A lot goes into gardening around here. It starts with planning based on the things we like to eat year round. Deciding what to grow, how much to grow, and how to preserve it are all things that go into consideration long before it's on the table. Here is my personal gardening story and tips to help you plan...
This begins for me when the snow is still flying in January. I take a look at the canned food that's left and what's in the freezer. If I notice most of something is gone, I know I'll need to grow more next year, If there is a lot of something, then maybe I should grow less. This is important because you don't want to put all that effort into things and have nobody want to eat them.
Choose veggies that your family likes to eat, that you can make into things and use in recipes. Do they like a lot of chili in the winter months? Grow tomatoes, peppers and onions ect. You don't want to end up with thirty eggplants if nobody likes them but you.
When choosing your vegetables also consider if they are known to grow well in your area and the length of time to harvest.
I have managed to feed my large family with one large garden 30'x30', one small garden 10'x10', one long thin garden 30'x3', three large planters, and a large plastic tote bin. Last year I added the additional 30'x30' area to the large garden above. I decided to add the other large garden because I ran out of a few things. I enjoy giving a lot of what I make to friends and neighbors. Pretty jars of jam or salsa also make nice holiday gifts.
What you decide to grow has everything to do with how much space you will need. Some plants require more space between plants and rows. Butternut, acorn and spaghetti squash require at least 5' around each entire plant. I give zucchini and yellow squash 3' around each. Pumpkins are best grown away from the main garden, there is really no telling how much space they will take up.
Cucumbers will need to climb. For mine I built trellises that will support them growing up the front and back down the other side to save space.
Beans will also climb, but you can choose beans from the bush variety to save space. The bush beans don't climb and grow on small bushes about 2' tall.
When I'm planning a garden I will watch the spot throughout the day to make note of how much sun the space gets. You want a spot that is mostly full sun all day.
Be sure to plant short plants in the first row facing the sun, adding taller plants as you move back with the tallest in the very back. If you don't plan your garden this way, some plants may be completely blocked from the sun and they won't grow to their full potential.
If you have a short growing season like I do, starting some seeds indoors early can be important. Some plants need more protection from the elements as seedlings than others and some plants require more time than the growing season.
There are many ways to start seeds inside. I have tried a few and I find that peat pellets work the best for me. They are inexpensive at $6.50 for 36 pellets. You just add water to them and they swell up to size. I think the peat moss is ideal for young root systems plus when you plant, you just remove the outside netting without disturbing the roots and plant.
All kinds of tomatoes should be started 10 weeks before it's time to plant them.
Pumpkins and winter squash should be started 4 weeks in advance. Zucchini, yellow squash and cucumbers need to be started about 4 weeks before planting time for an early harvest. Most seed packets will state to start them 6 weeks before but I really think if you start them too early that it stunts their growth.
Pepper plants should also be started indoors, each variety of peppers is different in the amount of time needed indoors so be sure to check. Melons should also be started 4 weeks in advance.
Most vegetables are direct sow (planting the seed in the ground). Corn, beans, beets, radishes, most herbs, potatoes, pumpkins, zucchini and summer squash can all be direct sown.
My biggest trick is black plastic! It warms the soil early, adds heat to the soil temperature all summer, keeps the weeds out, helps keep the soil moist and aids in watering. I LOVE black plastic! It is my best friend and I could not do all of this without it. I use thick 4mm 10'x25'. I leave it on year round and secure it down with several large rocks. By mid summer the grass grows over the parameter and holds down the edges. You can easily fold it out over the grass to till.
Black plastic can aid in watering if you cut an X in the plastic for each plant. If you plant each plant slightly lower than the rest of the soil and create a 10" ring of dirt around it, the water will roll towards the plant and go through the X to water the plant. Place rocks on the X to keep the wind from lifting it and to keep the weeds away from the base of the plant.
If the soil around the plant becomes too moist just fold the X under the plastic and place the rocks around it exposing the 10" perimeter, put it all back in a couple of days.
Nothing is worse than discovering that some rotten bug is eating your plants! The best way to deal with this is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Once you have an established bug problem, it is almost impossible to get rid of. Even harsh toxic chemicals like 7Seven will only help the problem for a short time.
As my mother always say's "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure". My ounce of prevention is called diatomaceous earth or DE (FOOD GRADE ONLY)
Diatomaceous earth is a natural, organic dust made from tiny fossilized water plants. It is even edible. The dust has tiny abrasions in it that scratch and kill any hard shelled insects, and most garden pests are just that. I sprinkle the dust on the leaves of cucumber and all squash plants, around the base of all plants and a thin coat on the plastic near the plants. Always wear a mask when working with DE, not because it's a chemical. It's not, but so you don't breath the dust in. You don't need to wear gloves or wash it off the vegetables like with chemicals.
DE does not hurt the bees. I have read things that state this and it's not true, bees are not hard shelled. My garden is abundant in bees and I have yet to see a dead bee in my garden.
There are several places you can buy food grade diatomaceous earth. It's becoming popular for several reasons and you can now purchase it on the internet for super inflated prices... but I get mine at Tractor Supply, a 20 lb. bag for $10. It's called Red Lake Diatomaceous Earth. It's food grade and feed grade.
After relaxing for a bit watering and watching your plants grow, everything ripens and you can harvest your bounty! Hopefully by this point you have decided what you will can and what will be frozen. It's exciting to see your hard work pay off! Now more hard work is in store. I would be lying if I didn't tell you that I spend between the end of June until October going between the gardens and the kitchen, mostly the kitchen.
I have a friend who does all of her canning outdoors. I would love to set up a system like she has but I simply don't have the extra money to do so.
Cucumber, zucchini and yellow squash are always the first plants to put out fruit at about the end of June. At this time I begin making garlic dill pickles, sweet pickles, zucchini salsa and zucchini jam. I continue with these all summer and include more preserving as other plants put out.
It's helpful to check your seed packets and make note ahead of time the estimated time each thing will begin to produce. This helps you plan for your harvest and preserving.
Don't forget to stock up on jars, rings, lids and freezer bags! They all go fast when harvesting begins.