Chances are you have noticed the sudden explosion of gardens in your community and country. With more and more people working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic, gardens have popped up everywhere. Yeah!!! If you have undeveloped land that you want to transform into a garden, you need to have a plan. I recently did a post on 3 Garden Tips For Beginners that goes over the basics of starting a garden. It will get you started and this post will lead you through the next step, how to choose what to plant in your garden. It is helpful for both new and experienced gardeners.
On the surface picking out what to plant in your garden seems like a pretty simple task. Really you can plant whatever you want. That would be pretty easy but I'm talking about how to choose what to plant in your garden for the greatest success harvest wise and also utilization wise. Utilization wise because it doesn't matter if you can grow 10 bushels of tomatoes if 8 of them are going to go to waste because you don't use that much. What are you to plant? How much?
How to Choose What to Plant in Your Garden
You have to start somewhere so go ahead and make that list of everything you would like to grow in your garden. We will work from here and go over the basics of choosing what to grow and then move on to some points that are sometimes overlooked.
Keep your list with some extra paper close by so you can take a few notes as we go.
Your Garden Plot Climate
First let's take look at your garden plot itself. Your unique ecosystem in your garden will greatly affect what will grow in it so it is important that you know some of the basics about it. Take a walk out to your garden and determine the following:
1. Soil- What kind of soil do you have? Loam, clay, sand, a mix? Of course we are always working on improving our soil but what kind of soil do you have right now? You want to choose varieties that will do best with your given condition. Let's say you want to grow carrots and you know you have compacted soil. Carrots typically prefer loose loamy soil however there are varieties that are better at pushing through compacted soils. If you know what kind of soil you have you can choose your carrot varieties accordingly.
The soil contains several elements that are considered essential. The most important are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. They are referred to as macronutrients because plants absorb them in large quantities. But there are secondary nutrients, including calcium, magnesium, and sulfur, which are also important to plants. Other lesser nutrients or micronutrients include copper, boron, zinc, and iron-manganese. Some micronutrients like cobalt have specific uses, and they help leguminous plants to fix nitrogen. Another important aspect is the pH or acid-alkaline balance of your soil. Some crops prefer and acidic ph but most prefer a ph closer to the middle with a ph range of 6-7, 7 being the very middle of the ph scale which runs from 1-14.
The best way to determine the health of your soil is to conduct a soil test. A typical soil test will measure pH levels, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, calcium, and nitrogen. A soil test isn't necessary but it is a very good idea and will give you a much clearer picture of what you are working with. You should be able to have a soil test done through your local extension office.
2. Sun- How much sun does your garden receive? Some common vegetable varieties can do with part shade but most things will need an average of 6 hours of sun exposure or more. Do you have any tree branches that have creeped into your garden space over the last few years? If you can trim back any trees or bushes that are stealing the sun from your garden. If you have large trees consider hiring a professional tree trimming service such as www.lineagetreecare.com.
It may not be a matter of your garden getting shaded, perhaps you live somewhere that just doesn't receive much sun and is overcast half the time. This is a very important factor in deciding what to grow.
3. Water- How much rainfall do you typically get? If it doesn't rain are you able to provide a consistent supply of water? Are you able to mulch in order to slow evaporation?
4. Length of your growing season- It is very important to determine the length of your growing season. Where I live we have an average of 90 days that are sure to be frost free. This is figured by counting the days from your average last frost in the spring to your average first frost in the fall. If we use my location for example, you can see that it would not work for us to grow a winter squash variety that takes 120 days to mature. On the other hand, a tomato variety that takes 55 days to reach maturity would have more than enough time to reach maturity and produce ripe fruit for harvest.
5. Space - Every thing you plant has a space requirement. The size of your garden will of course determine how much you can grow and even of you can grow some things at all.
With the information you gather from the above 5 points you can pick varieties that are more adapted to your growing conditions. As you look through seed catalogs carefully read the description of the varieties you are interested in. Most catalogs will note whether a not a variety is drought tolerant for example. They will note if the variety needs fertile soil to thrive or will be happy in less than perfect conditions, how many days to maturity, needed sun exposure, space requirements...
Don't fight with your garden. Choose varieties that are most likely to do well in your garden's conditions.
