I made sure to make time to do a little garden planning this weekend. After my last post on Winter Weather and Challenges, it was nice to sort through photos of the garden in its prime during warmer seasons. My objectives were to work on garden goals and updates for this year’s garden and organize my seeds.
The garden improvements and expansions made over the past few years have really made gardening easier and more productive. I am not planning any major changes or digging any new beds this year, but I do need to replace most of the raised beds and trellis supports due to rot.
As I reviewed the blog posts and notes from year’s growing season, I made a list of gardening goals to address for this upcoming growing season:
Build New Raised Beds:
The original 4×4-foot raised beds were built from pine 2x6s back in 2009 and 2010 when I began the Square Foot Garden experiment. There are six 4×4-foot beds. I mixed up batches of “Mel’s Mix” which comprised of 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 compost from as many sources as possible. The Square Foot Gardens required 6-inches of Mel’s Mix to fill them initially. The mix broke down and settled over time. Each year, I added more compost to the beds and eventually used a digging fork to dig down below the beds to loosen and incorporate the native soil beneath the beds. I still use the Square Foot Gardening planting recommendations for these beds.
Raised beds work very well for certain things and I want to continue using them in the garden. I like that the soil drains and warms quicker in the spring allowing me to transplant spring crops earlier. I also like having a secure frame to attach a trellis to the north edge of each bed to grow tomatoes, peas, pole beans, or other vine type crops.
The 4×4-foot beds are easy to reach in to plant, weed, and harvest. They also make it easy to cover for protection with plastic or netting with the use of PVC supports. Simply crisscross two 1/2 inch, 10 foot PVC pipes, then cover with painters plastic or netting.
Improve the Soil:
Nourishing the garden soil is an ongoing process. We have an compost bin, but it doesn’t produce enough for the entire garden and I usually supplement with a nice fish and farm compost purchased locally. Over the past couple of years, money has been tight so I have been unable to purchase the compost the beds needed. A lot of effort was made to expand the compost bin last year and with the addition of the flock of chickens, we should have more compost available for the garden. I still need to watch my plants carefully and note any signs of nutrient deficiency. A soil test would also help.
Protect Plants from Deer:
Last year our local heard of deer visited the garden frequently. They grazed on carrots, beans, chard, lettuce, and other greens reducing yield. Later in the season they also munched on squash and cucumber foliage. Fencing fashioned into hoops over rows and raised beds helped protect some fall crops. I will need to use more protection to prevent damage.
Use Natural Mulching:
I’ve been using plastic solar mulch in the garden for several years. It works really well at reducing weeds and grass in the garden. I reuse the solar mulch as many seasons as I can, but eventually it does break down and must be thrown away. I experimented with straw mulch over the last few years and found that it did help reduce the weeds, but I still had to pull stubborn grass several times over the season. One bed I mulched with compost, and then topped with straw and this bed was the best behaved. The thicker mulch helped. Plus I could reuse or compost the straw at the end of the season.
More Root Crops:
Increasing root crops was a goal last year and I did succeed at growing more variety by adding turnip, parsnip, celeriac, and salsify that could be stored in our basement and used in stews and soups over the winter months. However, I feel I need to add even more of these types of crops. I never have enough carrots in the garden. Many of you have recommended Yaya carrots and I am going to give them a try. My attempt at growing turnips last year was a bust. I ended up with all greens and no roots. I suspect bad seed and want to try different varieties this year. Parsnip was a lovely success, but I want more this year.
More Herbs for Teas:
Growing more herbs for tea was a goal last year too. I successfully grew some Chamomile that I am enjoying and I want to grow more. I also want to add mint, lavender, and other herbs that can be used for teas. I drink a lot of hot tea in the winter and iced tea in the summer. It would be nice to use my own homegrown herbs instead of purchasing herb teas.
Overall there is an increased need for more greens for the chickens and us. We love the freshness of spring salads of course, but I am still seeking a way to stretch the availability of greens into the summer. Most times, by the time tomatoes are ready the lettuce has bolted or turned bitter. I hope to find some more heat tolerant versions that will allow for more salads in the summer. We are also still in great need of more Spinach, Swiss Chard, and Kale to blanch and freeze for winter gratification. Fall is the perfect time to grow these greens for preserving but I need to remember to plant early enough and protect the crops from deer.
I still need to plan better for fall crops. Having transplants ready to plant into the garden when space opens up is crucial. Major space is available once garlic is harvested in July and potatoes are dug in August. These open beds provide a perfect opportunity to plat fall crops. In addition, deer are exceptionally hungry this time of year. Anything planted for fall will require hoops or some sort of protection.
There is always a lot to do around the yard once spring arrives. Along with seed starting and building the new raised beds, early spring will also find us trimming the fruit trees, bushes, and canes around the yard.
Next I will be plotting the garden beds and making my seed list.