 dairy goats, 2 beef steers and some aging turkeys that I'm going to can. Anyway, it was so neat reading your plans for this year. Made me smile. We planted New Zealand spinach last year and were really happy with it. I picked the leaves for fresh eating and dehydrating and it just continued to grow well into the fall. It is really nice for drying to use in soups and casseroles. Nice flavor and tender but it doesn't bruise as easily as some other varieties. I am enjoying your blog and my husband likes the idea of the "Florida weave" method for our tomatoes this year.

  12. I love reading about garden plans! I'm struggling with myself this year, knowing that we'll be moving in June, but wanting to start seeds. We're moving to a difficult growing area, so I prefer to start my own seeds for it... but we're moving, and moving a bunch of little plants might not be fun. So I wait and struggle.

  13. I too love reading your blog. I was reading this one and about how you have trouble growing good sweet potatoes and carrots. From what my dad has told me it is the clay soil that is to tight and compact for them to grow nicely. If you were to add alot of sand to the area you want them to grow in they will grow much larger and in a better shape. So you might want to add some sand. You could get it at a garden store but I find it cheaper at a cement place. God bless.

  14. I'm planting ground cherries too! I've never tried one before but bought the seeds from Baker Creek and hope they produce because they sound so fun. I'm also planting pineapple tomatillos- again I've never tasted them but have high hopes I will love them.


  15. I love your advice to start small and go slowly and I wholeheartedly second it. I started small 6 summers ago, went a touch bigger the next year, and then went HUGE the following year and no way to turn back. It was not the wisest choice, and like you, I have found myself overwhelmed every year. I need to involve my family member much more (like you) and just be smart about stuff. It's a constant learning curve. Love you blog. First found it on Clover Lane, and just today saw it mentioned on another favorite blog (the deliberate agrarian). :-) Thank you. Just reading here encourages me to keep on.

  16. In this post you mentioned that you all may try planting a cover crop like clover after the plants are established. I was wondering if you tried that, and if so, how did it go? We are looking for ways to keep the amount of necessary weeding down, and I would be interested in your results. Thanks!

    1. Hi, Virginia. Since this post was several years ago, I'm having trouble remembering what we did exactly...I do know that we've planted clover in our sunflower bed (when no sunflowers were growing) and it worked well to keep the weeds from going crazy and attracted lots of beneficial insects, like bees.


Just a friendly reminder, if you know me personally please try to refrain from using my name. There are those who may try to locate me, break into my pantry and steal my pickled beets. Thanks:-).

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