Disease resistance qualities are another characteristic that would be listed in the variety's description if they have them. If you are new to gardening you probably aren't aware of which diseases are prominent in your area. A good resource is your local extension office. They can tell you commonly occurring plant diseases in your county. With this information you can select varieties that have resistance to the particular disease/virus. Whether you are a new gardener or not, keep good records of any diseases that occur in your garden so that you can use that information to make better choices in the future when it come to variety selection.
There is a time to sow and a time to reap, yet not all plants follow the same schedule. Some crops such as spinach prefer cooler temperatures. Its season is spring, fall, and in some places winter. If you will not be gardening in one of these seasons it does you no good to try and grow it in the middle of summer when it will not germinate well. If you plant it late it will likely bolt before you can do much harvesting.
Before you order your seeds and plant your garden get a seeds starting guide/ schedule so you know when everything should be planted. Use this to determine which crops will work for your situation and then follow the planting schedule. This is especially important if you have a short growing season. If you miss a planting date you may just miss your harvest.
Ask yourself what is your goal for each crop. Is your garden strictly for fresh eating or do you want to store/process some of the harvest for future use? You will find that some varieties hold up better in storage than others. If this is your purpose for your garden then you want to look for varieties who's attributes fit the bill.
Take tomatoes, Roma tomatoes have a lower content of juice and a higher percentage of flesh than other tomato types. They are a better choice for sauce making.
Make sure you choose varieties that have attributes that will help you fulfill its purpose.
Harvesting and Processing
This is the whole point of a garden right? It seems like a funny thing to bring up seeing as it's quite obvious there will be harvesting and processing but have you stopped to consider everything that is involved with it? You may so enjoy that salsa you picked up every week at the farmers market last summer but do you have time to make and can that salsa? I like making salsa and make time for it. I encourage anyone to try but maybe it's not your thing. It may be a better choice to grow tomatoes for fresh eating only and not 30 plants so that you can process loads of salsa.
We love fresh salad at our house. In late spring we practically live on salad. That being said I do not like washing lettuce. It is fine in the early season, however as it warms up the aphids come out and they really love my lettuce. That's when I don't like washing lettuce. I always feel like I missing an aphid or 4 or 5... Yeah, that doesn't work for me. It stresses me out so when the aphids start taking up residents in our lettuce we start feeding it to the goats and birds.
My point is you may really enjoy a certain crop but find that you aren't very good about harvesting or processing it. Either resolve to overcome where you tend to slack or choose something that you will fully utilize. This way you will not have any feeling of regret when you see your hard work go to waste on a crop that you don't eat.
Plant What You Eat
Every year we try new varieties and even entirely new crops. Last year we grew turnips and rutabaga. You know, because they are so good for you and I felt we should be eating more root crops. Yuck! We tried both but only once and I would be very surprised if we ever grew it again. It would certainly take some extreme circumstances.
I'm glad we tried them. I'm glad we try new things every year. This is how we learned we like kohlrabi. I had never even heard of it before and now we grow it every year.
It is important to try new things and it is equally important to move on if you don't really enjoy them enough for them to be taking up space in your garden. Start with what you know you like and then try several new things each year being sure to retire anything that you didn't find yourself eating on a regular basis. There is something new to try that needs that space and it just might be your new favorite!
Ask Local Gardeners
Don't be afraid to ask local gardeners and farmers what varieties they grow. If you find something that you really enjoy at the farmers market ask the farmer what variety it is. Usually they are eager to share about the great variety that they so carefully picked to grow. They are a wealth of knowledge.
Equally full of knowledge are you local gardening clubs. Perhaps you can attend a meeting or join a local gardening Facebook group. Don't be shy, it is my experience that gardeners are very willing to help others learn about gardening and will have no problem sharing their favorite varieties.
Don't Forget the Young Ones
Kids have a blast helping in the garden. They develop a greater appreciation for their food as they work in the garden and help prepare food that they had a part in growing. Plant with your kids and choose varieties that are easy for them to grow and that capture their attention to increase their affection towards gardening. Don't forget to involve them in the process of seed/ plant selection!
Now that you have made it through all the suggestions, go back through your original list of what you would like to grow and make changes as needed. Do the same when you order seeds or plants.
Carefully choosing what you plant will help you have greater success in your garden. Once you find a variety that grows well, keep it on your tried and true list. Before long you will have a full list of plants and varieties to choose from that perform well for you.
Happy planting my friends!
Hello, I'm Jaci. I look forward to sharing my gardening and homestead adventures to help you reach your gardening goals! If you have any questions then don't be shy, I'd love to hear from you. Send me a message and I will be glad to help!