Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Assess & Correct

Our Planning Session Took Place in Weather  like This.

     This winter between Christmas and the New Year Wan and I at last pulled off something we had done only haphazardly in the past: we actually had a meeting to plan out our garden for next spring. We dug out our original 2013 map, a few blanks for our 2014 map and a seed catalog. Then we went through our experience from last season and began to decide what we wanted to do differently this year.

     There is a lot to consider. The simplest question is what worked and what did not. And what should we do with the "did nots." Usually we have a few notions of what may have gone wrong and try to do something different this time. This is a good time to ask some questions of our seed company or research a bit on the internet. Then give it another try -- at least once. I have been known to chase a few Moby Dick's over the years. But usually two failed years in a row are enough for me. Life is too short and the list of possible replacement plants too long.

     Other questions follow in rapid order. Half the reason for planting your own stuff is because it tastes better than what is in the store. If it doesn't, either change what you are doing or plant something else. A surprisingly difficult question in the first few years is "how much?" You want to have a little more than you need for the mouths you feed, but you have to translate that into linear feet -- and it varies depending on your variety and also on the vagaries of each season. If you want to try something new, you will either have to expand the garden or reduce the space you devoted last year to turnip greens.

     And then there are the little goofs like planting taller plants where they end up shading out shorter ones. That one is good for a note at the meeting.

     I have repeatedly found that some of my plants grew much larger than I was led to believe. I had to devote more space to each plant, then add more space in each row. My tomato cages were too small; I had to make my own 6 foot cages. The little fences I used for my peas were too short. I started using my old tomato cages. My stakes over the years grew much larger and heavier. I began to feel like I had a garden on steroids, but the plants grew healthier and more productive.

This Brussels Sprout Plant Dwarfed our Original Support

     If you had more than one or two problems last season you may want to hold off on expansion plans until you are happier with the results. There is no hurry here. A "assess and correct" meeting is also a good time to consider other measures to make life easier -- like room for weeding or a stake that keeps you from dragging the hose over your plants. A review of last year's pet peeves can make next year more pleasant.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Joy of Maps

     We left you after making several copies of a simple map of your annual garden. The maps are nothing but measurements now, but it is time to fill in the blanks -- by drawing in your plants long before you plant them.

     I like to plant annuals close together to discourage weeds, but I also need to get at my plants to prune them and pull the weeds that do show up -- without becoming a contortionist. I use the map to figure out a way I can move around in the bed. Then I look up the maximum height and spread of my plants. Not paying attention to how big your plants will grow is right up there with not paying attention to the sun when it comes to popular boo-boo's.

These plants grew a bit more than expected.

      With the pathways set and the plant spread known, I can now figure out how many annuals I can plant, and draw them in (just circles -- nothing fancy here). I write on the map the variety I am going to use as well. Now is a good time to find out if any of your annuals need stakes or cages and add them to your shopping list.

     If I am going to plant from seeds, I can dig out a seed catalog as well and even place an order. Half the battle can be won while there is still snow on the ground.

      If at planting time I realize I have made a mistake or changed my mind, that is what the extra blanks are for. I will want, however, to end up with a final accurate map. You will find out why next time.